I just realized a huge change I went through, starting sometime in my late 20s/early 30s. It's a little hard to explain.
When I was a child and teenager, it was often the case that I hadn't made up my mind about some issue. Or I didn't have a strong aesthetic sense about whether some movie or book or actor was good or bad.
But I felt it was important that I have -- or seem to have -- a strong opinion. I decided that "grown ups" were always sure about things, and I wanted to be grown up.
So, instead of honestly reporting my confusion or undecidedness, I pretended to have a stance. Sometimes it was a stance I copied from someone else -- someone I liked who seemed sure of himself, at least about whatever issues I was currently thinking or talking about.
Okay, I suspect that what I've described so far is pretty common. What may or may not be common is that I somehow felt that my stance was a kind of truth.
Someone would ask me if I liked Shakespeare or not. My true feeling, at my core, might have been something like, "I don't know. I haven't read much Shakespeare. And what little I have read was hard for me to understand, and I didn't like that, because it made me feel stupid. At the same time, I did understand parts of it, and I liked those parts..."
But, having decided that Smart People Like Shakespeare, I'd take that stance and say, "Yes, I like Shakespeare very much." On a simplistic level, we'd call that a lie.
But, of course, like everyone else, I sometimes told lies, and I knew what it felt like to tell a lie. This felt a bit different. It felt like the option I was working towards. Like an almost surely true prediction of what my option one day would be.
If I could have somehow have put my this into worlds, I might have said something like, "Well, I haven't quite gotten there yet, but I'm pretty sure I'm the kind of person who will one day like Shakespeare, so let's just simplify things by putting me in the likes-Shakespeare camp. And, even if I don't actually have both feet in that camp, I promise to act like I do. I'll go see Shakespeare plays. I'll read his works. Etc. So, in terms of behavior, there will be no difference between me and a true Shakespeare fan. To say I'm not a one is just quibbling."
It was as if I had an official spokesperson, and his brief was to handle public relations. And he also made sure that, regardless of my private feelings, I always acted according to the party line. Which made the party line true -- or true-ish.
(If I told one friend that I liked Shakespeare but admitted to another that I didn't, this DIDN'T feel like truth. For it to feel like truth, I had to steadfastly ALWAYS tell the same story.)
Once I got my official-spokesperson stance set, I could utter it in confidence, without shame, and it never felt like a lie. As-far-as my internal state was concerned, it wasn't a lie.
Sometimes, my deep-down confusion would quickly come in line with the party line (and I really would like Shakespeare). I guess that's what they mean by "fake it until you make it." At other times, this process took years.
For instance, as a kid, I spent YEARS claiming to love school, when in fact I hated it. But, again, "I love school" didn't feel at all like a lie. It felt like the official party line. And, in fact, admitting to myself that I hated it was hard, because the spokesperson was screaming at me, "No you don't!"
Sometimes, all that existed was the party line. In other words, I got bored with the actual issue and stopped thinking about it. So whatever truth there was about my stand on it was JUST the stance.
(My dad is very opinionated about music. He used to play a lot of Sondheim, but he HATED the sound "Liaisons" from "A Little Night's Music." When that track would start, he's run to the turntable and skip over it, proclaiming the song's worthlessness. I aped his opinion. It became my stance. And, eventually, though the stance was really powerful and seemed true, there was nothing underneath it. TWENTY YEARS after I adopted the stance, I realized I loved that song and always had.)
In my late 20s, my spokesperson went away. I'm not sure why? It may have had something to do with my immersion in psychology and neurology books. I may have had something to do with my worsening Asperger's symptoms.
I'm not saying I never lie. I'm sure I lie at least as much as anyone. But I KNOW it's a lie. And I always know if I like carrots, hate carrots or are confused about whether I like them or not. So it's not that there's no ambiguity in my soul. There's plenty of it. It's just that I'm comfortable with it. I don't need a spokesperson to pretend I know something that I don't know. If I don't know, I don't know.
Well, that last paragraph sounds like I always have perfect self-knowledge. I don't. Truthfully, I am capable of discovering that I don't really like something that I thought I did. But that's different from having an actual truth and a spokesperson truth in my head at the same time.
When I talk to other people, I sometimes feel like I'm talking to the a spokesperson. And, again, that's not my way of saying I feel like the person is lying to me. It's more complicated than that. I feel like I'm getting a sanitized party line, and that the person I'm talking to believes that line is a kind of truth. That he feels none of the guilt or shame that he'd normally feel if he was lying.
One example is sexuality. If you're a man who is only attracted to women, you're straight. If you're attracted exclusively to other men, you're gay. If you're attracted to both sexes, you're bisexual. It's really simple.
But there are a lot of people you "identify" as gay or whatever. What does this mean? Does it mean, "I am fully aware that I am attracted to both men and women, even though I'm more often attracted to men. I am aware that the TRUTH is that I'm bisexual. But since I don't act on my occasional attraction to women, I'm just going to call myself gay, because that makes things simpler in conversation -- and it makes my life easier in a world that's harsh on bisexuals"?
Or does it mean, "THE PARTY LINE IS THAT I'M GAY and as that IS the party line, it's as true as anything else. They fact that I'm sometimes attracted to women is a non-issue. It's not my official stance. (And maybe my attraction to women will even cease if I hold to the party line with enough conviction.) In any case, the part of me that's attracted to women doesn't count. Because I SAY so!"
In other words, does the bi person who identifies as gay actually feel like that identity is more meaningful than an arbitrary category BECAUSE it's his party line?
I think my lack of a spokesperson gets me into trouble sometimes. For instance, my friends are generally not racists. That means two things: (1) it means that, in general, they treat people of all races fairly and don't discriminate on the basis of skin color and (2) they CLASSIFY themselves as non-racists.
Now, most of us -- I think -- do have the occasional racist thought or feeling. It's not terribly important, as long as we realize it's wrong, etc. What's interesting is it IS part of who we are, but it's NOT part of how we classify ourselves. In other words, we're "bi" when it comes to being racist, leaning heavily towards not.
That is the LITERAL truth. So the LITERALLY TRUE answer, for me, if you ask me whether or not I'm racist, is "Almost never, but very occasionally I have a racist feeling."
While it's almost impossible for me to believe this isn't the case for nearly all "non racists," I've noticed almost no one says this (except for those people who have taken the stance that "we're all racist"). When you're asked if you're racist, you're supposed to go with the party-line answer. Your'e supposed to let the spokesperson talk. And, of course, the literal truth and the spokesperson truth are pretty close.
But, generally, if I admit to the literal truth, people get upset. They say, "You ADMIT you're sometimes racist and you don't do anything about it? That's horrible!"
But I KNOW I'm not alone in my once-in-a-blue-moon racism." I'm just alone in dropping the spokesperson.
This is SO hard to describe. I feel like someone could read this and say, "So you're just saying people are hypocrites?" No, that's not what I'm saying. If someone has an internal spokesperson, and that's really a part of them, and that spokesperson has a strong opinion, then that opinion is true -- or it FEELS true... or it's true-ish.
Without a spokesperson, you (or at least I) wind up living in a much murkier world, in which things aren't cut-and-dry and opinions are apt to shift.
Here's one last example: most of us say things like, "'The Wizard of Oz' is my favorite movie." (If you don't happen to like that movie, imagine some other movie that you do like.)
That becomes the party line, and it IS true most of the time. But sometimes you don't feel like watching it. You're not in the mood to watch your "favorite movie." If someone forced you to watch it right then, you'd have a lousy time. Why? Because THAT MOVIE would be irritating you. A movie you "love" would be irritating you.
I'm not sure what the phrase "my favorite movie" actually means. I guess it's some sort of averaging. It's the movie that most often gives you pleasure. It's a statement that's 100% stance. "Favorite movie" doesn't feel like anything. "I'm enjoying this movie right now" means something, as does "I remember having enjoyed it lots of times in the past, and when I think about it, those thoughts tend to give me pleasure." As does "I'm not enjoying it right now."
The only feelings that exist are the ones you're having right now.
The literal truth is that sometimes you have a good time watching (or thinking about) the movie and sometimes you don't. Your experience skews way more towards "good time" than "bad time." But the bad-time experiences are certainly real. You're "bi" when it comes to "The Wizard of Oz," chocolate cake (which you hate when you have an upset stomach) and the rest of your "favorite things."
But "'The Wizard of Oz' is my favorite movie" FEELS like truth to me. It's the official party line. What's fascinating is that I can say it, with great conviction, without actually feeling anything (other than conviction). It may not be literally true in this moment (I'm not even watching the movie right now), but if you focus on this moment, you're quibbling.
Oops. I claimed not to have a spokesperson. I guess sometimes I do. Especially when I'm tired. He can take over when it's too much work to dredge up my actual feelings. Or when someone forces me to state my feelings about something I don't have any feelings about.
But though he's still around, my spokesperson seems semi-retired. He was so active in my youth. Now he just pokes his head in to say hi once in a while. And he often takes naps, during which time my true feelings (or lack of them) are obvious to me.
We sometimes simplify our internal states in order to be able to think about them and talk about them. Those simplifications can have the emotional force of truth.