The Gentle Art of Self-Deception

Riverside Park HDRsWhen we write our memories to our brains we write them twice. Yet we remember as we see the event, and how we see that event is subject to all sorts of biases.

First, we lie to ourselves – and we do it for a variety of reasons, most notably self-enhancement. And then we are lied to by our biases and how we receive information, and our biases are based on like-mindedness, on whether we as individuals are in the in-group or the out-group – even when we perceive ourselves to always be in the in-group.

Critical thought is supposed to be a part of all of this, guarding us from biased inputs or at least letting us stamp them as being potentially biased. In the broad strokes it doesn’t seem to, in the broad strokes it seems to fail even when individuals and groups experience cognitive dissonance. In individuals it’s part of life, but in groups it can be downright frightful.

We not only lie to ourselves, we allow ourselves to be lied to. We even encourage it, seeking out things that prop up our biases. This is why many reformed addicts talk about ‘hitting rock bottom’ – where they reach a point that self-deception can no longer be done, when facts rip away the armor of self-deception. Some trade one self-deception with another so that they don’t feel alone.

This is the foundation upon which we build our institutions. Democracy, as great as it is in theory, fails here (as do all other ideologies) not because of some sinister agenda of a group but because of self-deception. Where there could be dissenting opinion from dissenting perspective, we label the ‘other side’ as wrong and paint them with a broad brush. This is why committees rarely come up with anything innovative and are great ways to waste time – because of the commonality required to be a part of the group.

And this is why we fail to live up to the standards we give ourselves. We’re crappy witnesses to our own deeds.

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