The existentialist moral is authenticity (e.g. Sartre), a ‘being true to myself’. For example, if my analysis of the social situation demands me to explicitly deceive, I internally admit doing so. But humans (not perhaps advanced future artificial intelligence) are socially evolved to do something else instead*, namely reducing cognitive dissonance by rationalization. What I find amazing about rationalization is that we do it quite consciously in a way one could call ‘semi-conscious suppression of cognitive dissonance’. For example:
I do not want to acknowledge or even just hear about something that I fear may have convincing arguments for me to change my opinion, say my opinion about something that I fear to change my mind about, perhaps because, for example, it is the opinion about the value of myself, my self-worth. I refuse to admit (to myself!) facts which I myself somewhere in my mind actually believe to be (at least potentially) consistent (thus: “semi-conscious”). I know, if I were truly as open minded as I claim to be (claim also to myself), I would have to at least make the effort to spend a little time looking at what I refuse to look at. Yet, I am very adept at making myself believe the somehow more convenient versions, while keeping awareness about the existence of the ‘inconvenient truth’, and often even awareness about doing this whole exercise (especially many religious defending faith, pseudo scientists defending their work, but we all do it all the time).
How can that even be that I at once do and do not believe? Well, it needs the still much underrated insight into that our identity, our “I”, “my” self-identification, is non-trivial not only in that it is fragmented (not that felt unity) and inconsistent, but also surprisingly dynamic. One of the major hurdles to the advancement of science and philosophy (rather than progress** in society or individual growth), for example physics (failure to carve up into “me” and “outside” reality) or studies of consciousness of course (causality of “my” deciding), is the fact that also scientists suffer from a naïve concept of identity, a fact that is itself based on rationalizing cognitive dissonance, for one in their discrimination of psychological issues as somehow beneath them (partially because of their failure in contributing to such fields), for another because of their necessary functioning inside those social structures that select their output.
All cognitive systems worth calling so are in this way complex regarding their identity, for example if the city of Los Angeles messages via a road sign saying “LA welcomes you”. “What is it like to be a city” is not the issue I want to address here. The main obstruction toward enlightenment today is our refusal to open up to the ‘new enlightenment’, sometimes called “neo-enlightenment”, the focus of which is to look into the mirror and ask not what it is like to be a bat or LA, but what is it like to be myself.
Example 1: I often label tautologies as true, because A = A is self-consistent. However, I actually state A = B (for example A := evolutionary success, B := turning out to be more frequent) while having defined B := A somewhere else, often even via A := B (by ‘evolutionary success’ I mean to turn out more frequently in the statistical ensemble). This is useful only because A and B differ in the feelings they trigger (“success”, “merely happens to be more frequent”), thus allowing to ‘explain’ via relating different associations. The utility of the tautology is to attach truth to the claim of A being the same as B in a way that hides the fact that they are crucially (relative to the explanatory power aimed at) not the same.
* Our having co-evolved together with social structures that reproduce via us, we have evolved to rationalize what we do, this being a main task of our mind. We rationalize so that it seems as if our motivations are grounded in a tower of justified utilities all the way down. Power structures are thus stabilized, since they appear as if legitimization rests on absolute foundations (the divine, the self-evidence of democratic doctrine, …). Wherever we stop asking further, it feels like grounding has been achieved. For this to function, rational reasoning is necessarily only extended very little, because otherwise inconsistencies are too obvious. The philosopher who desires to go below must in a sense become anti-social.
** progress can mean improvement (but relative to what good?) or advancement of society toward its future state, including more efficient ways of deception of relatively autonomous sub-systems like humans.