|Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind by Robert Kurzban.
Robert Kurzban is a student of the “modular mind” theory of John Tooby & Leda Cosmides.
The modular mind
“The human mind consists of many, many mental processes – think of them as little programming subroutines, or maybe individual iPhone applications – each operating by its own logic, designed by the inexorable process of natural selection”
“the mind consists of many different parts. These parts often “believe” different, mutually inconsistent things. Sometimes this is obvious, as illustrated in case of brain damage and optical illusions. Other cases are less obvious, but no less interesting.”
“the different bits of our brain have functions. Just as some of our mind’s subroutines are for seeing, some for processing language, and some for controlling muscles, […] choosing mates, […] making friends, and – one subject I currently study – some with morally condemning others for doing things.”
With the concept of the modular mind, human irrationality, ignorance and self deception cease to be a confusing riddle.
“This book is about contradictions. […] It’s about how you can, and one at the same time, want the government to leave people alone as long as they’re not hurting anyone and also very much want the government to interfere with people’s lives even when they’re not hurting anyone.”
The usefulness of being wrong and ignorant
We evolved play many different kinds of strategic games with others, and our brains are built to exploit the fact that being knowledgeable, right, and morally consistent is not always to our advantage. Because humans are such social creatures, while being right is still really important, it’s very far from everything. In fact, being ignorant, wrong, irrational, and hypocritical can make you much better off than being knowledgeable, correct, reasonable, inconsistent. As long as your’e ignorant, wrong, irrational and hypocritical in the right ways.
Against predators or forces of nature, ignorance will not help.
you’re playing a game against other people. Here, the rules are very different. Ignorance and stupidity can help.
But, while crossing the street in Philadelphia, facing rude car drivers, feigning ignorance is bliss.
Cross the street looking a little lost or confused; try to “walk like a tourist.” [...] Appear completely – blissfully – unaware.
The goal is to appear conspicuously ignorant. [... The driver'will] slow down.
Who am I?
“You” – that part of your brain that experiences the world and feels like you’re in “control”– is better thought off as a Press Secretary and as the president. This view helps explain certain puzzling things about human psychology. In chapter 5, I discuss why certain modules might not be designed to seek out the truth, and what the advantages are of ignorance. In chapter 6 and seven, I go beyond the value of ignorance and discuss how certain modules function better if they’re not just ignorant, but actually wrong. Chapters 8 and nine show how inconsistencies in the modular mind give rise to interesting phenomena surrounding “self control” and, finally, hypocrisy. […]
Even though it might feel like there’s one “you”, and that “you” are in charge, in fact, just as Whitman said, you contain multitudes. The multitudes are designed to work together, but nonetheless contradict one another with some frequencies.
In this lies the origins of human inconsistency, and the explanation for why everyone in the world except you is a hypocrite.
This book is central to our blog. It deals with stupidity as a strategy, hypocrisy, self-deception.
It endeavours to explain why someone in New York was an implacable persecutor of prostitution, but was client #1 of a luxury prostitution ring. And why a famous politician is against sex education and against pre-marital sex, but got her unwed daughter followed human instincts, had sex, got pregnant and got a grand child out of wedlock.
It can probably shed some light on the nature of witch hunts, on the adaptiveness of joining in on the witch hunt. On the dangers of opposing the dogma of the time and seeing what nobody else wants to see.
We will post more about Kurzban’s book.