Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Coalition Countdown II: Here's Some Bedtime Reading for Stephen Harper on How to Believe What You Want to Believe Despite the Facts

Watching Stephen Harper and his guys carrying on yesterday I was reminded of how easy it is to start believing what you want to believe. Harper was absolutely enraged about something that he was quite willing to consider four years ago: an accommodation with the Bloc Québécois in order to make some parliamentary changes. Whether this went so far as an actual letter to the Governor General as some claim, I don’t know, but even Heritage Minister James Moore, talking on As It Happens, conceded that Harper was quite glad to work with Gilles Duceppe then.

How can Harper forget that? Why are he and his troops preparing, it seems, to storm the country by shifting the debate about a disastrous budget update into a “coup d’état,” a power grab, or an attempt to split the country apart? To stay in power so they can advance a pernicious conservative agenda, I would answer. But the mechanism that transforms that into the appearance of principled outrage is even more devious—but more human--than that.

Evolutionary psychologists suggest that believing one’s falsehoods is a really good survival strategy: if you think you really have to lie, it’s best to give the appearance of telling the truth and the only way to that is to begin to believe what you’re saying. Beneffectance is what some social scientists call our drive to delude ourselves about how benevolent and how effective we are. But it’s much more widespread than the strangeness of the term might indicate. Two psychologists Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson have recently published Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. It supposedly is “supported by years of research on how the brain works, what extraordinary steps we take to deal with dissonance, and the happy world of self-deception,” according to one review.

It sounds fascinating. I haven’t read it, but I’ll seek it out. And it might be a book for Yann Martel to send to Stephen Harper as part of continuing (but for how long?) campaign to give the current PM some good bed time reading.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Seuss is my favorite I'm sending Stephen Harper a copy of "Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now".
I felt it was appropriate.

Jimmy Zoubris

Mary Soderstrom said...

Jimmy, that's a terrific suggestion. What would it be like if a whole lot of us sent him copies?


Anonymous said...

Supposedly there is a story that Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald once made fun of Dr. Seuss for not ever wrintng a political book. Dr. Seuss, who published this book about a week before Nixon really resigned, sent Buchald a copy of the book with Marvin K. Mooney crossed out and replaced by Richard M. Nixon. Of course this book also only has one character who is always standing over a round purple rug with his hands behind his back.
Perhaps we should all send him the book with Marvin K. Mooney replaced by Stephen J. Harper.

Jimmy Zoubris