theautomaticearth.com / By Raul Ilargi Meijer / November 18, 2012
Definition of a lie: any not entirely accurate representation of the world as we perceive it; what’s not spoken can be as crucial as what is.
So yeah, people lie. They, we, all do. Some of us understand the extent to which this is true better than others, but that’s probably just because we haven’t all spent equal time wondering when it was we first started doing it. Let alone why. Interesting questions. After the fact, it’s blindingly obvious why we would want to lie: accomplished liars get to mate faster and more often. Which still is the purpose of life, even though it may not be terribly fashionable to phrase it that way these days.
But we couldn’t have known that before we began lying, so that’s not what got us started. Another interesting question is who we first lied to, ourselves or others. I personally lean to the former option lately, since we couldn’t have known the advantages of lying to others beforehand. Whereas fooling ourselves could potentially have developed as a much more insidious, secretive, step by step feature.
Likely purely as a survival mechanism, after extremely traumatic experiences. To have such experiences, you need awareness, consciousness, either/or. Probably a sense of belonging to a group, a family, as well as a sense of what’s right and what’s not. If, in that state, you see your friends and family get killed off by a natural disaster or the cruelty of other humans, you need some sort of selective memory, some kind of denial mechanism, in order to survive both mentally and physically, and to find meaning in your life, a pre-requisite for who has awareness and is not a full-fledged psychopath.
The ability to lie to ourselves, and make ourselves think our lives are better than they really are, and that our own place in the world looks better than it does, has endowed us with a propensity for good tidings. We want the world around us to skew our picture of who and how we are in the same way that we ourselves do. Turns out, that’s not a hard thing to find.
If only because the other kind of lying, that from one human being to another, the one that developed quite naturally modeled after our “internal” one, comes with one major caveat. Our ability to detect lies told by others is highly compromised by our ability to lie to ourselves, since the latter only works if it remains somewhere in our unconscious. We obviously don’t consciously believe our own lies, and therefore neither the lies of others.
It all takes place outside of, beyond, our awareness. That’s where the second hand car salesman operates, and any other charmer and grafter, the ad executive, the junkie and the politician. Sigmund Freud may not have been the first to realize this, but he was the first to frame it in rational terms. If you make commercials that tell people what a car or a perfume or a burger really is, they won’t bite. If a junkie tells you what he really wants the money for, you don’t give it to him.
And if a politician tells you what the real state of the economy (and hence your future) is, you’re not going to vote for him. So (s)he tells you want you would like to hear. Without you even knowing it. There’s a world full of things out there that you want without knowing it, and as many that you don’t want. Why we don’t teach Freud throughout all our school systems, all the time, is a far deeper mystery than any of us alive today care to ponder. Unless we bow to the notion that we – unconsciously (?!)- don’t want to know that either. We don’t want to know why we don’t want to know, because when the dominoes start falling that would shatter our carefully crafted and polished self-portraits.
All this to lead into what I really wanted to talk about. The optimism bias. Which plays havoc with everybody’s understanding of the financial crisis like there’s no tomorrow. Pun both intended and unconscious. And, in true character, nobody seems to notice much. Nobody wants to. Not unconsciously.