Stances are simple, compelling patterns of thinking and feelings concerning meaningness. For example: “I’m an ordinary guy,” or “the only real purpose in life is to squeeze as much pleasure out of it as you can before you die,” or “good people follow the rules,”
Systems are big, complicated things with lots of details you are supposed to believe and do. Systems have salespeople, who argue passionately in their favor.
Stances are very simple, and don’t require any specific beliefs or practices. No one explicitly promotes them. You pick them up automatically from our cultural “thought soup.”
Confused stances are insidious, because they are unnoticed. Because no one argues for them, no one argues against them. They are memes, mental viruses that people propagate by talking, without awareness of them.
Systems can help stabilize particular stances.
This instability [how one confused stance leads to another] is one reason stances trump systems. No matter how determined you are to stick to a system, the stances connected with it are likely to slide out from under you.
you can catch yourself sliding from one to another like this. The flip-flopping is often accompanied by anxiety, which can produce rebellious negativity or fake sweetness. Those are clues you are caught up in a confused stance.
The antidotes to this whole process are the complete stances. Unfortunately, they too are unstable. They are unstable not because they fail to fit reality, but because they don’t offer the emotional pay-offs the confused stances do.
The nebulosity of meaningness causes various problems: practical, social, and psychological. (Much of this book describes such problems.) Often, people would like to get rid of nebulosity, or pretend that it is not there.
Confused stances are attitudes to meaningness that refuse to acknowledge nebulosity. One strategy is to fixate meanings, attempting to deny their nebulosity by trying to make them solid, eternal, and unambiguous. Another is to deny meaningfulness altogether, or to say that it is not important, or cannot be known.
Because meaningness is both nebulous and real, these confused stances fail, and cause new, worse problems.
Wrong ideas about meaningness show up as pairs of polarized, opposite stances. These appear to be extreme views. Surely the truth can be found somewhere between?
In fact, it’s usually impossible to find a “middle” position anyway. In each pair of confused stances, one categorically denies what the other fixates.
For instance, the stance of true self holds that there is a mysterious essence of the person; the stance of selflessness holds that there is none. The reality of selfness might be described as “between” these extremes, once it is found. But “in the middle” is not a helpful hint for where to look. What is halfway between existence and non-existence?1
We’ll see, though, that almost everyone adopts the nihilistic stance at times, without noticing. When the complete stance is unknown, nihilism seems like the only possible defense against the harmful lies of eternalism. (Just as eternalism seems like the only possible salvation from the harmful lies of nihilism.)
Kierkegaard defines the self as a relation that relates itself to itself. That means that who I am depends on the stand I take on being a self.. see stance!