What is the Iron law of projection? It states that anything that one accuses someone else of is something that one is guilty of oneself. In the more general sense, the Iron law of projection implies that the things that we hate the most about other people are things that we find–and hate–within ourselves, but simultaneously wish to push the blame off and attention on others. In a sense, the Iron Law of projection is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a reality that the things that we dish out to others spring from ourselves.
This need not be a bad thing in principle. It has long been noticed by observant people that comedians are invariably people who struggle deeply with sadness, melancholy, and depression. At least empirically, we may determine that if our effect on others is to uplift them and make them more joyful and able to cope with the absurdity and tragedy of life, that we first engage in the monumentally difficult task of trying to cheer ourselves up and help us to cope with such horrors and such suffering before it becomes noticeable to others. By the time that other people have been uplifted by the joy that we provide through humor, we have sought to uplift our own dark hearts for a long, long time in silent mourning. This specific application can be written large, in that the private work we do on ourselves is what we bring to the outside world when it comes to dealing with others. That which we struggle with and work on in ourselves is the work that we end up doing to others, often unconsciously but sometimes deliberately and intentionally.
There are a variety of reasons for this. The most fundamental is that we are asymmetrical beings in terms of our understanding, in that we understand our own motives and our own subjective internal existence far better than we understand what is going on inside of other people. The result is that we tend to project into the outside world what is going on inside of us. We treat others the way that we are. If we treat others with kindness and respect it is because we are that sort of people ourselves. If we are harsh and accusatory with others, we are equally harsh and unsparing, if only privately, with ourselves. Ultimately, that which comes out of us is that which is inside of us.
One might think that people would not always wish to reveal what is inside of them. There are a great many of us, for example, who do not greatly want to be known. Whether or not what is inside of us is not always up to our own moral standards (to say nothing of God’s standards or the mores of our place and time), we may simply mistrust others and the way that they would judge us knowing us the way that God knows us and that we know ourselves. This is true whether or not the reality inside of us is really evil or would only be thought so by those whose standards and judgments are often defective themselves. Yet at the same time, we are beings whose ability to keep things under wraps is highly limited because we long to express what is within us and long to create a world that is appealing and in correspondence with the world that is inside of us, to remove as much as possible the gap between our internal reality and the external reality that we must live within. We all want to be at home, to be somewhere where we can kick our shoes off and let our guard down and feel safe and secure knowing that we are loved for who we really are. This is not always an easy thing to find, and to the extent that we are unable to find such a place the pressure within us can often be intolerable, and inevitably finds an escape in some fashion.
We can see the iron law of projection everywhere in our current society. It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, most obvious in those areas where there is the greatest pressure to justify ourselves and condemn other people for personal and political gain. In such circumstances there is nonexistent motivation to come clean about our own character and every motive to paint rivals and enemies in the blackest terms possible. In such an environment, hypocrisy and double standards are inevitable unless one is a just person of honesty and integrity, and it must be readily admitted that in our dark times such people are in short supply. And even if such people were more common, it is quite possible that the prevailing cynicism would be so great that such people would not be believed even if they existed. If that is indeed the case, we cannot expect help to come from within ourselves, but rather it must come from another place.