Thinking Of Things, Season 1, Episode 9:


Insecurity is contagious, and that is possibly its most detrimental feature. We are born into a plague, and we take on the symptoms of the pandemic and cultivate those symptoms as medals of our savviness. Those who resist the illness threatens to deface our medals.

When I move through the world populated by insecure people who find different types of identities important, I get pigeonholed and judged accordingly, whether I want to or not, whether it is important to me or not. Therefore it is distancing me from others.

If people see me as belonging to a category, they start to interpret what I say and do based on perceptions of how they think I would behave, of what I would say. Anything I say or do will be judged through that filter, and the parts of me that fulfill the perceived image of me become enhanced, and the rest becomes suppressed. If people are told that men are better than women at maths right before taking a math test, women will do worse, and men will do better.1 Insecurity is contagious. 

“It’s pi plus C, of course.” Original comic:

And identity comes with status. Insecurity is not only a mechanism for conforming to a culture, for there are many identities to seek within a culture. Insecurity is also a driving force for the search of social status, and a mechanism for keeping others at a lower status, for insecurity is contagious.

If, let’s say, in a group in a culture, having loads of sexual partners gives you status. If you are insecure in that group, you will not pursue sex because of lust and want of intimacy and you won’t pursue it for the sake of sex. You will pursue it so that you can brag about it afterwards (whether you do or not, the knowledge that you can brag may be enough). Then the person you have sex with becomes insignificant.
Joke: What does sex and pizza have in common? Even when it’s bad, it’s good.
The only way bad sex is supposedly good is if it is only a means to an end, to feed your insecurity so that you can brag about it. And thus people in this group see potential sexual partners as means for their own status within the group. And the potential sexual partners not only become objectified by the group, they start to objectify themselves and also objectify right back, just as the participants of the group already objectified themselves, because insecurity is contagious.

Insecurity makes us care about what others may think of us, instead of being assertive of whom we are. We therefore distance ourselves from others. We cannot engage meaningfully with a person we are trying to impress, or a person we are using in order to impress someone else, just as we cannot engage meaningfully with someone who is trying to impress us, or trying to use us in some other way to impress someone else. Meaningness in an exchange does not happen if the exchange merely is trying to live up to some kind of norm. Politeness is the opposite of being respectful.2 For insecurity is contagious.

We are born into identity, but it is up to us whether or not we adopt the attitude of insecurity. Or is it? Is it not a privilege to be able to choose not to conform, a privilege for the few who are not born into an identity with low social status? Insecurity is contagious, and in a socially hierarchical culture, the insecurity of the privileged identity-blind or the privilege-proud spread to those less fortunate. In a patriarchal culture, the insecurity of men spreads to women in the form of sexism. Similarly, this is true for racist, ageist, or homophobic cultures as well. And so on, and so forth. 

And the contagion of insecurity works in more ways. If one is perceived as having an identity associated with higher social status, one gets treated accordingly, and it may manifest itself in a sense of entitlement in the privileged, and in the demands of the entitled being met.3

Thus are insecurity and social differences within a culture closely knit together; social difference inevitably leads to insecurity, as well as springs from it.

For insecurity is a two-way contagion. By putting masks onto others we put them onto ourselves, because by enforcing someone else to abide by a social hierarchy and norm, we ourselves ascribe to the same. Therefore, we who commit the crimes should ourselves be pitied, because the extent of our aspiration is to only be a bit of filth, and to aspire for something else is even harder if our version of filth is a position of privilege. We would be pitied if it was not for the fact that we drag others down with us into our filth.

The best one can do then, is to surround oneself with sincere people (but more on that in the next episode).

Some final points

Here are a few more consequences of conforming through insecurity:

Insecurity makes us do what we do not want to by creating a sense of duty to our group. To self-sacrifice is often seen as a virtue, and it may even become a competition to out-self-sacrifice each other. The extreme case is the martyr; the less extreme case is working longer hours than you want. Or to have a job you do not enjoy.4 If money gives social status in a culture, money is part of what is driving the insecurity in that culture.

David Graeber: “Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.”5

Many people cling to their identity. Insecurity is the driving force behind identities, and therefore, when an identity is questioned or criticised, it may be harshly defended, either by aggression or by looking away. And it may be rationalised. The extreme cases of this behaviour include savvy sports hooligans, nationalists, or other forms of insecurity based violent people. Or man-savvy men lashing out at those questioning their cultured masculinity. An example is the case with Anita Sarkeesian who was being terrorised by countless and serious death-threats, rape-threats, etc. for merely pointing out the fact that video games contain sexist tropes on her crowd funded vlog6.

And insecurity is social. Therefore, when cultural norms are challenged, they are challenged socially, and that is how they are defended, by a whole group of people whose place in a culture is being challenged.7

Insecurity manifests both in the will to be a leader and the will to be led.

Romanticism is another consequence of insecurity and identity. To be romantic about a life-style, place, age, perceived partner, etc. Romanticism will always corrupt and disengage aspirations.

Insecurity vainly distorts our self image. There is a discrepancy between the constructed self and actual (unknowable) self. In this discrepancy there is room for the insecure tendency of thinking “if only they saw the real me”. However, that “real me” is not any more real than the constructed self, and both are rooted in insecurity, and even vanity. So, the equation of the lie goes: (actual infinite real self) – (constructed self) = “the real me”. And thus we all become outsiders in our own eyes.8

Hjalmar Söderberg: “You don’t want to be who you are. You want to be who you imagine that you are.”

Don’t do that to yourself!

Next Episode:

We now have enough tools to venture on…

…the Season Finale: The Meaningness of Life

More Stuff:

A very well written personal account of privilege and intersectionality by Gina Crosley-Corcoran:

Why not try out project implicit to test your biases again?

The sculpture on the picture opening this post is “Karma” by Do-Ho Suh

Page 1: “People Taxonomy”, “A Person’s Evolution”, “Just a Normal Culture”, “The Insecurity of being Normal”
Page 2: “The Free Prisoner”, “On Violence”, “Non-violence is also violent”
Page 3: “Identity Politics and the World Ordering”
Page 4: “Contagion”, “Some Final Points”

 Thinking of Things, 2014.

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  • mcarefully

    There is so much in this entry!, I’m sorry I missed its publication earlier.

    In the early sections, in several of the places where you mention ascribing value (/meaning), you modify it with the attribute, ’emotional’ (as distinct from intellectual, spiritual, social, material, etc). Is that because you see most/all value attribution that humans do as a process as at base emotional in nature, even if there may be other layers on top?

    I like very much your comments about violence as well as your acknowledgment of the liberation of the guard. One concrete example of this struck me very strongly in the ‘extras’ material on a dvd release of the film Favela Rising, where it presented a teach-back aspect of the cultural program in which the youth of the favela, having learned musical instrumentation and dance, etc, would then have opportunities to teach/mentor the local police who patrolled the favelas in learning those skills/arts. To me, this was immensely powerful, perhaps the most revolutionarily powerful aspect of the whole story/program, even though it was somewhat of a footnote due to presentational format.

    “…to be a free prisoner” (around footnote 21). — but this is not _really_ the goal, right? Are you presenting ‘free prisoner’ as distinct from liberated (/no-longer) prisoner here? Is the freedom in ‘free prisoner’ the posing sort or the true sort? If it is the posing sort, then does that undermine what follows about the pursuit/construction of indentity-free spaces(/subcultures)?
    >2>OK, you come back to this too,,, in your preview to Next Episode.. 🙂

    What about other aspects of identity that we carry around with us as internalized (expressed or un) projections? eg, ‘I am a person invested in social justice’ as a defining aspect of identity. Might these also be sand-trappy? In recent years I have come to believe that they are, that they are very hard to eliminate as one attempts to know oneself, reconcile self-world relationships, and/or ‘just live’.
    >1>Ah, OK, I see you come back to this ~footnote 31..

    re: foonote 24 and stereotype threat, Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi is a good book on this subject (and accessible, in terms of not being overly academic or dense, for sharing widely).

    As a lesser note, interesting how funny words are. Your very legitimate use of the term ‘insecurity’ throughout this writing communicates well and accessibly, and yet has a sort of inverse relationship to the call for an embracing of insecurity (of a different, virtually opposite character) in eg Watts’ Wisdom of Insecurity. insecurity as manifestation of fear and diminished/ing self-projected/internalized social value VS insecurity as manifestation of openness to (or recognition of) unknowability.

    • ToT

      McCarefully, wow, you are a good reader, I’m happy to have you come here! 🙂 And your comment contains a lot!

      On whether ascribing meaning to something is emotional foremost, as distinct to other attributes:
      Yes, I do think that the when a lump of non-descript stuff becomes a category in our mind, the process is not intellectual; it is when the stuff gains an emotional connection that a category can be formed. This is seen already in children who are very upset if they learn that a category they know is also something else.

      It is a very interesting and apt example from Favela Rising, thank you!

      On the free prisoner: yes, maybe that could have been made clearer before the preview of the next episode. I don’t think the free prisoner as being free, merely as someone who has made herself content in her own prison. The ‘free prisoner’ and the ‘culture savvy adult’ are very similar concepts in this respect…

      On Self-identity: I agree, they are a bit sand-trappy. With a self-identity with tend to reduce some aspects of ourselves into some kind of perceived “truth”. But as with all identities, with an openess that there not being a truth when it comes to these matters, they can still find their use. E.g. it could be a way to focus and transform different parts of yourself, by solidifying some aspects into an identity for a while, this opens up space and energy for transforming other aspects.

      Whistling Vivaldi: I’ll look for it!

      On the word insecurity: Hmmm… I haven’t read Watt’s book… I guess that I also promote an embrace of insecurity, since I think we need to acknowledge and become aware of our insecurities in order to take responsibility for our personhood. I suggest analysing daydreams as a method towards the end of the last post. It has proved useful for me, I don’t know how universal it could be. Is Watt’s view similar? From the blurb of the book it seems that it may be, but it is not quite clear.

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  • Axel Cholewa


    I know I’m late for this discussion, but man, this is a difficult article. I’m working o a summary in my own words, but by now I have only summarized everything up to “The free prisoner”.

    You find the summary here:

    I’m open for comments or corrections by everyone 🙂


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  • ToT

    Social contagion measured:
    The article says peculiarly little about how positive behaviour is spread, but seems to imply that the same applies for positive and negative social conduct.