Many people (including me) claim that we eat food and drink water because without nutrition and fluids we would starve and dehydrate. Imagine this response: No, people eat food because they are hungry, and drink water because they are thirsty. We don’t need abstract concepts like nutrition and dehydration to explain something so elemental as following our authentic feelings and desires.
we eat food and drink water because without nutrition and fluids we would starve and dehydrate.
Yes, the "because" relates to function. An explanation by function is often a deeper explanation than one that describes the proximal mechanism - or the motive!
I don't think you would say the our eating and drinking is motivated by avoiding starvation and dehydration. In any even, I think it would be erroneous. (Function is greater than motivation.) Yet the Amazon description of the Elephant book says, "The less we know about our own ugly motives, the better - and thus we don't like to talk or even think about the extent of our selfishness. This is 'the elephant in the brain.'"
You (or whoever wrote this) invites the belief that you are talking about motives (whether conscious or not) rather than about function.
The reasons people eat and drink are different from people's reasons for eating and drinking. Duh.
I don't think you need to estimate degree of conscious awareness, just say you're talking strictly about the behavioral response and you're unsure how much is conscious versus unconscious. I think economists (and psychologists) can skip it because someone taught them this idea in the past.
I disagree that it would take only 5 seconds. The degree of conscious awareness of various consequences of behavior varies greatly by person and context. So it is hard to estimate, and even harder to collect evidence to convince others of your estimate. Which is of course why economists usually skip the topic.
I disagree with the claim that foragers couldn't use their behavior to influence perceptions of their status.
At the beginning you imagine a critic who says we don't need distal causes, rebutting him to argue that we should be able to discuss distal ones without emphasizing *obvious* proximate ones. But then you end up arguing against the need to clarify proximate causes in highly non-obvious situations. I think you should mention both. This helps communicates the empirical truth *and* it help people improve their behavior.
I don't understand why you think clarifying that these motivations often aren't conscious is such a burden. It takes 5 seconds. Part of the process of teaching is to spend additional time on the part most likely to be misunderstood, even if those misunderstandings are defensive. If I was teaching that Irish people had higher rates of liver failure and I knew that this was due to liver genes, but that my audience would assume it was due to drinking, and that the Irish would react defensively, I wouldn't refuse to clarify this or bemoan the necessity. I would just clarify it.
Further, knowing that many of these forces are unconscious or semi-conscious helps people improve themselves. If they think you're arguing that they are blatant conscious hypocrites, they will internally introspect and correctly observe that this is false. But if they know it's likely un- or semi-conscious, they can more closely scrutinize patterns in their own behavior. You say you don't think the unconsciousness of motivations is much of an excuse, and I partially agree, but I also think you stand to gain more professionally by being shocking and then retreating to a motte than you do helping people improve themselves.
If you are high status, others care about your views on wide range of topics. If low status, hard to get them to listen even on the topics on which you are most expert. So folks often express opinions on many topics, to try to seem high status.
While I agree that this is the right type of explanation, we need to look at alternatives. This explanation is somewhat plausible, but would expressing opinions have contributed to status in prehistoric forager bands - where it isn't possible to successfully pretend to high status?
Thinking along the lines of The Enigma of Reason, I suggest the hypothesis that humans, for whom deliberation and argument is a major survival skill, form numerous opinions as a method of play, whose function is the practice of an essential skill. We form opinions to become good arguers.
Agree with this and particular with the last paragraph, which is important. People who, eg systematically but unconsciously interpret evidence in their own favour should by and large not be given a pass.
"My best guess is that what is going on here is that our social norms disapprove mildly of consciously intended signaling."
Yes, and I think this is because consciously intended signaling is a (generally) mild form of cheating, something which humans have an evolved tendency to pay close negative attention to.
I don't think the personal accusation has much to do with it. "Pattern-matchedly-wrong idea expressed by status seeking nerd" is enough to explain the reaction.
So unless you didn't mean "accusing them personally" literally, you're making the same type of mistake.
I think it's interesting to know whether there is any 'moral-patient-character' associated with an action, e.g. would we be loosing some of the experiential content of the human experience if we did away from it. OTOH, that's far from my top priority.
Seems to me you're exhibiting attribution bias. Your own behavior is based on the context it exists in -- the situation in the world today dictates that you say things in this way and that you post in a certain manner. But those other people are responding based on their inherent traits and worldview.
That's an attribution bias. Those other people would say they are forced by their situation to respond in the way they do, and they'd probably accuse you of responding based on your inherent traits and worldview.
I think it is more of a language issue with signaling being active and implying volition while a more passive term like aspect or attribute wouldn't be seen as this, so it is more an assumption. Though you may not be concerned with whether it is conscious, you are concerned with making us conscious of it or you wouldn't address it in the first place.
Now of course the question is, are these people more interested in avoiding an accusation of conscious signaling, doing so consciously?
This is in part because I’m inclined to give people less of a moral or legal pass on the harms resulting from their behaviors of they did not consciously intend such consequences.
I agree there. (See "Free Will and Legal Intent: Consequences of a Myth's Demise" - http://juridicalcoherence.b... [Emphasis on second to last paragraph.]
Disagree, however, that the conscious - unconscious distinction here lacks scientific importance, at least if my intuitions are correct that conscious signaling is a near-mode process, whereas unconscious signaling is far-mode.