Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'll fool you and then you fool me and then I'll....

I'm reading "The Folly of Fools" by Robert Trivers.

Self deception as a survival mechanism is the primary tenet of the book. The notion is that we all deceive ourselves into believing that we're smarter, better looking, more competent, luckier, more pious, more cunning than we actually are. This belief bolsters our egos. When our egos are bolstered, even if we do it to ourselves, we feel better. When we feel better we usually do better. Some believe that feeling better even boosts the immune system so we're less prone to infections and illness. Ergo, self deception may help to keep us healthy and alive.

Because we have big brains and communication skills we are well equipped for deception. We learn to lie and deceive early on. Not only self deception but deception of others - babies learn to use crying and throw fits to achieve their goals. Because nature rewards success, we have to assume that lying gives us advantages in the drive to replicate our genes. If it didn't we'd have found out by now. What is romance if not self-deception? What else explains your magnificent friend who is married to a total loser? What, you ask yourself, did she see in him?

From the Barnes and Noble book review
The author calls deceit a "deep feature" of our lives. He goes so far as to assert that it's a necessity in order to survive and gives examples of deceit in nature. Anglerfish lure prey by dangling "bait"in front of their jaws. Women pay to have huge plastic breasts inserted in their chests. Viruses and bacteria use subterfuge to deceive the immune system. And the examples go on and on.

Angler fish dangling his bait
Why do we fool ourselves? There's a never ending circle of benefits involved with deceiving ourselves into living in a dream world. Most of the time hiding reality from our conscious minds is the only way to survive. How else do people survive wars, imprisonment, torture. The better we are at fooling ourselves, the better we get at fooling others. I love to find articles in the paper or online about how the economy is improving and how real estate prices are starting to turn around. I read these and ignore any facts that may point out that the opposite could be happening.

There's a passage highlighted in the review where the author recalls walking down a city street with an attractive young woman trying to amuse her when he spots "an old man on the other side of her, with white hair, ugly, face falling apart, walking poorly indeed shambling". The author realizes he's seeing his own reflection in a store window "Real me is seen as ugly me by self-deceived me". I've had a similar experience catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thinking it's my mother, it can't be me.  I, as well as most women I know, have a certain way of looking at themselves in the angle of the head, a positioning of the feet - the way we look the best - the view in which we look thinner and younger. Not a realistic look at ourselves. Self-deception can be so much more pleasant than reality.

In the Amazon reader reviews, I liked the following comments/thoughts by Graham Seibert. His  review was in part what spurred my interest in reading the book:

I would advocate that Trivers investigate the hypothesis that self deceit is essential for propagating our species. My premise is that having children in any modern society is a fundamentally absurd proposition: they do not generally benefit parents. They are an immense sink for resources: food, clothes, education, entertainment and so on. They cannot be counted on to contribute economically when they grow up, and because they did not have much societal or cultural pressure to do so, they all too seldom even express gratitude.

The self deceit of religion, that having children is God's will, may be required if we are going to perpetuate ourselves. No other species is as successful as ours at curbing its fertility. Even in classical times we had enlarged our perspective on sex from being primarily a process for procreation to being a recreation and a vehicle for displaying status. In modern times we have almost completed the transition. Playboy and Cosmo celebrate sex for its own sake, everybody insists that whether or not the aim is procreation, the sex has to be great, and increasing population has few supporters in secular society. Birth control and abortion have been almost perfected. Recoiling from such horrors as the USSR's "Mother Heroines" who bore ten children as cannon fodder, and the Nazis offered a "Mother's Cross of Honor," few governments in our times offer incentives great enough to put much more than a dent in the tremendous costs of raising children. If we are to survive, it will be on the strength of self-deception, chiefly of a religious nature.

1 comment:

  1. I missed this last January. I really enjoyed the cartoons, especially the first one.