Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mistakes were made (but not by me)

There is a book Mistakes were made (but not by me). It's is about self justification and I learned a lot from it.

This book is especially hard to write a review because it's not written in an academic "thesis-experiments-conclusion" way. It's full of stories. I've chosen a scientific experiment to introduce the book:

Elliot Aronson (one of the authors of the book) and his colleague Judson Mills recruited female students (in 1959!) to a discussion group on "psychology of sex". They lied of course, the students were test subjects. They all listened to the same tape recording where a quite boring discussion is made on sex of birds and other irrelevant topics. It's also made in a poor manner, the speakers did not finish thoughts or held long pauses. No one could find this nonsense useful. The students were cut into two groups. Before they could get in the "program", they had to do a task. One group had to read up loudly sex-related articles from a dictionary. Not to hard. The other group had tho read up loudly explicit parts of a porn book. Imagine young women reading porn to several male professors in 1959. How embarrassing it could be? After listening to the tape they were asked if they want to join the group. The "read from dictionary" group told it was boring and useless and don't want to join. On the other hand the "porn book" group found the group very interesting. Why? Because the alternative was "I made a complete fool of myself for a lousy tape lecture", and they did not want this. They rather lied to themselves.

There are many experiments and also true stories (like the hilarious one about a doomsday cult) in the book, read it!

The reason behind this nonsense is self-justification, an ape-subroutine that wants to make you believe that you were right, when you were not (sometimes obviously not). The point is that "being right" is necessary to hold the position of "competent, honorable, good person". The person under the effect lies to himself to avoid noticing that he was wrong, therefore he is incompetent or naive.


After the above paragraph I sit front of the computer for 10-20 minutes, knowing that a quasi-quote and a 3 sentence-summary is anything but a decent review. I learned a lot from the book and want to share with you but it seems I can't.

In desperation of lack of thoughts I searched for reviews on the net and found an interview with the author. He says (italics by me): "it feels uncomfortable whenever we hold two ideas or beliefs that conflict with each other and especially if the major idea is about who we are. If I think that I'm a smart, competent, moral person and I do something stupid, it creates dissonance and I try to convince myself that it was actually the smartest thing I could have done. And as a matter of fact, it was not a bad decision at all. And nobody could have done it better. And it really isn't so bad. And besides, nobody noticed anyway. And that reduces the dissonance and helps us sleep well at night."

Then it hit me: All I learned from the book is like "oh so that's why they do it". I can't really write about it because I've never experienced it. That's another bliss of being anti-social. I never feel remorse or bad about myself, these are points 5 and 2 from the 20 points list of enjoying life fully :-).

However to ask if I'm immune to the effects of this, let's see Dr. Aronson's another example: "people languishing in prison for major crimes like rape or murder. DNA evidence turns up that shows - for example, that a person who was convicted of rape and has been spending the past 20 years in prison, DNA evidence shows up that he couldn't have committed the crime. And yet, more often than not, prosecuting attorneys will not want to reopen the case. And it's easy to conclude that these people are simply evil. What I think has happened is they've convinced themselves that they couldn't possibly have made a mistake. If I'm the prosecutor and I convicted this guy and I sent him to prison, I think I'm a smart and moral person. Therefore, it would be horrendous for me to believe that somebody has been languishing in prison for 20 years because I made a blunder. Therefore, I convince myself that regardless of what the DNA evidence shows, that's the guy that did it and I'll keep him in prison for another 20 years."

The question is that if I were the prosecutor would I reopen the case? The answer is obviously no (point 8). Not because I think I'm a smart and moral person. Not because it would be horrendous for me to believe that an innocent rots in jail because of my incompetence. Simply because I would lose my job or at least lose my chance for promotion if people would find it out. "My promotion" > "Innocent guy being sodomized by 100kg tattooed gangsters for 20 more years". I guess this is point 7 from the mentioned list.

OK, so socials don't fix their mistakes because it would hurt their feelings to notice the mistakes, and anti-socials don't fix them because they couldn't care less about them. So how can we get mistakes fixed?

It's the economy stupid!

If I gamble with my own money, it's me who suffer the consequences of my mistakes. It no longer matters if I admit or fix them, since no one else is harmed by my mistakes. I'm motivated to fix them. I mean if I would be a prosecutor and would be paid after how low is the crime rate of my district (as opposed to what is the opinion about me of the people who matter), I would be motivated to not put innocents to jail, simply because the real criminal would then run free and keep on making crimes ruining my income.

Theoretically this could be also achieved by strict regulation. If evidence-holding prosecutors and other corrupt officials would be hanged like in China, I wouldn't do it. But it needs much more investigation and law-enforcement people. And anyway, people are much more motivated to work for a reward than avoiding a punishment. And smart people always find ways to avoid punishment "creative" ways.

In an economy-driven society people who are capable to overcome their mistakes become rich and those who prefer their positive self-image over the truth would make their mistakes again and become poor. Oh wait...

Too bad that most people avoid business like the bubonic plague and want safe jobs where everything can be blamed to the boss. "Oh, did I sign $20M subprime loan contracts in the last 5 years? The boss told me to increase loaning! Yes the economy has collapsed because of this. Yes... mistakes were made but not by me"


spinksville said...

Interesting. It all comes down to what you decide to reward the smart guys for doing. (Because they're the ones most likely to try to game or cheat the system, the dumb ones will be more likely to just do their jobs.) eg. if your defence attourney is just doing his job then he'll reopen the case as soon as new evidence is received. It's only if he's trying to be 'smart' and cheat the system that he'll bury it.

Here's an example. In our local government, they get more money from central government if they can show a low rate of homelessness. So they're very motivated to ship any homeless people off to other towns or cities rather than trying to house them, because if they house them then they have to acknowledge that they were one of the homeless people in the borough. If instead they were rewarded for how many homeless people were rehoused, they might be keener to do it.

Niz said...

Gevlon, if you would like to study more about social behavior, I highly advise you the works of Dr. Cialdini. His most famous book is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
He talks about 6 big principles of social compliance: reciprocity, scarcity, liking, authority, social proof, and commitment/consistency.

This deserves a post on your blog if you continue in this direction :)

Malexd said...

So you're a sociopath. You'd let the guy rot for your career without empathizing with him, and thus no guilt.

Verdian said...

The motivation for the prosecutor is that they would lose their practising certificate (i.e. job) if they were found out. That is an 'if' scenario, however if the prosecutor was found out to have willfully hidden evidence, they would be the ones in gaol getting pounded by a 200 pound gangsta.

Iiene of Kul Tiras said...



Prosecutors do this because they have immunity, not because the human race is a train wreck of corruption.

Although to be fair.. the human race IS a train wreck of corruption.

"it feels uncomfortable whenever we hold two ideas or beliefs that conflict with each other..."

That's called 'cognitive dissonance'.

You say:
"Then it hit me: All I learned from the book is like "oh so that's why they do it". I can't really write about it because I've never experienced it. That's another bliss of being anti-social. I never feel remorse or bad about myself..."

Ok, so you're a sociopath. awesome.

Anonymous said...


We all realized Gevlon was a sociopath a long time ago, he's even called himself one multiple times.

MomentEye said...

So you conclude that everything is as it should be? We do, after all, live in the best of all possible worlds.

On the other hand it seems like the same pressure that leads the prosecutor to resist re-opening the case would at least make it far more enticing to believe that the system we have been living in doesn't need fixing.

Gevlon said...

@Momenteye: we obviously don't live in the best world. But the parts to make it better are already here. We don't have to invent boiling water, we just have to apply it.

Fierydemise said...

@Malexd (and likely others)
But what exactly is the problem with being a sociopath?

Only a non-sociopath (intentionally not calling a non-sociopath normal)would define empathy as an essential part of being a "good" individual. A sociopath who by definition does not hold that belief will not agree that sociopathy is wrong.

There is no objective standard by which one can call sociopathy wrong, to evaluate sociopathy one must pick a stardard for how one defines right and wrong, which must either be done from a sociopath's perspective or from a non-sociopath's perspective, either way answering the question before the evaluation can begin.

Also I'm not sure Gevlon's example of the prosecutor is all that good since while there are moral obligations which the sociopath would ignore there are professional/legal obligations which would have significant long term individual consequences if ignored (disbarment for example).

Malexd said...

I don't have a problem with sociopaths, and certainly not Gevlon. He often brings up points that makes my mind wander. But if he is in fact a sociopath, I do feel bad for his girlfriend, as sociopaths can't feel love.

Anonymous said...

Goblin girlfriends do not need love. Most girls choose wealth, money and power over everything else.

Dàchéng said...

This reminds me of It's not my faliure"

Eaten by a Grue said...

"I mean if I would be a prosecutor and would be paid after how low is the crime rate of my district (as opposed to what is the opinion about me of the people who matter), I would be motivated to not put innocents to jail, simply because the real criminal would then run free and keep on making crimes ruining my income."

You have it wrong here. If your goal was a low crime rate only, then loosening the standards of guilt is your best move. Sure, you will convict lots of innocent people, but you will convict alot more criminals too, so you will get a lower crime rate.

It's actually our liberal sense of social justice that dictates that it is better to let a guilty man go free than send an innocent man to prison. So there.

The man in the moon said...

"Then it hit me: All I learned from the book is like "oh so that's why they do it". I can't really write about it because I've never experienced it."

The fact that the option that you have made mistakes and self-justified them is so readily discarded is one of the plentiful hints that you might want to re-evaluate yourself, because the ape-subroutines are still showing in you.
(And by denying and in effect burying them, it only makes it worse.)

Apart from that it's a decent post which hopefully makes people think.

MomentEye said...

So wouldn't a rational sociopath still act for the benefit of society even if he was just fattening it up for the kill?

Ard The Paladin said...

Quote Goblin: "Then it hit me: All I learned from the book is like "oh so that's why they do it". "

You do it too. Just ask yourself whether you are a good driver.

Really? You're a good driver? Guess what? People interviewed in hospital after having caused car accidents say they are good drivers too :)

Wooly said...

What always strikes me most about people is their need for guilty people to admit their guilt. The fact that in America f.e. you can even get a shorter sentence if you admit it boggles me. The proof is there, what the hell does admitting really add to it? Sometimes I just deny something I obviously did wrong just to play with people's minds. And you cannot believe how long people are willing to banter you with it until you actually admit it. Especially if you hint in the direction, but not actually admit it. It drives people nuts. I think it's funny that people have this need. And I have this myself too, for some dumb reason it feels better when somebody admits to something. I don't know why, it's just one of those ape-routines again no doubt.

Anonymous said...

Isn't sociopathy abhorrent (to non-sociopaths) because a sociopath would withhold aid unless they stood to profit from it?

As an example, say Gevlon was walking along a remote country lane. At one side of the road an old man (who he judges to be homeless by his appearance) has fallen into a deep puddle and is drowning with his head under the water.

The man's leg is trapped by a tree root and he cannot save himself. Unfortunately for the man Gevlon realises that there can be no financial reward for helping him, and there is no-one else around to witness/reward Gevlon for his aid.

Furthermore Gevlon would have to wade into the puddle to save the man, dirtying his clothes. He'd also waste his own time pulling the man out and calling for an ambulance.

He feels no moral obligation to help (and assume there's no Good Samaritan law or other consideration) and therefore Gevlon leaves the man to drown and continues down the road.
After all, there was no reason for him to help.

Gevlon said...

@Ard the paladin: Some things about my driving:
- yesterday I neglected a hole on the road that hit the car so bad that I had to stop and check if the gears are still there. I SAW the hole, but considered "OK"
- I spinned once when went too fast on icy road
- I also half-spinned on a road curve littered by some soil, overcompensated and almost hit a bus stop in the inner side of the curve
- I practically always press the break too late when some moron front of me slows down for no reason, I always hope for the last second that they eventually go (they don't, tire screech stop)
- I start when I ASSUME the guy front of me will start too (at a stop sign for example). Of course they don't since they saw a car coming far-far away and choose to be safe and wait another hour. (Screech-stop + horns on my side)

So I'm fully aware that I have much-much to learn in driving. I'm actually planning to take a safe-driving course, you know the one where you drive on a racing lap with soap on it to make it slimy.

I also admit that my GF drives better than me.

The question "am I better driver than the average" is not a hard one as the "average" man is so shitty driver that passing him does not make anyone "good". Just like damaging more than 70% of the WoW playerbase will still get you a "lolwut" if you apply to a hard mode guild.

Gevlon said...

@last anonymous: indeed

Tonus said...

"The fact that in America f.e. you can even get a shorter sentence if you admit it boggles me. The proof is there, what the hell does admitting really add to it?"

This sort of deal is usually offered when there is either a risk that going to trial might result in an acquittal (ie, a fairly weak case against the person) or there is something to be gained by offering a deal (ie, cooperation against another person that they want to convict).

The only other benefit to a quick plea deal is to avoid adding another court case to prosecute if your district is overburdened. That saves time and money for the state (although you wind up putting this person back on the street sooner, so maybe it's not as cost-effective as it seems).

Brian said...

The inability to admit your own mistakes is certainly an interesting concept, but I would say it's definitely not an "ape-subroutine". In fact, MOST of what Gevlon calls ape-subroutines are nothing of the sort.

The concepts he talks about are certainly social ideas, but most of them have developed as part of modern society. I would argue that the idea of being primarily interested in your own self-advancement (the core of being a Goblin) is a more primitive idea, since that's how most animals operate. This isn't a value judgement, but I'm not sure thinking like a Goblin is an evolutionary step forward. I think it's good to some extent, but that doesn't mean it's a "new" idea.

Jeff said...

Economics is fascinating in that it helps, when combined with sociology, develop incentives for large groups of people. I call it the law of mob intelligence: The IQ of a mob is equal to the IQ of the single most intelligent person in the mob minus one for every additional member of the mob. In large enough groups negative numbers are not only possible but inevitable. It is easier for large groups of people to convince themselves their bad behavior is acceptable because the mob says it is ok, therefore it must be ok.

Take riots for example. People who would never in their day to day lives throw a brick through the window of a store and steal a television will do it because every one is doing it, so it must be ok.

Financial and social incentives must be structured to promote proper behavior of the group. The individual is not actually that important.

And no Gelvon, you are not a sociopath. If you were this blog would not exist. You get a reward out of writing it including the warm fuzzies of being more popular than Tobold in a third the time. A sociopath wouldn't feel the impetus to share in this way. Besides you hold down a job, have a girlfriend, etc. I will go for functional asperger as a possibility, but sociopathic? Your behavior strongly suggests no.

The clinical definition of a sociopath is that you are unable to empathize with others. That is you lack the capacity to understand and feel what others are feeling. This is a terrible flaw from an evolutionary perspective. If it were not non-empathetic behavior would be the norm. Being able to empathize is part of what makes human society as it currently exists functional. Without empathy the value of many things including children, thinkers, any one who cannot win in a might makes right competition becomes disposable.

In that case, people like Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, and most readers of this blog wouldn't exist. Every mode of human behavior serves a purpose that improves the survival of the species. If it didn't it wouldn't exist.

Wooly said...

@Last Anonymous

It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: "No good deed goes unpunished".

Some guy here in my country helped a biker who got hit by an elderly driver twice, by helping him up and letting him sit in his car. When the paramedics arrived, they were afraid to move him because of a neck pain. So they removed the roof of the guy's car. The insurance didn't want to cover for this cost, so this guy lost his car by helping someone.

Anyway, I think everyone, social, non-social, or whatever you want to be, does a cost benefit evaluation of everything he/she does. If helping someone in need can't give any benefit in any way, hardly anyone would do it.

Anonymous said...

being a sociopath is not a good thing. The happyness you think you feel is fleeting and far from true happyness. True happyness is relationship based. No man is an island. It may feel ok to be an antisocial however it leads to an overreaching arrogance, selfishness and lack of humanity. Also I believe it does leave you vulnerable as you lose key skills in sniffing out good vs bad when you do have social contacts. Unless you live paranoid and assume everyone is bad. Again, No man is an Island.

Anonymous said...

It is by admitting our mistakes that we show we can do better.

What difference does it make if you admit it or not? In the game you can be whatever you want to be. There are a lot of sociopaths in the game. I personally play a MMO for the social aspect. If I was like you and antisocial I would probably play strategy war games and forget about MMO's. If I am not raiding, grouped with friends achieving a common goal I get bored and find something else to do.

I dont want to farm, I dont want to AH, I dont want to quest. I play for the social aspect of the game. Once I find good peeps in game I try to stay social with them. I would say that probably 40% of the player base however are elitist sociopaths in game and really should cancel their accounts.

Mistakes in real life have real consequences and many are very substantial. Admit the small ones, learn from them. You dont want to have to learn from a big mistake because the consequences could follow you for the rest of your life. At the end of your life all the stuff and material gain are worthless. The only thing that carries on is the relationships made. It is all meaningless if you have no social goals.

mason55 said...

Gevlon, you might be interested in this book review just published today.


How Nice Are We?
What chimps can teach us about our mess of emotions.

Anonymous said...

Sociopaths don't have blogs, not even mentioning blogs with visits counter, girlfriend (this one proving without doubt that he is not anti-social, unless the 'girlfriend' is some sort of sexual partner with a contract), friends, they do not play MMORPGs, etc.

Cleary, Gevlon is not a sociopath.

He calls himself 'anti-social', making that old error and scientific falacy of dividing the world in 2 and "if you're not with me you're with them". Things just don't work that way.

Also, «The question "am I better driver than the average" is not a hard one as the "average" man is so shitty driver that passing him does not make anyone "good"» just proves that Gevlon is, in fact, the average driver.

Anonymous said...

""Then it hit me: All I learned from the book is like "oh so that's why they do it". I can't really write about it because I've never experienced it. That's another bliss of being anti-social. I never feel remorse or bad about myself, these are points 5 and 2 from the 20 points list of enjoying life fully :-).""

You are a sociopath. Look it up, it is not something people aspire to be.

Anonymous said...

above all avg does not equal good and often does equal bad on most folks scale of good/bad

Cozmo D said...

Nice read Gevlon. You promised and you delivered. This post is not what I was expecting but it far exceeded the response I expected.

Unheilvoll said...

I really like this blog but please stop calling sub-optime routines "ape-routines"

Don't insult apes for acts made by stupid humans

bulbasaur (again) said...

Yeah right... like I said...

Jingo said...

I'd agree these aren't really ape-routines in most cases since they involve the conception of interrelated society. It would probably be more accurate to call the Goblin behavior a jackal-routine

Anonymous said...

Mistakes can be made whether you agree they are mistakes are not, or whether you acknowledge they are mistakes are not. And surely the absolutist goblin would not wish to favor the mistaken and the false over the accurate and the true.

For the goblin philosophy to remain intact, not only must the truth be pursued to the advantage of self, the truth must be realized. And the advantage may well be unknown, while the truth is certain. In such cases, how could the goblin not favor the certainty?

In a similar way, this blog reveals and extends the truth of the goblin, which, regardless of the consequences to the goblin, is advantageous to the truth of the goblin.

To fail to realize the truth -- once that truth is definitively known, ie in the DNA testing example -- is goblin death.

Indeed, the goblin is not a self but a philosophy -- which is to say, the goblin is not a self, but a truth.

Bristal said...

You're analogy about lawyers and innocent people languishing in prisons reminds me of an American Superior Court Judge with 10 years experince I once talked to at a party.

She adamantly believed that far more "innocent" people went to prison that guilty people went free. However she qualified that although the person may have been innocent of the specific crime they were charged with, they were not "innocent" in general. And that evidence tampering, paying informants, and poorly defended clients were just a means law enforcement used to get criminals off the street.

That conversation made me very afraid of ever having to negotiate the American legal system.

Guido said...

I was thinking about the economy of ethics after your last post indeed, even before you made that comment about how people with ethics are going to love your next post.

For normal people, the fact that ethics are necessary is quite trivial, and often they were also taught either by their religion or by something like the categorical imperative by Kant (which is my preferred option) that being only an egoist is bad, because a society that consists only of egoists could not survive. Altruism and empathy are ample driving force for not acting like a prick for most people.

But for sociopaths and other folks unwilling or incapable of empathy (essentially, every homo oeconomicus), there needs to be a negative personal consequence from unethical behaviour, or they won't refrain from it.

When we're speaking about things like lying to business partners, it's perfectly possible to either pursue people who do not honor business agreements, particularly in written form, or pursue people who attempt to form illegal price agreements. That's what laws and courts are for IRL.

In WoW on the other hand, there are no such institutions, yet people do still generally assume that their business partners are honorable. The worst that will happen is a temporary ban for most such things however, so the barrier for unscrupulous folks to do things that would be illegal IRL is much lower - particularly since once their reputation is properly ruined, they can just switch server and pay for a name change, and continue whatever they were doing.

This does, however, not directly relate to this post here, because people lying to themselves or not has nothing to do with them acting in an ethical way or not, nor with them being capable of empathy or not.

By the way though, without basic forms of empathy there could be no learning, as even simple things like learning how to speak require infants to duplicate physical movements of their "imprinters" (usually parents), and later forms of learning require the learner to empathize with what their teachers try to tell them.

As such, it is very improbable to the brink of impossible that a talking person is completely incapable of empathy, and as a matter of fact very probable that he is among those who lie to themselves the most among all of us.

To the extent that they might even not realize a book is talking about themselves while they read it.

Nils said...

I read your article and thought that you finally realized all the contradictions you have in your blog posts. Then you write that, in fact, it doesn't even apply to you..
It's a long road to enlightment, Gevlon; a very long road for you.

Anonymous said...

Please stick to World of Warcraft. It's depressing reading your thoughts on real life.

Anonymous said...

@last Anonymous: Don't let it get to you. There are always people whose world view will upset you. Gevlon is an extreme, and there are not many of those, thank god.

Interesting post Gevlon, but I'd rather see a good economy post than a good post examining the human psyche. If I wanted to discuss psychology I'd read psychology blogs, or engage in USENET forums.

Anonymous said...

Heh...sociopathic tendencies can be a survival skill.
There's been at least one study on empathy disorders based on occupation.
The empathy level of the typical CEO profiled was similar to that of the prison population. The only major difference was that the CEOs had lower tendencies towards physical violence. sociopaths do tend to do well.
From my observations, your typical worker would do better with a bit of sociopathy. Just spend half an hour per year evaluating the company compensation and prospects and not wasting time gossiping by the water cooler.