The Varieties of Self-Delusion
There’s an interview out this week with Rachel Dolezal, which you don’t need to read, at least the Rachel Dolezal part. The interviewer herself, however, has some very acute observations and insights about her subject and broader context, which are definitely worth your time, if you’re so inclined.
Dolezal herself isn’t quite letting go of her past as an ersatz Black woman, but she’s recasting herself as transracial — emphasis on “trans”, because Caitlyn Jenner. Not biracial, not someone who grew up immersed in two cultures, but transracial — a White person who identifies as Black.
Blame National Geographic. No, really. Dolezal does.
What catches our attention, and why we’re bringing it to yours, is how thoroughly Dolezal clings to her personal creation myth, in the face of some very incisive questioning. She will not be budged. That’s her (latest) story, and she’s sticking to it.
Which reminded us of Diane Downs.
What you may know of Downs, if anything, probably stems from a book, or the TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett. Downs shot her three young children in 1983, killing one and disabling the other two. She claimed she had been carjacked by a stranger who had also shot her in the arm.
What we know of Downs stems from the fact that the shootings happened in Springfield, Oregon, while we lived next door in hometown Eugene. Murder charges were brought nine months after the event, during which everyone in the area watched the story unfold — and unravel.
This included our mother. We don’t recall her buying Downs’s story, but she expressed utter disbelief that a mother could do that — it was simply inconceivable. We played it the other way: The fact it did happen meant that it could happen, and the only task remaining was to understand why. But to get there, you had to go deep and dark. And somehow Mom had raised a son who was willing to.
Here we should note that the moment was some three years into Reagan, who had won his election by eight million votes. We were already well-practiced in understanding the worst of our fellow citizens.
The conclusion we reached then, and maintain today, is simple: People can convince themselves of just about anything, for just about any reason, or for no reason at all. The details will vary widely, which makes individual cases curiosities at best, but which can wreak great havoc when a particular delusion is shared by a significant number of people.
Say, regarding vaccines. Or the effects of humans upon their environment. Or the merits of a two-bit con man who tapes his ties.
The problem with delusions is that they can’t be countered. They can’t be debated. They can only be fought, and fought hard, which is thoroughly exhausting.
So when the media continues to insist we live in a “divided” country, as if dealing with the world that exists is somehow equivalent to living in your own private fairy tale, we can’t help but wonder: What the hell is their delusion?