social philosophy · wellbeing

Ahhhhh! This podcast has me questioning my life philosophy.

This Radio Lab podcast talks about liars and self-deception. It starts off entertainingly enough, talking about everyday lying and pathological liars. The final part of it is where it gets interesting – self-deception; the classic self-deception they give is where all evidence points to a partner being unfaithful, but one convinces themselves that the partner is being faithful.

The podcast makes a stark conclusion –people who self-deceive tend to be more successful[1] and happier. The example given is swimmers – the swimmers who scored higher on a self-deception test, later proved to be the faster swimmers in a qualifying competition. The explanation for this makes sense – sports people need to psyche themselves up for their competition by adopting the mindset that ‘I’m the best in the world!’, ‘I’m invincible!’, ‘I’m the fastest swimmer here!’, this is an act of self-deception.

You can see how this would apply to other fields as well – for example a business person who adopts the attitude of ‘I’m faultless, I’m really good at this job’ is more likely to carry this attitude into their interactions, and be perceived that way by their boss and clients.

On the other hand, if someone is more honest with themselves, their internal monologue will more sound like ‘I could have done that better’, ‘I was at fault there’. These people, though having perhaps a more accurate depiction of the world, also tend to be more depressed.

Intuitively – we might say that being able to recognise your own faults is a virtue, highlighting sensitivity to others. Being aware of your own faults being a prerequisite to self improvement.

On the other hand, we might argue that people who adopt an attitude of ‘I’m always right’ or ‘I’m perfect’ tend to be insensitive to others, and don’t have incentive to improve themselves, because they’re already perfect.

This presents itself an apparent trade off – one can be honest and unhappy, or dishonest and happy and successful.

Given that most people’s (or at least my own) goal in life is simply to be happy and enjoy themselves, we might say ‘You know what? Fuck self reflection, just adopt an attitude that you’re awesome and move on with your life’.

This honesty/dishonesty policy also has implications for my writing.

For example, if I’m talking about dating, where I might make a suggestion of ‘Here’s where things went wrong, here’s what could be done differently’, if I were to adopt the dishonest-I’m-perfect attitude, the advice would always be ‘It’s their fault that the relationship didn’t work out, they’re clearly not up to your level’.

[1] Success can be a problematic metric – does objective success exist? Or is it subject to the person?

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