Sunday, November 2, 2014


Humans desire simplicity. The simpler things are the more control we feel we have over them. So we tend to oversimplify, stereotype, and pigeonhole things, which for the most part is not a bad thing. It saves us time and is a quick reflex of our System 1 brain.

This was used to the extreme with the "you are either for me or against me" philosophy of the COG. The world became more black and white, good and bad, COG member and "Systemite." (A "systemite" was a member of the established social order, from which we had "dropped out." In effect, any cult outsider.)

When we feel we are not in control, our penchant for finding patterns and imagined causations is stronger. We have to bring back that feeling of "peace" to our minds, i.e. alleviate the cognitive dissonance. Finding perceived patterns of cause and effect, either spiritual or physical, gives us a way to make sense of things that happen and is comforting. We naturally conclude that things happened for a reason.

As the brilliant Nassim Taleb wrote in The Black Swan, "The human mind suffers from three ailments as it comes into contact with history, what I call the triplet of opacity. They are:

a. the illusion of understanding, or how everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (or random) than they realize;

b. the retrospective distortion, or how we can assess matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rearview mirror (history seems clearer and more organized in history books than in empirical reality); and

c. the overvaluation of factual information and the handicap of authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories - when they 'Platonify.'"

The first 2 points are most applicable to life in TFI. I doubt anyone had the presence of mind to "Platonify" anything, especially considering the dearth of factual information available within cult literature.

The illusion of understanding was strong, enhanced by the fundamental belief that "everything happens for a reason." We also had the “inside information” of the Mo Letters, since Berg had a hot-line to God. We felt we were the ones that were “in the know.”

Retrospective distortion was ever-present. We looked back at events and saw the supposed cause and effect that fit with our narrative of life and "God's plan" that we so presumed to be in on. That rearview mirror was also helpful in seeing the supposed fulfillment of prophecies. We even used it with Nostradamus's quatrains: “Oh, so THAT's what he was referring to.” Fulfillments of prophecy are easy to see in retrospect. They just don't work so well the other way around.  

This also was supported by the availability heuristic, as we remembered the prayers that we considered answered more readily than those that got God's supposed "no," and we remembered the supposed "fulfilled" prophecies and conveniently forgot those that were unfulfilled - leaving us with the happy notion that God was in control.

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