O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Epistemological Evasion

“The drifter does not integrate his mental contents; the evader disintegrates them, by struggling to disconnect a given item from everything that would give it clarity or significance in his own mind. In the one case, the individual is immersed in fog by default; he chooses not to raise his level of awareness. In the other case, he expends energy to create a fog; he lowers his level of awareness.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 61.
(“The Fog Warning”, by Winslow Homer, 1885, depicts a fisherman spotting his mother ship on the horizon, ahead of ominous clouds approaching. Like him, we must work hard to achieve security; all it takes is that we do nothing to be swallowed up by the fog of evasion.)

Man’s distinct capacity is his conceptual faculty, the ability to focus, integrate, think. But all that depends on his volition. He may, instead, let himself “go out of focus, relax his concentration, drop his purpose, and lapse into a state of blur and drift”. That’s evasion, and as far as I know, everybody does it — routinely — with less or greater frequency. I fit into the second group.

I call it “epistemological evasion”. While the metaphysical variety tries, in one way or another, to rewrite reality, epistemological evasion tries to ignore it. In the former, you delegate your decisions to another consciousness that provides you with a better reality; in the latter, you are not so lucky, so you simply choose not to look. It’s like that kid who, fearing the monster in the closet, simply closes her eyes – she knows that will not get rid of the monster, but if only she does not see it will be easier. Our mistakes begin early in our lives.

In Ayn Rand’s own words, evasion is:

“the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocussing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the un-stated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict ‘It is’.”

Unfortunately, everything in the end comes down to the dreadful habit of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Our mind has evolved faster than the mechanisms nature has found to train us. We still do not accept that it is by reasoning that we survive, that it is by conceptually integrating the perceptions that come to us that we have some chance of understanding the world and, perhaps, finding that elusive happiness. Instead we keep playing with fire to see if it burns. We remain slaves of every ephemeral pleasure, even knowing that the price to pay is our long-term well-being. We run away from reality through mental laziness, avoiding the effort to think with all our ability, escaping the pain of facing our responsibilities. But deep down we are just succumbing to every bitter momentary pleasure – yes, bitter, because even the sweetest of sweets tastes bad when seasoned by cowardice and weakness.

Clausewitz spoke of the “fog of war”, the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced in combat events. I know what he was talking about. I’ve been there countless times. Now, imagine that you are in the worst combat situation of all and that you can choose either to keep full focus and awareness, or create a fog to confuse your perceptions and numb your mind.

Well, my friend, you are in the hardest combat of all – life – and you can probably see the “fog of evasion” looming on the horizon.

What do you choose?


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