We can convince ourselves of anything
Throughout Errol Morris’s filmmaking career, he has been fascinated with why people are unable to see reality when it seems so obvious. We are often captivated by fantasies rather than the truth. These fantasies are perceptions of reality that conform to our pre-existing outlooks. He warns that if “our capacity for belief is so plastic, we can convince ourselves of anything.” Our embedded beliefs fabricate the reality we observe. Perhaps, the disturbing fact is that we are happy to convince ourselves of a reality that simply isn’t there.
Society endlessly battles between theory and evidence. Morris captures the problem, “You have a theory, the question is: does that theory in some way determine the evidence you look for and the kind of evidence you reject.” If we only use evidence that verifies our beliefs, conflicting evidence becomes invisible. Consequently, we only perceive a projection of our convictions. This idea is manifest in Morris’s documentary film – The Thin Blue Line. Set in 1976 Texas. The Thin Blue Line emphasises the fallibility of human investigation. Morris implies that the investigation was agenda fulfilling and lethargic in truth-finding, which resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of Randall Adams. However, investigative failures are not exclusive to criminal inquiries. These limitations plague all societal choices. The unnerving deduction from the Randall Adam’s case is how disregarding evidence can lead to inexcusable consequences.
We all possess a tendency, as Morris claims, to ‘see ourselves as the protagonists in our autobiographies’
Internally, we suffer from the ambiguity between reality and fantasy. There are some things we just want or don’t want to be true. Take Tabloid, another Morris documentary, which explores the unsolved story of Joyce Mckinney. Mckinney is portrayed as fixated with then-boyfriend Kirk Anderson and was unwilling to accept that she had kidnapped Anderson for three days in 1977. My fascination with her story is that she is depicted as upholding a self-invented reality to escape a less romantic truth. This is a universal facet of human nature – we embrace our dream worlds and fortify ignorance against unwelcome truths. We all possess a tendency, as Morris claims, to ‘see ourselves as the protagonists in our autobiographies.’ Sometimes we won’t succumb to the truth. Just as we include what we choose in an autobiography, we embrace only parts of reality.
Should we not escape self-delusion and achieve our epistemic capabilities? Perhaps our doctored realities are simply too infatuating to abandon.
Author – George Fox