Many are the benefits of maturity. One is in realizing what one had failed to recognize before — that people often have readily identifiable propensities that having no relationship to what it means to be an individual.
Social psychology is more important to know that individualistic psychology, if you want to make your way through everyday life. In the past I was under the mistaken impression that everybody around me was an intellectual who thought very deeply about every sort of issue. Many people represented themselves that way to me. I later learned that intellectuals are not that great in number. They are those who can generate an original thought, rather than reacting to the world and repeating what they’ve heard. To be assertive is not the same as generating original thought. One really has to have thought it through.
Other myths I’ve managed to shrink over time include the idea that one necessarily stands out as being more intelligent if one’s life follows a smooth and easily managed path. There’s no logic behind this supposition. One cannot account for all the variables influencing our existences with such a trite formulation.
I’ve also developed a much better understanding of the two enemies of shamanistic thinking:
1. Identity politics, which has an agenda to morally reform the world. Moral reforms are hopeless. Genuine change has to be willed and has to come from within.
2. Biologism. There are many forms of biologism on the left and the right. Essentialist feminism and biological determinism both are detrimental to intellectual development. You cannot be open about the future if you are working within deterministic systems or within categories of pre-defined identity.
Far beyond and above this, the most important insight I’ve had in my life to date is that most people, when they seem to be addressing you, are really addressing an idea of you based on narrow, categorical assumptions. That is, most people don’t rely upon direct perception.
That makes sense when you later understanding how many social constraints act to condition us against direct perception. One sees people in terms of categories, as one is trained to. One doesn’t see the behavior, the tendencies, the nuances. It is particularly Americans not to take the time to see these, for Americans are the ultimate sales people, and one doesn’t make a sale unless one seizes up the prospective buyer in the first few seconds of interaction.
To have an accurate perception is difficult, since one must constantly clean the windows of the psyche to reduce effects of cognitive distortions and mental projections. Otherwise, one sees the world precisely as it isn’t. Most people don’t have the basic strategies in place to achieve hygiene. They can be great people, but don’t expect them to perceive anything accurately. They cannot do so. It’s not because they’re bad, or mean or wrong. They just don’t have the necessary training and awareness.