The Mirror is Cracked

In childhood we often learn a defensive strategy in arguments that turns the situation back on to the critic. It is usually voiced as, “I know you are but what am I?” or “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”

The point is obstructionism and disengagement.

Quite a few people retain this strategy into adulthood.

We see this often in the news. Politicians from party X, who have clearly instigated some unsavory business, receive criticism for it from party Y. Party X then blames the activities back on some member of Party Y. Causality, logic, history and facts are irrelevant.

Variations of this mirror defensive mechanism are often employed in spiritual discussions, particularly of the more fundamentalist variety.

The critic is always wrong simply by the fact that they do not subscribe to the same beliefs as the subject of the criticism. The validity of the criticism is irrelevant.

In this case any answer to criticism involves the use of the subject’s own philosophy exclusively. That’s why it’s almost impossible to discuss something with fundamentalists. It is a closed circle of reasoning that cannot be breached by anything outside of that self-validating reasoning.  And even then it must be a particular strain of belief.

This applies to any religion and a lot of philosophies.

I’ve been reading some of the debate on various Integral sights lately. Some Integralists have this defense down to a science. Criticism is dismissed by analyzing the critic based on Integral ideas. So if the subject deems themselves somewhat advanced in their understanding of that philosophy, which is always the case, anyone who criticizes obviously only has a Tier 1 grasp of the situation and is not fully considering the appropriate quadrants, or understanding the dialectical nature of spiral dynamics or something like that.Whatever all that is supposed to imply beyond an arrogant put down I’m not sure.

This completely ad hominem approach to defense in debate takes an enormous amount of effort to defuse since one has to waste their time learning the entire philosophy, as convoluted and self-validating as it is, and then attempt to apply logic to the personal critique, the issue at hand and the entire philosophy itself.  Hell of a lot of work to make a point that may be fairly clear at the outset.

Obfuscation is the name of the game in order to avoid clarity and criticism.

It happens in Buddhist circles as well, particularly, though not exclusively involving those influenced by New Age psychology.

The standard lines bring up “shadows”, personal issues, personal history, foibles and mistakes made by the critic and doesn’t deal with the substance of debate at all. To mention potential problems, point out conflicts of interest, outline outright abuses or bring up any issue that may discomfort some, gets deemed “envy”, “anger issues”, “bitterness”, “voyeurism” or some other dismissive labels. Shooting the messenger basically.

There is often a huge amount of projection on to the critic which, without a complete disclosure of a recent psychological work up done by a neutral party to demonstrate as invalid, adds a further layer to refute before actual questions are broached.

One ends up discussing personalities and not issues. At it’s ugliest it gets into name calling, stereotyping and objectification. It’s purpose is to turn away criticism and not deal seriously with issues that threaten belief systems.

This rather irritates me because it reduces people to sets of preconceived attributes or traits, it dismisses not only valid criticism but entire issues and and their ramifications and it wastes a lot of time and words.

By inflating the critic and their circumstances it also serves to simultaneously deflate the issue and criticism. It is a form of cognitive distortion.

The usual excuse for taking this tack is to do a favor for the critic. “I’m only holding up a mirror so you can address your issues.” How generous! Now if I need to address my issues in order to ask a question or bring up a subject, I can meditate, go to a psychologist or ask someone I know to assist me with that.  I am fully cognizant of these options as are many people with opinions, questions or criticisms. The point of having an opinion on a concerning situation is not to obtain some stranger’s amateur psychoanalysis. The point is the point, not some other thing.

Much of this mirror argument is used in order to maintain the integrity of a cognitively dissonant belief system that cannot be empirically or logically or often even rationally demonstrated.  If a philosophy, religious belief, idea or other system of thought is only valid in it’s own terms (self-validating), often using it’s own terminology and framework,  then admitting criticisms, however accurate they may be, cause a disconnect between belief and reality. That discomfort is cognitive dissonance. It means to hold and defend beliefs that are contradicted by reality.

That is why criticism or differing opinion or questioning evokes such a strong reaction in staunch believers. However when the criticism can be incorporated into the belief system, via mirroring and projecting of self-validating psychological/religious explanations, it serves primarily to bolster the erroneous belief system. It is the same mechanism used by propagandists and cults.

If you disbelieve or challenge, there is not something wrong with the religion/philosophy/cult but something wrong with you.  It is a position of complete denial.

The illogic of the defense is easily demonstrated in it’s application.

Consider the statement “You only criticize because you are envious.”

The erroneous assumptions involved are numerous. Here are a few. This defense assumes:

  • -the subject has something the critic covets, such as money, power, attention, spiritual attainment, respect or other social capital. Oddly, some people actually don’t give a shit about social, intellectual, spiritual or any other kind of capital. Some people have different value systems than that.
  • -the subject merits envy. Idolization or even moreso self-idolization is pretty wrapped up with self-delusion.
  • -the subject’s viewpoint is beyond criticism. This says more about the insecurity of the defender than the critic. There isn’t much in human life that stands up to any kind of “purity” test.
  • -the critic would actually want to possess whatever attributes the subject has.  Knowledge of people’s drives based on brief exclosures of opinion is incomplete since this does not provide enough psychological data to make this kind of assumption.
  • -the totality of the subject’s circumstances are worthy of envy. It would be unlikely that someone would criticize if that were the case. Someone may have a lot of attention, wealth, etc. but if they are an asshole why would they be envied?

There’s a whole lot more that could be said in that particular instance alone.

Any of these kinds of distorted mirror defensive arguments can be likewise dismantled by looking for the underlying assumptions.

Personal Disclaimer

This post is going to be linked to my Complaint Department page as one of my standard replies just to save time in future trying to wade through this over again.  And it will be referenced whenever this kind of comment comes up.

Envious, jealous, bitter, angry, spiteful, privileged, ignorant, unsympathetic, arrogant, stupid, wrong, uninformed, uneducated, illogical, irrelevant, irate, screechy, overbearing, overly political, pushy, neurotic, Nazi, Marxist, bossy, opinionated, critical, uncompassionate, rude, loud, tense, anxious, retarded, lacking empathy, unbalanced, idiotic are some of the words that get used when the mirror defense is challenged.

Please be aware that I acknowledge all of these about myself and am working on them in an appropriate way. Not a problem to face my human condition. That’s one of a number of reasons why I meditate.

So we can dispense with personal attacks and get back to discussing the particular issues rather than apparent failings of this blogger or other commenters.

Thanks for your attention.


Shusan wrote some interesting related comments on the post Why are Legitimate Religious Credentials Important?

By NellaLou Tagged

8 comments on “The Mirror is Cracked

  1. Very true. Very hard to see. Very plainly stated.

    Why is it so difficult to apply? After nearly twenty years on the Internet and a nominalist epistemology, I still can’t stop myself from doing all that.

  2. I may be linking to this page when I come across the mirror defense as well. A great reference you’ve created here!

  3. I’m neither a philosopher nor a Buddhist, just a snarky blogger who knows New-Wage/McSpirituality b.s. when I see it. And so I snark about it. As a result I have fielded more than my share of the very ad hominem arguments you so brilliantly summarize here. And yeah, I’m working on my own stuff all the time too. But that, IMO, doesn’t invalidate the occasionally serious points I make in my criticism.

    Or as you put it: “The point is the point, not some other thing.”

    Thank you for writing this. (By the way, I found you via Duff McDuffee on Twitter.)

    • Hi Connie. I read your blog quite regularly, and follow you on Twitter. And enjoy the snark, it’s right on the money, so to speak.

      I started considering this topic when I read in the Buddhist sutras a section about “eel wigglers” that is those who try by many means to avoid and evade among other things. Seems the Buddha was as annoyed by them as everyone else is.

      Keep up your good work.

Comments are closed.