This week, the event that’s rattling around my head the most is Keith and Wendy quitting Extinction Island. (At least, among the set of events happening on Survivor. The event rattling around my head the most in my actual life is that the guy who runs my apartment building has hired a lawyer to “prove” my wife and I are faking our marriage. Really.)
Why did Keith and Wendy quit? There are the answers they gave verbally to that question, of course. Keith said he had already accomplished everything that he wanted: “I’m leaving with more than I ever came with.” Wendy said that being proud of herself is what’s most important to her, and she’s already done that in the game.
But are these the real answers? Whenever people quit a task and say they’ve “realized” that they had already accomplished it, we should always be suspicious. Although sometimes this is genuinely true, it’s often a rationalization by people who can’t admit when they fail. Keith and Wendy were tired and hungry, and many of their self-delusions had gotten battered over the past couple weeks. Rather than accept their failures, it was likely just more soothing to convince themselves that they had actually succeeded.
What are “rationalizations”? People generally seem to use this word to describe explanations that appear rational and believable on the surface, but are actually hiding reasons that are embarrassing or shameful. They aren’t simply lies, though. Lies are false explanations that we don’t believe ourselves. If people are fully aware that they’ve done something shameful and are giving a fake explanation so that other people won’t discover the truth, then we usually say they are “lying” instead of “rationalizing”.
But a rationalization still seems to be a type of lie. If people truly believe a false explanation, then we usually say they’re “ignorant”, “oblivious”, or similar words instead of “rationalizing”. A person who rationalizes is a person who knows on some level of her mind that she has done an embarrassing action, but is telling herself a lie. How is that even possible? It seems to be a logical contradiction. This has led some philosophers, like Jean Paul Sartre, to claim that rationalizations are an illusion (or at least an unhelpful concept).
This contradiction seems to assume that minds are unitary, though. There have been interesting experiments on people whose brains are split into two physical halves. The two halves have no neural connections with each other, yet the people seem to function normally in their daily lives. None of their acquaintances have any suspicions that their brains are split. Yet they are living with two separate distinct brains, a situation that only becomes apparent during laboratory tests.
Therefore, it doesn’t seem a stretch to think that our brains contain several networks which function with only a little communication among each other. These separate brain networks might often function like different minds in a single person, working symbiotically rather than hierarchically. When we rationalize, perhaps a relatively unconscious part of our mind knows the embarrassing truth and “lies” to a more conscious part of our mind.
In fact, maybe this is the only way that humans are able to continue living as sane, stable, rational creatures. So I don’t want to be too hard on Keith and Wendy. They’re young and the frailties of being human are frightening. I’ve certainly made plenty of rationalizations in my own life (and will likely continue doing so). Sometimes there can even be benefits to not accepting failures, since it might motivate us to persevere and eventually succeed.
As a final note, I don’t think it was smart of Wentworth and Lauren to try to vote off Devens again after he won the chance to return from Extinction Island. Why not bring him back into the Lesu alliance? The tribal council where they had originally voted him out was a tough one and I think Devens would have understood that. Yet Wentworth and Lauren went for his throat for no apparent reason except habit. This is going to come back to haunt them.