Several years after we wrote our self-DDD article we came across a fascinating dialogue between Robert Trivers,
an evolutionary biologist, and Noam Chomsky
linguist, philosopher and one of the most influential thinkers of
the twentieth century. In part of their conversation they discuss the nature of self-deception. We thought it was so relevant to that we have reproduced the part of the dialogue below.
Seed Magazine, 'The Seed Salon: Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers', Sept. 2006, p. 80-85.
Full text at: www.chomsky.info/debates/20060906.htm
NC: If there is something you want to do, it's really easy to convince yourself it's right and just. You put away evidence that shows that's not true. So it's self-deception but it's automatic, and it requires significant effort and energy to try to see yourself from a distance. It's hard to do.
RT: Oh, it is. I think in everyday life we're aware of the fact that when we're watching something on stage, so to speak, we have a better view than the actors on the stage have. If you can see events laterally, you can say, my God, they're doing this and they're doing that. But if you're embedded in that network it's much harder.
RT: There's evidence suggesting that when you're contemplating something - whether to marry Suzy, for instance - you're in a deliberative stage. And you are considering options more or less rationally. Now, once you decide to go with Suzy, you're in the instrumental phase; you don't want to hear about the negative side. Your mood goes up, and you delete all the negative stuff.
RT: One thing that's very striking about this Iraq disaster is there was no deliberative stage. ... Once 9/11 occurred, we know that within days, within hours, they were settling on Iraq and they went into the instrumental phase in a very major way. They didn't want to hear anything of the down side.
RT: At times institutions act like individuals in the way they practice internal self-deception. [He gives the example of Richard Feynman's analysis of NASA and the Challenger disaster.]
RT: Information is often somewhere in the organism; it's just well-hidden. It's well down in the unconscious. And it's often inaccessible because you build up firewalls against it.
RT: When you want to deny reality, you've got to act quickly and get it out of sight.
Noam Chomsky quotes an analysis of the National Security Council's techniques of self-deception in justifying invading or overthrowing a government. "It's done by making everything simple. You have to make it clearer than the truth."
Chomsky also notes that "One of the striking features of the modern period is the institutionalization" of the process of deceiving. We now have huge industries deceiving the public (public relations, marketing, advertising). They can only repeatedly do this because they are able to connect with people's own self-deception, e.g. that this anti-aging cream will make you look young.