Mundane Dishonesty

It bothers me that my commitment to overcoming bias is contracted daily by these dishonesties:

  1. I am tragically uncertain about how I should divide my time between work and play, among various possible work projects, and with who I should ally and spend my time.  These are terribly important decisions about which I have only very weak clues.  But I usually act as if I know what I’m doing.
  2. I actually care a lot what other people think of me, and in most conversations the major topic for most everyone is who praises or blames who else how much.  But this strong subtext is usually not acknowledged in our explicit text.  Like most people, I act as if we were talking about other topics, and only indirectly make points of praise or blame.
  3. I think about sex an awful lot – it is not far from my awareness anytime I am in the presence of, or thinking about, most any healthy female.  But I almost never acknowledge that fact directly via my actions or words.

Now I don’t think I’m very different from most people on these points.  And there are obviously very good reasons why we are dishonest in these ways.  Telling associates explicitly how uncertain we are about associating with them would seem like threatening to "break up" with them.  Talking explicitly about who we like how much would sound like bragging and insecure requests for praise.  And talking explicitly about sexual undercurrents would usually be seen as sexual harassment. 

So like most people I am stuck in a signaling equilibrium where my best strategy is to act in a way that seems to me dishonest.  Oh you might say that everyone knows about all this so I’m not really fooling  anyone.  But while we "know" at some level, to function effectively it seems we must self-deceive enough to often take appearances at face value.   (See a nice related quote by Nagel, courtesy of Richard.)

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