Why Pretend?

The homo hypocritus hypothesis I’ve been exploring lately is that large fraction of modern behavior is explained by our evolved capacities and tendencies to pretend to do X while really doing Y.  For each such X and Y, this raises a number of basic questions about how such a situation could be an equilibrium:

  1. Why is X not such a useful thing to do?
  2. Why is Y a particularly useful thing to do?
  3. Why do we like folks to think we usually do X?
  4. Why do we not like folks to think we usually do Y?
  5. Why do we tend to say we do X, and not Y?
  6. Why do we tend to say that our associates do X, not Y?
  7. Why do we tend to say that most people do X, not Y?
  8. Why are we oft unaware that we actually do Y not X?
  9. Why are we oft unaware associates are doing Y not X?
  10. Why are we unaware that in general folks usually do Y not X?
  11. Why do we start out in life assuming folks mostly do X?
  12. Why don’t we learn faster with experience that folks mostly do Y?
  13. Why don’t we believe those who tell us that most folks do Y not X?
  14. Why don’t those aware that folks do Y not X tell more other folks?
  15. Why do social norms tend to favor doing X over Y?
  16. Why do many norms make it easier to hide Y and pretend it is X?
  17. Why do some of us deviate, believing and saying most folks do Y not X?
  18. Why do some of us deviate, saying our associates do Y not X?
  19. Why do some of us deviate, saying we ourselves do Y not X?
  20. More??

I’ve broken this down into many specific questions to make it clear how much detail a full explanation must account for, and to admit I don’t have such a full explanation.  I’ve heard many plausible stories that address some of these questions, but such stories usually make assumptions about answers to other questions.  Some tentative explanation parts:

  • Forager norms cut overt Y of dominance, bragging, sub-coalitions.
  • Forager norms liked overt X of work, peace, sharing, bonding.
  • Those who tend to do X more are more impressive or attractive.
  • Those who better hide their Y, show their intelligence and social savvy.
  • It can be hard to consistently say one thing and believe another.
  • Unconscious communication and coordination is harder to see or verify.
  • Those who believe X is common make better associates, in junior roles.
  • X helps groups more than Y, giving group selection of X over Y norms.
  • Groups that succeed in inducing more X look better to outsiders.
  • Hidden coalitions can help each other hide their Y, and their coalition.
  • Exposing someone’s Y can lead to retaliation by a hidden coalition.
  • More??
    GD Star Rating
    Tagged as: ,
    Trackback URL:
    • Thanks for this post. The question was always lurking in the background of your discussions, and even if you don’t answer it here I am glad you explicitly raise it as a problem to be explained.

    • Eric Falkenstein

      It’s all relative to some benchmark group, and I’m sympathetic. Clearly, in asset management, benchmarking is common enough. The real question is, how general is this relative benchmarking? It’s easy to accept such reasoning applied to parochial matters. Yet, if parochial, it invites simple arbitrage of various sorts. And if general, what about ‘welfare economics’, or what it means for a policy to be ‘efficient’ in that arena? I think this kind of reasoning has many simple, obvious, useful implications. It also invalidates lots of very esteemed theory.

    • Why do we pretend?
      Why do we hide?
      Why do we lie?

      Other people are dangerous. We have to appease them. And they have to appease us. In other words everyone seeks the attractor. No one was ever alone.

      An individual with the possibility of being authentic is surely a very modern invention. Hollywood films with the hero, is one thread. 1969 starting the commotion of abundance and giving the economic possibility of being alone, is another.

      And some people just never did get what was going on between people. This strangeness compelled them to investigate – leading them to discover y and neglecting x.

    • michael vassar

      Maybe people are just stupid. Seriously. All of us.

      I mean, isn’t a plausible explanation that human behavior is complicated so people confabulate explanations for it and then explain subsequent behavior by referring cached confabulations? Those confabulations are memes which don’t drive much anticipation in most people most of the time, as the anticipation driving mechanisms in most people are pretty independent of the language generating mechanisms by adulthood, e.g. by an age where one has enough knowledge of how things work that one doesn’t have to guess or make long-chain inferences.

      A few people have connections between verbal/symbolic manipulation mechanisms and anticipation mechanisms which don’t mostly turn off by adulthood. Those people end up very confused. Most people aren’t like them, don’t share their confusion, keep talking about X because that’s what’s done and keep punishing deviators who talk about Y because talking about Y isn’t done and deviating from an archetype indicates imperfections and also increases cognitive complexity and cost for those around you. They don’t care about correcting their verbal declarations, as those declarations are only a mark of form at this point, the verbal content has long been replaced by implicitly learned models, but they do care about deviance which is a form of ugliness, at least at first or from a certain perspective.

      I made a stream of tweets on this topic on November 14, btw.

    • Eric, yes we are reluctant to admit how relative are our concerns, but that only goes so far as a summary of all of the things we are reluctant to admit.

      michael, I see many patterns in how Xs and Ys differ, patterns that seem to require explanations beyond our randomly making up accounts of what we were doing.

    • michael vassar

      One may only need a small seed of confabulation.
      You claim to see a simple but pervasive pattern.
      Simple but pervasive patterns can emerge from small and simple seeds of complexity growing to become pervasive. Children somewhat non-randomly, but in an unreliable manner, plant such seeds and then nourish their growth through our way of speaking of the world. Adults, normal adults, care little for words and ignore these works of childhood, and thus never lean to see explicitly those pebbles on the beach which point to structure in the movements of the stars.

    • Is it so obvious we think other people do X not Y? We are actually pretty cynical of other’s motivations:


    • Great subject. There are many reasons for believing and encouraging Y while doing X, some reasonable, some outdated, some simply counterproductive. I think I have accurate stories for many such circumstances.

      One major motivation is that society sometimes strives to identify and project an ideal. By jointly believing, or projecting belief at least, of that ideal, they are creating social pressure toward that ideal, even if it is unattainable, unstable, and something no one is really doing for more than an instant. The Leave-It-To-Beaver 50’s seems like this. This is a standard paradigm of religious doctrine enforcement, although there is various levels of realism.

      Another instance of this is where such an ideal or fiction is beneficial to certain people in certain circumstances. The clearest examples are indoctrination of teenagers and young adults: We want them to develop in a healthy way with minimal trauma & disease and maximal satisfaction and productivity. Most of the accepted sexual and behavioral norms have been centered around the implicit theories of what would lead to success or failure. The efforts to hide adult things from even adults, let alone teenagers, is an attempt to keep them from disaster otherwise expected. Realistically, there *is* an emotional, decision making, and social skill capability progression that doesn’t end at 18 or 21 but continues for decades. Usually, only after one or more long-term relationships, raising children, and overcoming various trials and tribulations do you reach the later levels of maturity. Society at large seems, in many ways, to project a model of adulthood frozen at the newlywed stage.

      This is one reason that many divorced women with children forgo relationships and sex for years: they are constrained by the perceived need to raise their children without the (perceived) confusing-to-children complications and potential inelegance of adult dating.

      As this author recalls [1]: ‘HL Mencken wrote that “A Puritan is someone who is deathly afraid that someone, somewhere, is having fun.”’ In some cases, people may be earnest about those beliefs. In others, they try to get others to follow an ideal that they cannot or choose not to live up to. In some cases, this may be done out of fear. [1] In others, it is some form of peer-pressure feedback. This is especially true with religion. Even in small-town Ohio where I grew up, “peer-pressure theism” was quite obvious. I.e., people were shamed into believing, resulting in many who felt they had to act out a belief that they didn’t have.

      Or, perhaps more frequently, people in a certain stage of life impose an ideal on people in another stage of life, perhaps unrealistically or even harmfully, that they did not endure when they were in that stage.[2]

      [1] http://atheism.about.com/b/2006/02/06/using-violence-people-are-afraid-to-criticize-islam.htm

      [2] http://www.texaschapbookpress.com/magellanslog8/babypuritans.htm
      > 4. Denial.
      > Prejudiced? Intolerant? Hypocritical? Me??!!? No way. Why, I vote the straight (choose one) Democratic/ Libertarian/ Socialist/ Green ticket. And my neighbors only stay in the Republican Party to open it up to new ideas like “compassionate conservatism.”
      > What’s the result of such massive, hypocritical repression? You don’t see much result on the smooth surface of the lives of the Baby Puritans. They’ve got their stock options, their swankiendas, their Range Rovers. But something deeply, wrenchingly tragic seems to be happening with their children.
      > Nationally, globally, we’re baffled by the violent acting out of the children. You want proof for my harsh analysis of the Baby Puritans? I give you Columbine High School.
      > Children raised in a dark, cold, windowless prison–which adults persist in seeing as a comfortable, airy, well-equipped home full of “freedom” and “love”–will inevitably be driven to the most extreme possible behavior where their violent actions scream:
      > “STOP IT!
      > Stop the lying!
      > Stop the fake-love!
      > You may be fooling the world,
      > but you’re not fooling me!”
      > Maybe a more accurate name for these ignorant, intolerant, hypocritical, denying mommies and daddies would be FYBs: Fascist Yuppie Boomers. FYB. Pronounced “fib.” Lying to themselves, lying to their children.
      > Those who live by the fib, die by the fib.

      • How can Columbine High School be proof of the defectiveness of a Leave it to Beaver ethos? Homicide rates were near their minimum when it was on the air. And I believe violence in schools was actually on the decline around when Columbine occurred (though I suppose the violence that occurred at poorer schools got less media attention).

    • tom

      Isn’t Homo Hypocritus just Homo Socialus?

      This seems more like a libertarian’s discovery that a huge part of what most people want is to be With Other People in certain groups, and that almost all of us define ourselves by reference to our connections with other people.

      I think it helps to think of people less as hairless monkeys and more as talking dogs. ‘Honesty’ may mean something, but membership almost always means more.

      • Ernie Garrett

        Libertarians and others have known this for awhile, look up “Enlightened Self-Interest.” It’s not news to them, and in fact the free market was designed with the intent of creating profit that works through the same phenomenon.

        The only “discovery” here is that you are ignorant and committed the hackneyed mistake of assuming you know more than your opposition. You don’t.

    • Perhaps this is too simple, but it could be that there are a lot of situations where X is better for the group than for the individual, and, vice -versa, Y is better for the individual than the group. Since there’s strength in numbers, it would behoove an individual to at least appear to be embodying X and therefore garner the favor of the group. If they can do that while surreptitiously reaping the rewards of Y, so much the better.

      How many such pairs of X and Y can we (well, you) come up with, and how do they track against this hypothesis? This question isn’t of a sufficiently high priority for me to consider seriously devoting cycles to it, but I’m definitely curious.

    • Pingback: Weekly Roundup 76: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web | SimoleonSense()