He has fundamentally changed our view of human nature, the impact of evolution on our minds and the world.
Deceit, Self-Deception and the War
Lying to ourselves about the bloodletting in Iraq.
Deception and selection to spot deception creates self-deception, the better to deceive ourselves about our deception.
Warfare aids our self-deception.
Let's begin with the assertion that deception is a deep feature of nature. Wherever you look-bacteria, protozoa-deception is part of their makeup. They must deceive us that they are part of us, and not invaders. Species of plants have evolved to look like insects. Insects have evolved a bewildering array of tricks to fool their predators.
There are a few general principles that have emerged but not many: deception by its nature hides from us. Frequency dependent principle: If a deceiver is rare it will do better, but when it is more common it runs into experiential or genetic problems. Deceiver gets caught at a frequency-dependent pattern.
One adaptation is intellectual powers. For years our only example that animals can count would be times when, e.g. a predator looks like your egg, and you as a bird count to 5 and not 4 and note that something is wrong.
Deception within species. We have a wide range of examples-misrepresentation of sex. Wide range of species where sexual misrepresentation is a strategy towards reproduction.
False alarm calls-a bird can issue a false warning to be able to steal its neighbors' food.
In a complex, coevolving world, there are advantages to self-deception: Hiding the truth from yourself to hide it more deeply than others.
How does our mind bias reality in our favor?
We have linguistic devices. We will unconsciously switch from active to passive voice when we do something wrong, something undeserving of praise. "this happened, that happened," rather than "I did this."
In-group, out-group. Let's say a member of your in-group does something nice, you're general: he's a generous person. Someone of your out-group does something nice, you're very specific. It's the opposite when they do something wrong, the specific and general are switched.
There's no association between someone's confidence of their memory and the accuracy of their memory.
Consider selective forgetfulness: How many U.S. citizens here remember the following facts regarding Iraq. 1956: Saddam was our guy. CIA supported him. 1982: Tragic and immoral decision to support Saddam in his attack on Iran, because Iran had our captives. We supplied some of the chemicals they used on Iran's troops, whose locations we provided. 1988: Slaughter of innocents. 1990s: 500,000 Iraqi children died because of our sanctions.
There is a background to human warfare in chimp ancestry. Isolate 1 or 2 or 3 males from other group who are left alone, tear them apart, then seize territory and their females.
Battles as we know it is a recent invention: 10,000 years ago or so. It's a rapidly changing field. WWI was the last war where people fought to protect civilians. Now civilians are attacked to protect the troops.
Features of modern warfare: Ignorance of enemy, common self-interest is low, little negative feedback from enemy group. Meaning planners of actions suffer no negative feedback if things go wrong.
In WWI, everyone went to war with idea it would be over in 6 weeks.
Truth died long before this particular war. We now know arguments offered before were totally bogus. All assertions that were made with great confidence were false. By Sept. 15, Iraq was major focus.
What was consequence of this cabal?
When you decide to do a big thing-to take a new job, for example-you're reflective and maybe a bit down. But once you decide, you're oriented in the new direction totally. You don't want to reflect on your decision. You're just go go go.
There was no planning here! After decision was made to go, everything was made to go go go. No planning made for how it was to go. Anything who said anything about the downside to the decision to go to war, they were deemed anti-war and therefore excluded.
Self-deception gives you two great gifts: It leads to disaster, and once you're there, it makes sure you don't have the tools to undo what you've done to yourself.
Within the first two months of the war, it became clear we were in over our heads.
The people who I listen to are the retired 3, 4 star generals and admirals who are almost universally against this thing. They estimate winning this will take 10 years and we'll have to kill 10 percent of the population.
We have the opportunity to put together a broad theory of self-deception. But the forces of deceit and self-deception, especially at the national and international level, are very powerful. And I fear that we're going to spend our lives always looking back in retrospect at the self-deception of our leaders.