The biological study of human behaviour can teach us a lot about ourselves, and Robert Trivers has just written a book Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others (Allen Lane, Penguin Books 2011) from which we can all learn deep insights about ourselves and our fellow humans.
Yes fellow humans, some of us — including even myself –can be very difficult and tricky to deal with.
The first chapter of Robert Trivers’ book gives an overview of the evolutionary logic of human self-deception. It picks out nine categories of self-deception, but three in particular caught my mind:
- The Derogation of Others Is Closely Linked
- Moral Superiority
- The Construction of Biased Social Theory
The Pundit had to look up the meaning of derogation in the dictionary and found that the relevant meaning is “The perception or treatment of someone as being of little worth”.
Oh boy do these three make sense to the Pundit as being the distinctive hallmarks of people engaged in self-deception. I won’t spoil any reader’s fun by spelling out the gory details.
With regard to Moral Superiority hallmark of deceit, Trivers started out by saying this:
Few variables are as important in our lives as our perceived moral status. Even more than attractiveness and competence, degree of morality is a variable of considerable importance in determining our value to others—thus it is easily subject to deceit and self-deception. Moral hypocrisy is a deep part of our nature: the tendency to judge others more harshly for the same moral infraction than we judge ourselves—or to do so for members of other groups compared to members of our own group. For example, I am very forgiving where my own actions are concerned. I will forgive myself in a heartbeat—and toss in some compassionate humor in the bargain—for a crime that I would roast anybody else for….
To give you a better idea of the book as a whole, here is its description from the dust jacket :
In this foundational book, Robert Trivers seeks to answer one of the most provocative and consequential questions to face humanity: why do we lie to ourselves?Deception is everywhere in nature. And nowhere more so than in our own species. We humans are especially good at telling others less — or more —than the truth. Why, however, would organisms both seek out information and then act to destroy it? In short, why practise self-deception? To biologists this has long been a mystery. Our sense organs have evolved to give us a marvellously detailed and accurate view of the outside world. So why should natural selection then lead us to systematically distort what we know?After decades of research, Robert Trivers has at last provided the missing theory to answer these questions. What emerges is a picture of deceit and self-deception as, at root, different sides of the same coin. We deceive ourselves the better to deceive others, and thereby reap the advantages. From space and aviation disasters to warfare, politics and religion, and the anxieties of our everyday social lives, Deceit and Self-Deception explains what really underlies a whole host of human problems. But can we correct our own biases? Are we doomed to indulge in fantasies, inflate our egos, and show off? Is it even a good idea to battle self-deception?With his characteristically wry and self-effacing wit, Trivers reveals how he finds self-deception everywhere in his own life, and shows us that while we may not always avoid it, we can now at least hope to understand it.
Syndicated from GMO Pundit aka David Tribe.