Trauma and the Demolition of Faith | Ronnie Janoff-Bulman | EP 449

Trauma and the Demolition of Faith | Ronnie Janoff-Bulman | EP 449

Coming up (00:00:00)

  • Ronnie Janoff-Bulman distinguishes between two types of morality: prescriptive and proscriptive.
  • Prescriptive morality is based on avoidance and focuses on what people should not do.
  • Proscriptive morality is based on inhibition and constraint and focuses on not doing the wrong thing.
  • Liberals and conservatives differ in terms of group-based morality.

Intro (00:00:34)

  • Ronnie Janoff-Bulman is a social psychologist and author of two books: "Shattered Assumptions" and "The Two Moralities: The Origin and Fall of Right and Left Politics".
  • The discussion will focus on the concept of shattered assumptions and the political divide.
  • Shattered assumptions refer to the idea that there is a hierarchy of values in our beliefs, with some beliefs being more fundamental than others.
  • The deep beliefs are considered more real and vital.

Shattered assumptions and unknown implicit beliefs (00:02:24)

  • Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, a social psychologist, conducted research on victimization 30-40 years ago.
  • She found commonalities across different types of victimization, including rape, loss of loved ones, accidents, and natural disasters.
  • At the time, the clinical literature tended to view victims as pathological rather than the situations they were in.
  • Janoff-Bulman proposed the notion of "shattered assumptions" based on the finding that people's fundamental beliefs about the world seem to be shattered after traumatic events.
  • These beliefs, which are now understood as implicit cognitions, were not necessarily illusions but rather working models of the world that provided a sense of safety and meaning.
  • After negative events, these beliefs can be shattered, leading to a sense of fragility and vulnerability.
  • Janoff-Bulman's work aimed to normalize the experiences of victims and provide a corrective to the pathologizing tendencies in the field.
  • With the current understanding of implicit beliefs, Janoff-Bulman's argument about shattered assumptions would be easier to justify.
  • Implicit beliefs are beliefs that people hold without necessarily being aware of them.
  • These beliefs can be impacted by real-life events, even though individuals may not be consciously aware of holding them.
  • At the time of Janoff-Bulman's research, it was not as widely recognized that people could hold beliefs without being consciously aware of them.

Anxiety, terror, pain, and the destruction of hope (00:07:12)

  • Ronnie ponders the neurological reasons behind anxiety and terror being radically disinhibited when belief and hope are shattered at a fundamental level.
  • Fundamental beliefs are like the bedrock of a belief system, with other beliefs depending on them.
  • The implicit structure through which we see the world is equivalent to a weighting system, similar to the statistical weights used in large language models.
  • We prioritize our attention based on this weighting system, which is guided by our axiomatic assumptions.
  • If something happens to violate these assumptions, it demolishes the weighting system and everything comes flooding back.
  • Ronnie mentions Carl Friston's work, which seems exciting to him.

Karl Friston, how anxiety and negative emotion link to entropy control (00:10:30)

  • Carl Friston's model of perception proposes that anxiety and positive emotions are linked to entropy control.
  • Trauma disrupts the fundamental conceptual foundation of the system, leading to heightened anxiety and a sense of terror.
  • Anxiety from trauma not only causes psychophysiological hyper-preparation but also diminishes hope by undermining the belief in achievable goals.
  • Recent advancements in trauma research have revealed the physiological and neuropsychological bases of trauma's effects.
  • Emotions serve as signals that inform individuals about their functioning in the world and act as navigation guides, aiding in understanding experiences and decision-making.

The characterized structure of aim as predicated by values (00:16:13)

  • A person's aim is based on a set of values that have a hierarchical structure.
  • A story is a description of the structure through which people view the world, which is the hierarchy of values.
  • When watching a movie or reading fiction, people infer and embody the protagonist's aim, experiencing the emotions associated with that aim.
  • This is a form of exploration, allowing people to temporarily adopt an aim and experience its consequences and emotions.
  • People do the same thing when watching sports, adopting the team's aim and embodying the appropriate emotions.

Are neuropsychologists wrong about expectation? (00:18:47)

  • Ronnie Janoff-Bulman critiques the limitations of the expectation model in psychology, which overlooks motivation and desire as crucial factors in human behavior.
  • She proposes that motivation becomes more significant as one delves deeper into the hierarchy of values, and stability depends on desired outcomes being fulfilled or not severely violated.
  • Janoff-Bulman emphasizes the role of motivation in organizing our lives, with approach and avoidance as fundamental concepts.
  • While much of our behavior operates automatically, she cautions against attributing all behavior to this mechanism.
  • The speaker introduces the concepts of "mind time" and "system one" and "system two" operations, highlighting the automatic nature of much of our behavior based on a motivational model.
  • Our cognitive processes often confirm our expectations, enabling us to function effectively in the world.

Job, the denial of proximal evidence for axioms of faith (00:25:14)

  • Trauma can shatter the framework of meaning based on naive faith.
  • Dependent individuals are more susceptible to trauma.
  • The story of Job exemplifies the need to maintain faith in the inherent goodness of individuals and God despite contradictory evidence.
  • To stabilize one's worldview, it is essential to adopt the belief that ethical conduct leads to the best possible outcomes.
  • Shattered assumptions in trauma are similar to axioms of faith, as they are innate commitments developed in early childhood.
  • Faith is rooted in personal experiences and beliefs, not external validation or proof.
  • Fundamental beliefs are shaped by early experiences, such as receiving adequate parenting and developing a sense of predictability and benevolence in the world.
  • These beliefs are reinforced and confirmed through subsequent experiences.

The religious are better equipped to cope with shattered assumptions (00:32:00)

  • People with positive assumptions about the world cope better with shattered beliefs.
  • Positive assumptions allow people to be motivated, love, care, and function daily.
  • Shattered assumptions lead people to try to rebuild them, mostly successfully.

Why people blame themselves after truly random negative events (00:33:55)

  • Self-blame is common after random negative events, even when the victim is not blameworthy.
  • Self-blame gives people a sense of control and reduces the perceived randomness and badness of the world.
  • Over time, people who experience negative events tend to adopt more positive assumptions about the world, becoming sadder but wiser.

The necessity of positive illusion and why Dr. Peterson vehemently disagrees with this notion (00:36:19)

  • The author argues that positive illusions can be beneficial at a fundamental level, providing motivation, but they become detrimental at higher levels, preventing individuals from effectively dealing with reality.
  • Confronting a series of minor traumas is essential for adaptation and learning, as it strengthens individuals and allows them to develop coping mechanisms.
  • Faith in the fundamental mechanism of adaptation is not an illusion but a crucial element in personal growth and development.
  • Trauma is a severe disconnect that hinders learning and adaptation, and its overuse in contemporary society diminishes its significance and undermines the experiences of genuinely traumatized individuals.

Why Becker is wrong about motivation (00:44:23)

  • Meaning is the motivation that puts us on the edge of optimal change.
  • Meaning grips our attention, activates positive emotion, and optimizes anxiety.
  • Meaning signifies the presence of an optimized challenge that prepares us for future challenges.
  • The alternative view to Becker's hero story is that we take on challenges to expand our skills, knowledge, and maps, preparing us for the future.
  • The entropy control model suggests that the fundamental enemy is unconstrained entropy, not death itself.
  • Shattering illusions at the upper level wouldn't matter for dealing with everyday life, but it wouldn't shatter our assumptions.
  • Illusions are considered "losers" because they are susceptible to shattering under dire circumstances.
  • Illusions tend to be naively positive.

Longing for the previous tyranny while in the desert, the proper foundational axiom (00:49:15)

  • The Exodus story depicts the Israelites' shattered assumptions and anxieties during their desert journey after leaving Egypt.
  • God sends poisonous snakes to punish the Israelites for their faithlessness and complaining, but instead instructs Moses to create a bronze serpent on a staff as a symbol of healing and protection.
  • This act represents voluntary exposure therapy, a common therapeutic approach in various psychotherapeutic schools.
  • Christ refers to the serpent in the desert story in the gospels, likening himself to that figure, which raises questions about the validity of beliefs.
  • The story challenges the idea that we need illusions to survive, as dangerous as a poisonous snake in the desert may be, it is not the worst possible thing.
  • Faith in humanity's ability to confront the limits of mortal experience and malevolence is the proper foundational axiom that allows for the existence of evil.
  • Illusory or naive beliefs at the fundamental level enable us to function in the real world, but overgeneralized beliefs, such as the belief that the world is benevolent, fail to account for negative events.
  • People who successfully cope with trauma tend to have less overgeneralized beliefs that can account for negative events.
  • Our beliefs and knowledge involve overestimation, overgeneralization, and abstraction, with generalizations becoming greater the further down the hierarchy we move.

Tragic randomness and outright malevolence versus naivety (00:57:09)

  • People's initial beliefs about the world are often overly optimistic and naive.
  • These beliefs don't take into account the existence of tragic randomness and outright malevolence.
  • Once people encounter tragic randomness and outright malevolence, their beliefs are shattered and they have to rebuild their assumptions about the world.
  • The term "naive" can be seen as victim-blaming, and the term "overgeneralization" may be a more neutral descriptor.
  • The difference between ignorance and willful blindness is an ancient argument.
  • People with dependent personalities are more likely to be traumatized.
  • People with negative assumptions are often less traumatized.
  • Negative assumptions may be a sign of dependence.
  • People maintain their undifferentiated viewpoints by turning away from disconfirming evidence.
  • Cognitive conservatism is the tendency to resist changing our beliefs even when presented with evidence that contradicts them.
  • Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs and avoid information that contradicts them.
  • Confirmation bias is not merely cognitive conservatism, it is also motivated by a desire to avoid discomfort and maintain a positive self-image.

The Two Moralities: proscriptive versus prescriptive morality (01:03:42)

  • Moral psychology offers insights into political differences by examining fundamental human motivations of approach (pleasure) and avoidance (pain).
  • Morality can be divided into prescriptive (based on avoiding harm) and prescriptive (based on doing the right thing).
  • Liberals and conservatives share similar views on the importance of helping others, but differ in their group-based morality.
  • Liberals prioritize social justice (providing for the group), while conservatives prioritize social order (protecting the group).
  • Ronnie Janoff-Bulman argues that both liberalism and conservatism are morally based and necessary for a functioning democracy.
  • Temperamental differences early in life, such as sensitivity to threats (conservatives) and openness to new experiences (liberals), influence political orientations.
  • These differences lead to distinct policy priorities, with conservatives emphasizing social order and constraint, and liberals focusing on equality and freedom.

How conservatives and liberals see equality, regulation, and possibility (01:13:43)

  • Conservatives are low in openness and high in conscientiousness, especially orderliness.
  • Liberals are higher in openness and lower in conscientiousness, especially orderliness.
  • Conservatives see less possibility in potential compared to Liberals.
  • Liberals tend to be open border types because they see beyond the constraints something like potential that can be creatively engaged with.
  • Conservatives are more likely to think that what's beyond you can do you in.
  • Strength and power.
  • Socially defined roles.
  • Tradition and culture.
  • Norm adherence and strict roles.
  • Equality for groups.
  • Regulation in the economic domain.
  • Entitlements like Social Security and Welfare.
  • Autonomy in the social domain.

Individual versus communal responsibility (01:17:19)

  • Conservatives believe in individual responsibility and autonomy in economic matters so that individuals, rather than the state, can bear the responsibility for provision.
  • Liberals believe in communal sharing and communal responsibility, and that we have a responsibility to help each other.
  • Liberals believe that equal opportunity is not possible if people are not starting at the same place, and that some people need help from the government to get ahead.

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