When I lie to myself, I don’t believe me

The title I have chosen is the good scenario. There are scenarios that are not as good and the next several essays will be about those. What are those other, worse, scenarios? The first and most basic has to do with hiding the data. It goes like this: “I didn’t know it was happening and the reason I didn’t know is that I hid it from myself.” That’s the one we are going to deal with first and we are going to join Queen Susan of Narnia to look at an instance.

The second has to do with not keeping clear, not doing what is necessary to continue to see a truth clearly. There are things you could do—imagine de-fogging the windshield, for instance—and if you do them, you will be able to see clearly. If you do not, you will not see clearly and the decisions you make will be based on other things. We will use the Episcopal Ghost to explore this one.

The third has to do with self-justification. This one is a little harder to describe. On the other hand, it will instantly familiar to most of us so it doesn’t have to be described all that well. In this model, the justifier—Jonathan Haidt calls it “my inner lawyer”—takes over instantly and instead of seeing the truth, you see the reason why you are not to blame. I am going to call it an exculpatory narrative. [1] The narrative preempts the understanding or, to say it another way, the result of the work of the “inner lawyer” is that you understand the facts only as part of the narrative.

narnia 5The dilemma, as it appears in all three of these, is that “you” are represented as two “persons” or as two “functions.” One of these persons prevents the other from correctly assessing the situation, which prevents “you” from dealing appropriately with the situation. In all three of the situations I am going to offer, some part of you hides the truth so that the other part of you does not experience it.  Does it feel weird yet?

My own view is that I am presenting three versions of the same dilemma. They are not identical, but they are so like each other at the center that they ought to be seen as members of the same family. The two questions I will be asking you are: a) do you agree with me that these are members of the same family and b) do you know how these work in your own life or, possibly that they don’t work this way in your life? My own answers are Yes and Yes.

Queen Susan of Narnia

Susan Pevensie, who is Queen Susan when she is in Narnia, has a difficulty to deal with. Allowing herself to realize that she has seen what she has, in a sense, “seen” will require her to do quite a number of things she does not want to do. I sympathize.

Her dilemma is revealed in C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, the second of the Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy, the youngest of the four Pevensie children, is the best of them in some senses. She is less likely than the others, for instance, to get caught up in a role that forces her to overlook more important things. She blusters less than her brothers, Peter and Edmund. She rolls her eyes in disdain less than her sister Susan.

So it is not all that surprising that when Aslan needs to reveal himself to the Pevensies, he chooses Lucy. He calls her directly out of sleep and leads her to himself. The reunion—they came to know Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—is joyful, but brief. He sends Lucy back to the others with very difficult instructions. She is to wake her sister and her brothers, all older than she is, and persuade them to follow her on the grounds that she has seen Aslan and continues to see him. They will not be able to see him—we will get into why they will not, but not right now—so they will be doing something they very much do not want to do entirely because of the claims she is making.

And…Aslan has instructed her to follow him whether the others do or not. In other words, in a hostile and strange country, she will simply desert her companions if they do not follow her.

This small piece of the plot works out well. All the children are reunited with Aslan and they reach the crucial battle in time to save the day, and so on. But it is very dicey at the beginning and it is the dicey part that interests me most.

The children are lost in an unfamiliar landscape. They are tired and hungry. They have to get to Caspian’s camp before the climactic battle and they don’t know how to get there. In the middle of all that, Lucy sees Aslan. Only Lucy sees Aslan. [2]

“Where did you think you saw him,” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was—up there.

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

He—I—I just know,” said Lucy, by his face.”

So there’s the confrontation. Lucy, only Lucy, sees Aslan, so only Lucy knows that they should go up the gorge not down. But then, in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, only Lucy knew that she got through the back of the wardrobe and into a strange and wonderful forest in winter. Professor Kirke, the owner of the wardrobe, counseled them at the time to put their trust in a trustworthy person and they did, eventually. But they don’t do it this time. Instead, they vote. Lucy loses.

So, as I said above, Lucy is called to Aslan in the middle of the night and sent back to rousenarnia 3 her brothers and sisters from a sound sleep and to get them to follow her on no grounds other than that she says Aslan wants them to. This time they follow her—aided by her determination to go alone if need be—and the longer they follow her, the more they think that they, themselves, might be seeing Aslan up ahead of them.

Very soon, we get to the place that caught and held my attention. Here it is.

“Lucy,” said Susan in a very small voice….I see him now. I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right.” [said Lucy].

“But I’ve been far worse than you know. I really believed it was him…yesterday. When he warned us not to go down to the fir-wood. And I really believed it was him tonight, when you woke us up. I mean, deep down inside. Or I could have, if I’d let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods…”

So let’s look carefully at what Susan is saying. She is saying, first, that when Lucy came back to camp from talking with Aslan, Susan did not believe she had really been talking to Aslan. Even now, knowing that she had been on the wrong side, she can go no further than to say that she “could have…believed” if she had allowed herself to do so.

So this is that one person/two selves problem as it plays out in Narnia. Queen Susan is the person. Within her is a self who wants intensely to get out of the woods and who obscures all information that is incompatible with it. It is possible that Susan could have said, “I would really like to get out of these awful woods, but that is Aslan—I really believe I am seeing Aslan—and I will follow him even if it means staying in the woods.” In this formulation, Susan wants two things: she wants to be aware of seeing Aslan (that means following him) and she wants to get out of the woods. She could weigh the two sides and come to a conclusion.

That’s not a good deal for the denying self. If Susan knows she wants to get out of the woods and does not know that Aslan is there, then everything is easy for the Denier. Only one reality is left; no decision needs to be made.

And things would stay that way except for Lucy. Lucy asks her brothers and her sister to follow her on a journey following “a lion” whom only she can see. Under the circumstances, Susan has no choice but to go along. But there is something about “going along,” about following the lead of the most faithful person of the four that brings back the suppressed truth. As Susan goes along, the thinks that she herself might be seeing Aslan, then is completely sure that she sees Aslan. At that point, she remembers that she “really did” or “really could have” seen Aslan yesterday.

narnia 7Here’s what we know for sure. Susan did not see Aslan yesterday. Here is Susan’s “sense” of why she didn’t. She could have seen Aslan “if I had let myself.” She did not let herself, so she did not see Aslan. But Lewis wants us to believe that Susan retains a “memory” of an event that did not happen. Or that she has a “memory” of what she did to prevent the event from happening. We have to take account, somehow, of her confession to Lucy, “I could have believed [it was Aslan] if I had let myself…”

Does she know that? It’s hard to say. The principal witness in the next essay will be a character from C. S. Lewis’s fantasy, The Great Divorce. He is the character I call “the Episcopal Ghost.” We will look at the Queen Susan problem—same problem—in the Ghost’s case next.
[1] An exculpatory narrative is, first, a narrative. It is a story. That means it is an arrangement of facts and values into a sequence that has and effect. The effect is, “It wasn’t my fault.” I emphasize this because the facts, otherwise available, are swept up into the narrative, where they are not available any more.

[2]  The others do not see Aslan because they have been unfaithful.  I think that is Lewis’s view.  When they begin to act faithfully, by following Lucy who is following Aslan, they begin to see.  We would like to have the vision first and act, later, on the basis of it.  In a lot of cases, only acting clears the way for you to see.  That’s Lewis’s view, in which he follows the Apostle Paul.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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