More on our innate hypocrisy and confabulatory power
How do we make moral and ethical decisions? It would be nice if our choices were grounded in nothing but the facts, in the details of the issue at hand. Alas, that’s not the way it works. Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, has famously argued that our moral judgments are like aesthetic judgments. “When you see a painting, you usually know instantly and automatically whether you like it,” Haidt writes. “If someone asks you to explain your judgment, you confabulate…Moral arguments are much the same: Two people feel strongly about an issue, their feelings come first, and their reasons are invented on the fly, to throw at each other.” In other words, when it comes to making ethical decisions, our rationality isn’t a scientist, dispassionately chasing after the facts. Instead, it’s a lawyer. This inner attorney gathers bits of evidence, post hoc justifications, and pithy rhetoric in order to make our automatic reaction seem reasonable. But this reasonableness is just a façade, an elaborate self-delusion.
–The Messy Reality Of Judicial Decisions, Jonah Lehrer
That sounds pretty messy. But isn’t this how we make decisions: snap judgements followed by confabulatory backfill. Take politics for example.
Americans’ perceptions of the government as a threat may be less dependent on broader, philosophical views of government power, and instead have more to do with who is wielding that power.
-Gallup, as quoted in On The Hypocrisy of Voters: The politics of economics redux
I think human beings are built to be hypocritical. We build two-dimensional models of reality to reduce the complexity of life to a manageable set of rules that can be followed on the fly regardless of the situation. That is what heuristics are all about. These heuristics usually work in an uncertain world with limited information- and that’s why they are effective. But what about when they don’t work? Jonah Lehrer gives us examples in the judicial system. But there are many more in the world of economics as well.