Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Necessary Art of Self-Deception

[Johnathan Clayborn]
I know that as a blogger I'm not doing a very good job of posting regular articles. But, to be perfectly honest this pursuit is at least of quatinary importance to me falling in line after school, family, and work obligations are met (not necessarily in that order). So, it should come as no surprise that I haven't posted in a while. These last few months have kept me very busy, but on the up side I have officially completed my 1st year of my PhD progam.

I had many interesting conversations and topics come up during the last couple of months, but didn't have the time to write about them. I'm going to use this opportunity to write about one of the more recent conversations that came up in school during my Culture and Ethics class.

As human beings we are amazingly good at the art of self-deception. We also have this amusingly frustrating ability to define things in the absolute. This is particularly true when it comes to questions and topics of a moral or ethical nature.

One thing that I've noticed of late is that humans are generally very quick to point the blame and criticize or ridicule those whom they feel have violated their preconceived notions of morality. We have our own set of moral codes and beliefs that we staunchly and stoutly cling to, safely believing that our moral code is infallible and that we would adhere to these rules unquestionably.

In truth, life is simply not that simple. Now, mind you, I'm not advocating the creative implementation of excuses to defy your moral code. I'm not even suggesting that you should actively seek opportunities to do so. But, I am saying that when it comes to how we evaluate our actions and behavior perhaps there is a little too much confirmation bias at play.

Often I have been in conversations with people who say things like "I would never steal anything". Really? Never? Never ever? That's an interesting lie that you're telling yourself. Now, for 1 person out of 1,000 this might be true, with emphasis on might. But for the vast majority of us we're engaging in self-deception. Does this mean that most people are thieves and crooks? No. But, what I am suggesting is that there might exist an extenuating circumstance so grievious that the most logical choice of action would be to break your moral code.

Take, for example, a natural disaster or a public crisis. Suppose that your city is in panic. Power is out. Your refridgerator is no longer working. Instead of having 2 weeks of food on hand (which is the national average according to FEMA, by the way), your cold goods are now bad and you have 5 days worth of dry goods to eat. In a survival situation people should keep in mind the rule of 3's: people can generally not survive more than 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Now, bearing this in mind, if you were in this siutation where you had no electricity and little food, if you were to fast-forward 2 weeks to the point where you have haven't eaten in days and you're starving. Maybe you have small children to think of as well. If you came across a store that had food inside, would break in and steal it? Most people would when faced with that situation, even those people who devoutly profess that they would never steal anything. What if there was someone who was hoarding food? Would you physically attack them to try to take food for your own family? If they think they could take them in a fight or they were desperate enough, most people would. Of course, it's easy to deny it now when everything is kosher and say that you're above all of that, but if you ever find yourself in such a situation see what you think then.

So why is it that we do this? Why do we have this inherent need to lie to ourselves? The answer, simply, is because we have to. We have to beleive that we are good people and are incapable of egregious acts like what I described above. To admit to ourselves that we would, in fact, break many or of our own moral codes if the situation mandated that we must presents us with a logical fallacy that our cognitive brains are not capable of
reconciling. Granted, the tipping point for most people to cross their ethical and moral boundaries is quite varied. For some people it doesn't take much, but for others the situation has to be extraordinary. A lot of this self-deception is the fault of our own egos and super-egos, which are the psychological process that our brains use to develop our self image. We tend to be happier and healthier when we can picture ourselves as good people, incapable of any wrongdoing at any time.

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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.