Why we fool ourselves

 Let’s accept it, all of us deceive ourselves. We lie to ourselves through our teeth. Our minds habitually distort (or ignore) critical information. We routinely engage in what we call wishful thinking, we bury our heads in the sand, and once in a while we never forget to drink our own Kool-Aid.

If you don’t believe me, tell me, why do smokers (but not non-smokers) choose not to hear the dangerous effects of smoking? Why do people systematically underestimate their risk of contracting COVID-19? And why do most people believe they are better drivers, leaders, managers than the average?

Sigmund Freud believed self-deception is a (somewhat unconscious) coping strategy or a defence mechanism — a way for our ego to protect itself, and for us to preserve our self-esteem. We have a habit of repressing painful thoughts. (What’s Freud’s lifelong obsession with repressed feelings?)

Remember Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men? Yeah, Nicholson is our subconscious trying to save us from the truth. Our egos and self-esteem are fragile and need to be shielded from distressing information — like the fact that we didn’t get promoted because we aren’t good enough, and not because of favouritism. 

We are like that fox in Aesop’s fable, and the grapes are sour when we can’t have them.If evolution is the best possible outcome after millions of trial and error, we can’t possibly say that evolution didn’t know what it was doing. Because then self-deception would be like trying to reduce a fever by putting the thermometer in cold water. The temperature would read low, but it won’t stop us from shivering.