Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Varieties of denial...

Benedict Carey writes a nice piece in the Nov. 20 New York Times about the utility of - and evolutionary rationale for - mild forms of denial, which can take the form of inattention, passive acknowledgment, reframing or willful blindness. Ignoring the "elephant in the living room" is sometimes the best strategy for getting along! A few clips from the article, which you can read in whole here:
...recent studies from fields as diverse as psychology and anthropology suggest that the ability to look the other way, while potentially destructive, is also critically important to forming and nourishing close relationships. The psychological tricks that people use to ignore a festering problem in their own households are the same ones that they need to live with everyday human dishonesty and betrayal, their own and others’. And it is these highly evolved abilities, research suggests, that provide the foundation for that most disarming of all human invitations, forgiveness...“The closer you look, the more clearly you see that denial is part of the uneasy bargain we strike to be social creatures,” said Michael McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami and the author of the coming book “Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct.” “We really do want to be moral people, but the fact is that we cut corners to get individual advantage, and we rely on the room that denial gives us to get by, to wiggle out of speeding tickets, and to forgive others for doing the same.”...The capacity for denial appears to have evolved in part to offset early humans’ hypersensitivity to violations of trust. In small kin groups, identifying liars and two-faced cheats was a matter of survival. A few bad rumors could mean a loss of status or even expulsion from the group, a death sentence.

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested in psychopaths and this quote could almost be used as a definition:
    “We really do want to be moral people, but the fact is that we cut corners to get individual advantage."
    The phrase "really do want to be moral people" strikes me as odd. It doesn't say that we are moral people or that we try to be moral people, but that we want to be moral people (Oh, how I wish I was a moral person.) The "really do" has a forced, shallow feel to it - a phoniness. Commenting on rationalisations, etc., it sounds like a rationalisation itself: "I really do want to be a good husband but I cheat on my wife." Really?