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The Abilene Paradox: A Syndrome of Organized Dysfunction

The Abilene Paradox: A Syndrome of Organized Dysfunction

Matt Diss • April 6, 2016 • Lifestyle • 

“A statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.”


Ok. Let me clear that up.


You’re at a party, and you’re your superficial, dumbass 16-year-old self. Nearby there is a harmless boy, deemed an easy target by you and your peers. Your peers who, mind you, are equally or greater your dumbness, insinuate to you, without word or gesture, to push this harmless boy into the very conspicuous pool that he veers far too closely to. Thinking this may be a hysterically splendiferous idea, and of course driven entirely by your, capital E, Ego, and falsely perceived sense of social gratification, you send him for a swim. Immediately (and of course to really send this hypothetical situation in the direction I would like to), the girl you like the most at the party helps him out, finds him a warm towel and calls you an asshole, the worst kind (a fucking asshole), as she proceeds to embarrass you in front of everyone at the party, berating you with senseless but currently accurate slurs. Now you’re sitting there thinking, Wait I thought everyone wanted me to push him in the pool. Was this a mere illusion? Certainly not! So, how did this end up being the worst idea I’ve had in the last 16 years of my disillusioned life?

The answer, and most importantly, the entire purpose of my lengthy, hypothetical narrative above….

It was a paradox (the Abilene to be exact); the paradox, which as it would appear, is the bane and defect of all human existence.

The Abeline paradox is described as such:

People can make decisions based not on what they actually want to do, but on what they think that other people want them to do, with the result that everybody decides to do something that nobody really wants to do, but only what they thought that everybody else wanted them to do.

My thoughts upon careful and critical analysis: What. The. Actual. Fuck. And you thought you only needed a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology to become a therapist!

But I thought the larger majority of superficial teenagers at the party wanted me to push the lad in the pool. You gave me that mythical and telepathic humanistic “sense” right? And I’ve watched that ’90s film Can’t Hardly Wait enough times to feel certain about this being cool (at least according to my prepubescent idols Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ethan Embry and Seth Green).


The truth behind the matter supplies the identical answer as to why you continue to choose to make the same mistake over and over and over again throughout your life.

We live in a series of incomprehensible, illogical, fucking-confusing paradoxical scenarios. All the reason I decided to study this overwhelming mindfuck for a short period of time in my early 20s.

My discoveries? Well, I suppose that we could chalk this one up as a simple PHILO 101 course from your undergraduate studies. A question answered with yet another typical and frustrating question.

Yes, I couldn’t ever quite define the meaning of all of it (Most of it. Let’s be real. I’d be a pretentious, magniloquent crossbreed of Noam Chomsky and Martin Shkreli if I argued I could), but rather I have developed a better understanding of how my life seems to naturally occur, as it continuously and arbitrarily repeats itself in surprisingly numerous isolated paradoxical instances. And, with careful observation and persistent consideration, I have discovered how to, at least, be conscious of its overwhelming existence, attempting to break the cycle every once in a blue moon (It happened once during the eruption of Krakatao in 1883).

For some time I kept a journal titled, The Mistakes I Already Made. A journal which chronicled my greatest downfalls and served as a simple reminder not to make the same one again and again (despite continuously doing it). The first one I noticed upon reflection:

“I keep dating shitty women. They are beautiful, and kind, and tell me they love me. But I am 18, and that doesn’t mean shit when you’re 18. If it looks strange then it probably is.”

Now this is not to say I got screwed over 24-7 by women every unfolding moment and never met a wonderful charismatic female (as a matter of fact I found quite a healthy few), but I continued to let the same things happen when I entered these pubescent dating schemas.

I meet a girl. I like her. I want her. She’s skeptical about the plunge (RED FLAG), but agrees to dive in full force, throttle to the max, and marriage is just a $70,000 investment around the corner. Just about the time I get vulnerable, she fucks someone else with her 18-year-old, estrogenically-young urges.

Who’s surprised? Not me… anymore. But for a long time I was. And I was hurt and sad, consequently becoming irrational and increasingly angry with life and its vague thematic lessons.

As I began to review this perpetual adolescent problem, reading my journal to remedy the issue, I devised a solution from careful analysis of the compiled data (yes, at the time it was data).

Findings based on theorized hypothesis:

Stop getting so serious with 18-year-old girls, most of which have zero legitimate reasonable intentions to hold a serious relationship! You’re young, and you need to use that miraculous and seemingly unfathomable organ called the brain and stop dicking yourself into the street outside of the local pizza joint covered in vomit, disgrace, Jameson whiskey, and self-loathing.

Finally, a breakthrough! It’s certainly not the creation of Einsteinium, but nonetheless a discovery that I needed to learn and am glad I did. It’s the lesson that makes me feel a bit better than the 40-year-old who is still confused why their cheating wife won’t be faithful.


Now, this is not to say that I didn’t make the same mistake twice, but at least the next time I did it (and read the journal again) I wasn’t crying like a puppy who is confused because his owner walked into the kitchen for three seconds and now its concerned about whether or not its been left for dead.

I get it. I made the mistake because this time it looked “different”. My feeble human brain couldn’t function at that capacity; understanding that the wheel was created because squares don’t roll as smoothly.

Great, I’m not a failure, I am just human.

Discovering the realization of the human paradox, the idea that we are all misled by our egocentric perceptions and misconceptions, was a huge step for me. And now, 27 years old, I can ignore the bullshit of everyday life, the confusion, and illogical behavior… usually.

I don’t need to hear all the reasons why your statement is correct along with your preconditioned narcissistic point of view, nor do you benefit from mine. I don’t need to hang onto the false notion that I’m right or wrong, fat or skinny, liberal or conservative,  hipster or just a guy who likes plaid. And likewise neither do you. So don’t waste your time. In the words of Charles Darwin, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

I’m not Albert Camus here, and no, I’m not attempting to force feed you Nietzsche, but if I have learned anything thus far, I suppose it’s a pretty simple slogan for the day-to-day affairs:

Revel in the absurdity of your life. Ask more questions without needing answers. Find the beauty in each and every thing you meet. And finally, in the words of Kant: “LivE. Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.”

This is my answer for now. And as it would seem, I suppose I’ll continue to fall into the paradox of my existence, but now maybe a little bit less often, with a little less concern.

“The paradox is really the pathos of intellectual life and just as only great souls are exposed to passions it is only the great thinker who is exposed to what I call paradoxes, which are nothing else than grandiose thoughts in embryo.”- Soren Kierkegaard

Graphics by Matt Diss


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  1. I loved the article & the graphics. Interesting in that everyone I know, especially myself, seems to repeat behavior that I, or they, know is inappropriate. I’m at a point in my life in which I find this article very helpful. Thank you.


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