Third Person Effect: an excerpt from You Are Not So Smart

You Are Not So SmartThe Third Person Effect, an excerpt from the new book You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself, by David McRaney

The Misconception: You believe your opinions and decisions are based on experience and facts, while those who disagree with you are falling for the lies and propaganda of sources you don’t trust.

The Truth: Everyone believes the people they disagree with are gullible, and everyone thinks they are far less susceptible to persuasion than they truly are.

I can see right through that politician’s lies. People are such sheep. People are so stupid. People will believe anything. I prefer to lead, not follow.

Have you ever thought like this? Would it blow your mind to know everyone thinks this?

If everyone thinks they aren’t gullible and can’t be swayed by advertising, political rhetoric, or charismatic con artists, then someone must be deluding themselves. Sometimes it’s you.

A great many messages among the countless ones bombarding you every day are considered dangerous because they might sway other people or fester in their minds until they act out on the suggestions coming out of all manner of sources from violent video games to late-night pundit programming. For every outlet of information, there are some who see it as dangerous not because it affects them, but because it might affect the thoughts and opinions of an imaginary third party.

Studies from the beginning of psychology up until today have revealed many ways in which people truly are affected by hidden persuasion. Richard M. Perloff in 1993 and and Bryant Paul in 2000 reviewed all the studies since researcher W. Phillips Davison first coined the third person effect in 1983. Davison noticed some people saw certain messages in the media as a call to action, not because of what was being said, but because of who might hear it. He pointed to the third person effect as the source of outrage from religious leaders over "heretical propaganda" and the ire of political rulers over some speech out of a "fear of dissent." Furthermore, Davison saw that censorship arising out of a belief that some messages which might harm "more impressionable minds."

You don’t want to believe you can be persuaded, and one way of maintaining this belief is to assume that all the persuasion flying through the air must be landing on other targets. Otherwise how could it be successful? Those advertisements for cheeseburgers are for fatties with no self-control, you think, until you are ravenous and are forced to choose between one fast food place and another. Those alcohol billboards are for trendy hipsters, you assume, until you are at the office Christmas party and the guy at the open bar asks you what you want. Public service announcements about texting while driving are for people who don’t live the kind of life you do, you think, until you find yourself feeling a twinge of shame when you reach for the phone to respond to an email while waiting on the light to turn green.

When you watch your preferred news channel or read your favorite newspaper or blog, you tend to believe you are an independent thinker. You may disagree with people on the issues, but you see yourself as having an open mind, as a person who looks at the facts and reaches conclusions after rational objective analysis. You tend to think you are not like the people who live in your town, go to your school, work at your business and so on. You are unique. You dance to the beat of a different drummer. You fail to realize just by living in your town, attending your school, and working at your job you are the kind of person who would do those things. If you weren’t, you would be doing something else. You might say, "Well, I have to be here. I have no choice," but you ignore how many of your peers are probably using the same excuse.

The third person effect is a version of the self-serving bias. You excuse your failures and see yourself as more successful, more intelligent and more skilled than you are. Research into the self-serving bias shows subjects tend to rate themselves as more skilled than their coworkers, better drivers than the average person, more attractive than people their age and likely to live longer than the people they grew up with.

When the third person effect leads you to condone censorship, take a step back and imagine the sort of messages people on the other side might think are brainwashing you, and then ask yourself if those messages should be censored too.

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This is excerpted with permission from Gotham Books from YOU ARE NOT SO SMART by David McRaney ©2011. It is not to be duplicated or reproduced in anyway.


  1. “The Truth: Everyone believes the people they disagree with are gullible, and everyone thinks they are far less susceptible to persuasion than they truly are.”

    Well, that’s just, like…your opinion, man.

    1. “The Misconception: You believe your opinions and decisions are based on experience and facts, while those who disagree with you are falling for the lies and propaganda of sources you don’t trust.”

      What Mona says is right. The claim that, because everyone equally believes in the rightness of his own opinion, nobody has any better claim to truth than anyone else is a self-refuting argument. If it’s a true claim, then it’s just an opinion, and no more valid than my belief that the person who makes the claim is wrong.

      1. The claim isn’t that all opinions are equally valid. It’s that you (yes you) are almost certainly much more susceptible to persuasion than you believe, and the people you disagree with are almost certainly much less. You are less rational and more emotional, they are less emotional and more rational. And so forth. You can see this in action in literally any discussion about politics, no matter who you’re talking to. Lurk around the various echo chambers and see for yourself how similarly dismissive people of all beliefs can be.

        But, and this is the important thing, one of you can still be right and the other wrong. (Or, perhaps more likely, one of you can be less wrong.) And it doesn’t necessarily mean that attempts to identify and compensate for your own biases are entirely in vain, which, in the humble opinion of this inevitably biased, pretentious ape, is probably the best takeaway lesson from studies like this.

        1. I might think I’m smarter than Richard Dawkins or  funnier than Steve Martin, and they would probably think they’re smarter/funnier than me. That doesn’t necessarily mean each of us suffers equally from a delusion; it might just mean that I’m a garden variety doofus male who tends to overrate his own abilities in everything from sex to sports, whereas Dawkins is in fact smarter than me, Martin is funnier, and each is correct in believing this to be the case.

          So the fact that I believe I am more rational than you, and you think you are more rational than me, proves only that *one* of us is wrong. In this case, that one is you, I’m afraid. 

          (I would put a winking smilicon here, but being a super-rationalist immune to any emotionality,  I will close with a  stoicon.  :|  )

        2. No, it’s just you (yes you) being almost certainly much more susceptible to persuasion than you believe and the people you disagree with are almost certainly much less.

          So, after you have now elevated yourself to that higher plane of understanding and wisdom by stating everybody else is more gullible than you yourself, I can make the exact same argument…

          Those are empty words.

      2. The claim that, because everyone equally believes in the rightness of his own opinion, nobody has any better claim to truth than anyone else is a self-refuting argument. If it’s a true claim, then it’s just an opinion, and no more valid than my belief that the person who makes the claim is wrong.

        This kind of thinking is the big problem. The idea that claims should or can be sorted into “truth” and “opinion”, where “opinion” just means “invalid”. The idea that you should read the main claim, and decide whether or not you agree with that claim, and then read the following piece only if you agree with it. This is how Fox happens, it’s the essence of tabloid journalism, and all of the screwed up things people keep complaining about the media doing.The rational person reads the claim, memorises it without deciding whether it is true or not, then reads the following argument and evaluates whether that argument has proved the claim to be true. The text following the claim is not supposed to be an ego-rub for people who agree, it’s supposed to lay out the argument so that they can decide what to think.(Trivial argument to justify this: the first paragraph will clearly lead to tribalism and ignorance, where people only hear what they want and nobody can agree on anything, while the second leads to people only accepting claims which can be justified, a far more favourable outcome)

  2. I believe I’m an idiot and my opinions while well meant are ultimately worthless pieces of trash used to wipe my brain-poo for disposal.

    Your move, sciencetainment guy.

  3. “Have you ever thought like this? Would it blow your mind to know everyone thinks this?”

    Duhh, like…I knew that, maaaaaaaan.

  4. “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” — Douglas Adams

  5. I completely agree, Anselm. It really bugs me that Amazon is so regularly presented as the only place to purchase books. Why not give more options, BB? And for anyone who’s interested in purchasing this book at their favorite indie bookstore, here’s the link to the book on Indiebound:

    1. Why Amazon is the only answer: Because we all know there can only to be one omniscient, perfect bookstore, and we all want our shopping to be so immediately gratifying. One click is all us deep thinking individualists can manage.

      Long live independent bookstores!

  6. So… The person who says Ron Paul has some very good economic polices isn’t a complete lunatic?

    I’m afraid your argument is invalid, then.

  7. The “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” speech sounded better coming from Brad Pitt :-P

    I think some degree of self-delusion is required to maintain a human ego in a world with seven billion strangers living in it.  It’s like the Total Perspective Vortex from Hitchhiker’s, if you really saw yourself as this tiny speck of cosmic dust, instead of as the cameraman of the universe, how could you motivate yourself to do anything at all?

  8. Haha, most of the comments are validating the claims of the book. The smart ass/sarcastic ones in particular show how much people don’t like being told they’re not as smart as they like to think.

    1. They could just as easily respond that you’re validating THEIR claims that this is all just a tautology, by assuming anyone who objects to a specious line of reasoning has just got sour grapes. It feels like it’s just the “oh, you’re just butthurt” quasi-defense, just in more civil terms.

      The comments don’t validate a thing about the claims of the book. There are plenty of potential motives to dismiss, disagree with, or ridicule this article, and assuming there’s only one one-size-fits all motive — the most uncharitable possible one — is a bit irrational on your own part, isn’t it? After all, there is also an innate psychological bias towards exaggerating the failures of others to bolster one’s own ego… (And maybe I’m indulging in a bit of that, myself. Sorry about that. You and I are only human. :) )  

      Personally, I think the article raised good points but came off as really patronizing — I already knew every damn thing McRaney said, and I *do* police my thinking habits accordingly, and I *do* know that my efforts are doomed to fail because I’m still locked in a primate brain. So… I can see very easily why people would be irritated by the “gotcha” tone of this book.

  9. Actually, all of you are figments of my imagination. I am having a bad dream. When I wake up you will all be gone.

  10. So you mean… I might be wrong and people I disagree with might be right?

    *Shudder* Well done – this is the scariest Halloween post I’ve seen all day!

  11. …I wrote a book about that, by the way. It’s on Amazon. Any of you figments of my imagination want to buy it?

      1. Obviously this book is right and we’re not as smart as we might believe, because we can’t understand why Walter’s comment begins portraying itself as contrary to the book’s perspective when in fact it is supportive…

        Anyway we’ll just stop worrying and keep on sharing your positive comment from the Pewlpit. Thank you for helping us recover our confidence HahTse

  12. I study philosophy, and I’ve been pretty worried about this for a while. Which graduate school you go to is usually clearly correlated with which ideas you endorse afterwards. The problem is, there’s no easy way to make sure this does not happen… people need a springboard from which to, well, spring. A person can’t think thoughts about things when all that person’s interacted with is a void.

  13. Some people who disagree with me are thoughtful, intelligent, rational beings.  

    Some aren’t.

    Some people who agree with me are gullible, delusional propaganda victims.  

    Some aren’t.

    Some people are stupid.  Some people are sheep.

    Some aren’t.

    But thank goodness, we have David McRaney to bring us “The Truth” about what *everyone* believes, to explain how *everyone* thinks.

    Let’s all rush out and buy his book, so we’ll finally know The Truth at long last.

    1. I came here to say this exact thing.

      We do not All blindly assume that every opinion contrary to our own is incorrect, ever and always. My opinions are largely based on/filtered by my experiences, which are of course different to my own. A very close friend tends to take the side of the police when it comes to news about OWS, because of his experiences, I tend to take the side of the protestors, because of mine. We are very good friends, but debate respectfully and often break of when it becomes obvious that we aren’t going to find any common ground. We often do however, often by providing new information that the other person was missing.

      Of course my opinions are based on a subjective reading of my world, we’ve long known that ‘eyewitness’ testimony can be wrong, which is why it takes more than one witness to convict another of murder (in most cases). If the witness knew both people (and can be trusted not to have done it themselve), And they were right there, then perhaps you can trust them, but asking someone about the stranger who brushed past them in the street with hot dog sauce on his shirt, just before they walked around the corner and saw someone bleeding to death, well, that’s a pretty dicey proposition. The witness may Know what he saw, but he may have mis-remembered the actual situation.

      Thus we are left with a world in which we should sometimes/often question what we believe/feel/know, and ponder how it looks from a different point of view.

      Case in point: What my overstressed gf thinks I’ve been doing for her, and what I think I’ve been doing. I have to put myself in her situation and remember how she’s seeing things right now, so I don’t expect her to see things like she would have six months ago, or six months from now.

      She’s in a particular situation, which changes how she views the world.

      50% of the US Congress are millionares (apparently), which is of course going to give them a different worldview and change what they see as possible and impossible in the world.

      1. We do not All blindly assume that every opinion contrary to our own is incorrect, ever and always.

        But a lot of people do. If you read these comment threads, you know that if a 100% effective, safe, cheap vaccine for all cancers were developed, many people would refuse it because Big Pharma is evil and that’s Just The Way It Is.

        1. But a lot of people do. If you read these comment threads, you know that if a 100% effective, safe, cheap vaccine for all cancers were developed, many people would refuse it because Big Pharma is evil and that’s Just The Way It Is.

          I would have to know what Dr. Jenny McCarthy thinks on the subject before I could form a well thought out opinion.

          1. yep, big pharma=pretty much evil. after working in the healthcare field for 15 years and riding the healthcare *merry go round* with my own serious health issues, I could pretty much write a book on the evils of big pharma. one wouldn’t know much about it unless you have experienced it, but I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone.

          2. I would have to know what Dr. Jenny McCarthy thinks on the subject before I could form a well thought out opinion.

            I take my medical advice from Dr. Daisy Moses.

        2. That’s a really bad example. It’s like saying if  Big Ag came up with a 100% effective, safe, cheap solution to world agricultural problems, people wouldn’t believe them. Why not? Because there is no “100% effective, safe, cheap” solution – not for cancer, not for food production. And Big Pharma is as unlikely as Big Ag to be looking for it.

          1. Because there is no “100% effective, safe, cheap” solution – not for cancer, not for food production.

            If you don’t think that it’s possible to find a cure for cancer, you live in a very depressing head-space. That’s about as reality-oriented saying that if man were meant to fly, he would have wings.

          2. Having worked in a hospital chain’s contracting office for a while, I came to realise that a lot of medicine (as it’s currently practiced in the US at least, in most states) is about profit, not health. So many problems are treated with medications, rather than solving the root cause, if there’s more money in the medication. We could probably find a cure, if we had more funding directed towards pure science, and less towards medications that may solve this problem, but cause 5 more.

            Sure, there are Lots of people working on cures for cancer, but is there One cure of Cancer? Considering the myriad places cancer happens, and the varying ways it shows itself, I don’t think we’ll find one anytime soon.

            Of course, if we can get nanites to work, and program them to cut off a cancer’s blood supply without harming healthy tissue, you never know, we may have a cure for cancer. But then we’ll still need to detect it early enough to prevent damage to healthy tissue.

            Gardasil is one Preventer of cancer, but it’s not a cure, it doesn’t work After you get cancer, it just helps prevent HPLV which raises your risk of a certain type of cancer. A good start (and I’m damn proud of the fellow Aussie who invented it), but it’s not a Cure.

          3. I took that cancer statement to mean that the cure wouldn’t be 100% safe. Considering the potential for side effects, that seems reasonable.

  14. The problem with being surrounded by idiots is realizing that even idiots were smart enough to surround you.

  15. I would never want to lead.  Refuse to follow, probably.  But lead? No thanks.  In fact, I am not sure there is in fact, such a creature as a leader, true born or otherwise.  I mean, by lead you mean to something considered at least better than where you started out from.

  16. The difference between the intelligent person and the stupid person is that the former is probably willing to admit that she might be wrong.

  17. There are always 3 versions of the truth, yours, mine, and what really happened.  -Roberts Evans.

  18. The incipit is misleading.  Most of that excerpt was about our perception of propaganda on a wider audience, not its affect upon a person with whom we’re having an argument.  In fact, it was all about perceived unconscious effects of propaganda or social reinforcement.  It’s dangerous to confuse the two.

    Make no mistake:  you are far more likely to be well-informed, reasoned and logical about things to which you have given careful attention.  This is as close as anyone will ever get to being right.

    You can see right through those politician’s lies–because you have thought about those lies.  You can’t control what brand of vodka you prefer, because you don’t care about what brand of vodka you prefer.  Sure, you’re probably living under the delusion that you’re a free thinker all the time–but then again, you can think freely.

    Don’t let the knowledge that you can’t choose a hamburger without picturing mascots stay you from telling someone that they are wrong about, say, the speed at which a neutrino travels.  You are in possession of your own thoughts.  You have your reasons.  You are smarter than you think.

  19. How can any of that have anything to do with my Facebook Friends?
    I use Facebook to keep track of the names and faces of people I’ve met in real life. I can’t think of any way that could possibly be a delusion.

  20. My 8th grade communication teacher, Mr. Ogee (like the curve), taught me that those who claim to unaffected by commercials are the most affected. This was one of my most valuable pieces of information I have ever learned. It was like a seed that has sprouted in my mind. It continues to grow today. It made me aware that I too can be the sheep. It taught me to listen, to evaluate and never take anything at face value, even my own thought.

    1. Comments like yours pretty much completely undermine McRaney’s argument that *everyone* thinks he is guided by truth derived from reason.

      If you’re a science guy (like I assume McRaney is), who hangs out with your science colleagues and sciencey pals, of course you’re going to interact almost entirely with people who claim to be guided overwhelmingly by rational thought. And if you hang out with artists or writers or religious mystics, many if not most of your friends would scoff at the primacy of reason over feeling and intuition. McRaney appears to be inferring some fact about people in general from his experiences in the scientific/secular community, but it’s kind of shocking that he doesn’t realize how weak the inference is.

  21. Am I the only person who did a double-take at the ostrich on the book’s cover, thinking it was an AT-AT?

  22. Well I was thinking that this book/article would bring out some very interesting comments.  The information revealed by the studies reported by the book reported by the BB article were obviously conducted by scientists.  So I am tending to now think that the book is somewhat of a nod towards the scientific method.  Another commenter has covered this nicely actually, but my own take is somewhat of a paring down, sort of using the methodology on the methodology.  (ya its old po mo in a way, but just because it’s not a fad anymore doesnt mean its wrong.)  So the sourcing of this (psychological) data came about through the use of a methodology that already assumes that such a methodology is necessary. Is it so surprising that the baseline assumptions of the examiners should show through so clearly in a psychological study?

  23. Can someone familiar with the book summarize this guy’s explanation of why my memory is mostly fiction?

  24. Hrm. Actually, I believe myself to be entirely too gullible. I want to believe what people tell me. I want to believe that the people around me are competent, benevolent, and fair. Unfortunately, I know that they’re not.

    My grandmother was a Mormon and a John Bircher. She took me to a John Birch society meeting when I was 12 in which the guest speaker described an escaped slave who helped run the Underground Railroad as a terrorist. And as I sat there, watching my grandmother drink it all in, I was also thinking, terrorist? Seriously? I saw my grandmother do this repeatedly, and I began to realize that, basically, whoever got to her first (and that was generally a member of her church or church-approved media) formed her initial opinion of things, and after that, she could not be swayed, even when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. To her, it was a matter of faith.

    I recognize that same tendency in myself. Unless I’m very careful, I tend to take people’s word at face value. I have trained myself, over the years, to stop and think carefully before believing the first thing I hear. Training as a scientist has helped. Working as a journalist, learning to ask hard questions, has helped far more.

    This goes against everything I was taught as a child, from the Mormons in my father’s family, from the Catholics in my mother’s family, and from the Catholic school I attended. From a very young age, I was instructed not to question, to accept the judgement of my elders, to believe blindly. But I couldn’t, not when what I was hearing was contradictory. They couldn’t both be the true church, worshiping the true God. They couldn’t both claim to be the only people who would be accepted into heaven.

    I was lucky. Most people inculcated into a particular religion or culture of blind faith, who are taught to distrust and even despise those outside their culture, have a very hard time breaking out of that mindset. They believe they are right, smarter than everyone else, because they are told that this is so from infancy. Does this mean we are predisposed to being gullible while believing ourselves to be superior? Perhaps, but I suspect that the influence of culture and peers is also a significant factor.

    1. I am very similar and grew up having experiences much like yours. It was in the 3rd grade when the realization hit me that none of the people around me questioned anything. They were told what to believe and that was it, the end. I didn’t fully understand what this meant for many years, during which I crushed faith without mercy through my incessant desire for congruent answers. 

  25. I don’t like the idea that I’m gullible and deluded, but if accepting that means that I’m also saying that all the other smug preachy jerks on the internet are too, it’s a net gain for me. 

    So I’m okay with this. Ha ha, I just burned like a million people, and only one of them was me!

  26. “If everyone thinks they aren’t gullible and can’t be swayed by advertising, political rhetoric, or charismatic con artists, then someone must be deluding themselves. Sometimes it’s you.”

    I didn’t buy the book. Who’s deluding themselves now?

  27. I don’t drink my favourite beers because I was convinced to by skilful advertising, I drank every kind of beer I could get my hands on over a number of years and I just stopped drinking the ones that tasted like shit, don’t belittle my work man!

  28. And, the truth is that ostriches do not poke their heads in the sand to avoid embarrassment or to avoid being seen.  If it were true, ostriches would be as dead as the dodo.

  29. It’s delightful to read a well written popularization like this, and I’m sure he has a lot of interesting new studies and great anecdotes.  I’ll certainly read it.  There has recently been a cascade of great TED talks on the issues as well.

    However… the perspective gained does not mean opinions, and more importantly mechanisms for reaching those opinions, are incontestable and equally valid.  Rather, it provides us with even MORE tools to better examine our opinions and improve our self-querying executive function.

    There’s a terrible mind-fuck that comes of combining total intellectual laziness with pathological arrogance that results from misinterpreting the implications of theories of epistemology.  Formal logic and the scientific method really do work better than applying postmodern literary deconstructionist models to measurable and quantifiable phenomena.  A quick game of “I can stop the bullet with my disbelief” is a test that doesn’t seem to have two different equally valid results.

    Measurement, reproduction of testing results, peer review, and proofs are great ways to test opposing beliefs.

  30. One problem with the studies that supposedly show that people are affected by hidden persuasion is that many of them are based on small samples. According to Tversky and Kahneman, psychologists have an excessive tendency to believe small-sample research. This was established by a study with a sample size of 84.

    Wait a moment…

  31. I dismiss David McRaney’s philosophical relativism on its face.  My idea that two plus two equals four is not the same as, and not to be considered equal with, someone else’s idea that two plus two equals thirty-seven.  Facts CAN be established, no mater how much certain philosophers may insist that it ain’t so.

  32. On a side note, for a blog as tech-savvy and copyright sensitive as BB, I’m surprised to see this post close with “It is not to be duplicated or reproduced in anyway [sic].”  There are numerous complete (ephemeral) copies of this essay on my computer as a result of viewing it online.  While I don’t expect to face a lawsuit over them, it’s not out of the question:
    More than that though, if some copyright troll attached such a “fair use be damned” claim to their work, I’d expect BB to come out swinging on behalf of the remixers and reimaginers.  By all means, the work is copyrighted, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be “reproduced in any way” and legalistic assertions to the contrary aren’t what I expect from here at BoingBoing of all places.

  33. I once used this argument in a fight with my husband: that neither of us was right, and that it was impossible to ascertain what had really happened. It didn’t go down to well :-)

    So I think that it is a interesting book, and I am certainly going to read it, but it has no practical value in real live ;-)

  34. I tell myself that all the time.  The only problem is that most everybody else actually is stupid and gullible.  And there you have it.  But since the author said I would say that, what I know is invalid, and my attempts to temper my attitude in order to not seem arrogant to others is meaningless.  If I am stupid and gullible and know enough not to fall for brain-dead scams, where does that leave the rest of you?  Honestly?  It scares me.  But Boing Boing’s commentariat is above average.  Capable of opinionated idiocy sometimes, yes.  But never uneducated. This book does not apply to 75% of those who post here.

  35. And now what?

    Is everybody going to go around shouting that “you’re not so smart” and the world is going to be a better place?

    This looks like yet another chapter in the eternal quest to make an argument while denying the existence of truth in reality and not bothering to find it. So, instead of “your opinion is just as good as mine” we now have “you’re not so smart”.

    And that line of thought has turned out to be both unproductive and just plain dumb.

    1. Is everybody going to go around shouting that “you’re not so smart” and the world is going to be a better place?

      I think that the idea is to consider how this might be applied to ourselves, not as something to hurl at others. You’ve really transcended glass-half-full/glass-half-empty and gone straight to glass-is-a-potential-weapon.

      1. “You’ve really transcended glass-half-full/glass-half-empty and gone straight to glass-is-a-potential-weapon.”

        That’s because this argument has been weaponized in the past.

        The argument is telling people not to think, as they are dumb anyway. In the end, it is merely going to be used by people in some kind of “respectable” position to silence those who disagree with them, because they are “not so smart as they think they are”.

        It’s the exact opposite of the enlightenment.

        It is arguing for the beginning of a new dark age, when people in Europe were told exactly that. That they are not so smart and all things worth thinking about have already been thought by the ancient Greeks and Romans – so, why bother?

        The result was a thousand years of stagnation and decay.

  36. Surely this is not correct, surely the correct expression of this idea is that there is a percentage of people for whom this is true and a much smaller percentage for whom it is not true and it is very difficult for an individual to tell in which group they lie.

  37. “In any given situation there will always be more dumb people than smart people.” -Ken Kesey (10/31/1991)

  38. Think of how stupid the average person is.  Then remember than half the population are more stupid than that.  (George Carlin)

    I don’t really mind these sort of “stating the obvious” popularising books although it’s a little annoying that they got the publishing contract instead of me.  I suppose it’s my fault for hanging around on internet forums writing posts like this instead of getting on with writing the book.

  39. I acknowledge the weaknesses described in the excerpt. And I just requested an inter-library loan from my local public library so I could read this book. I’m hoping reading this book will help me have a better understanding of, and to better deal with, conservatives. I’d rather “turn” them, or enough of them, than have a civil war.

  40. I don’t dispute the general assertion of the excerpt, but here is my question.
    Even if we grant that everyone is to some degree “delusional”  about their own abilities with respect to perception of bias, susceptibility to persuasion, etc.  it is equally clear that not everyone is delusional to the same degree.
    Some people are better than others at self-evaluation, using data, experience and facts to inform thought and decision, etc.
    Some people have a more accurate self-image.
    So then, how is one to successfully evaluate oneself and others?
     If you acknowledge the problem excerpted here, how do you find out where on the spectrum you (and other people) are, and to what extent you need to change your ways?  You don’t want to overestimate yourself, but underestimating yourself can cause problems too.
    How exactly *can* you change your ways, and know yourself as accurately as possible?

  41. A few years ago, it might have been even before there were Intartubes – a fellow named Socrates told us that self-examination was so critical that life wasn’t worth living without it. His point was that if we start with self-examination and make that the foundation of our daily life, then we can’t be hoodwinked or deluded. The self-examined life does not imagine that it is “dancing to the beat of a different drum;” it merely does, without display or even self-consciousness that it is doing so. 

    Around the same time as Socrates, another old fellow named Lao Tzu was making the same point in a different part of the world. Those guys lived in some pretty dark times — Socrates probably saw the imminent decline of his nation’s Empire occurring (sound familiar, America?); and Lao Tzu lived amid a time called the “Warring States Period” — and their messages were fairly identical: the darker the times without,  the greater the need for light within. Their respective action plans for revealing said light were also similar: turn inward and disturb everything you find, let nothing rest, let nothing abide without questioning and criticism. Discard, diminish, destroy what is derived, decadent, and dead. Whatever remains afterward will be what is true and genuine for your life. 

    What they didn’t tell us very well was the how of it all. That’s what I’m working on now, with the focus on the individual; and I suspect it’s the basis of an entire current movement. What I hear these “occupiers” telling America is this: if corporations are “persons” then they must be capable of self-examination; and so the other, more “person-like” persons of this nation must demand that they in fact do it. Their message, simply put, is: if the revolution can happen within the Corporate Person, then there will be no need for blood or barricades on the streets…

  42. Yes, but when I think these things about myself, they’re actually true. I really am smarter and a better driver than most people, from an objective point of view, and I really am resistant to political propaganda. Self-serving bias is something other people have.

    But seriously, incompetent people lack the ability to realistically judge their own competence, so they overestimate their abilities with a self-serving bias. Those of us who are actually competent are aware of it in a realistic and objective way. I know that I am competent in a number of areas, but I also know my limitations and I can tell realistically when someone else is smarter or more skilled than me.

    1. I think I am too, and I think I have the evidence to support these beliefs. Except I know I am biased, I know my mind edits reality and should not be trusted to accurately represent the truth. Because of this I maintain a layer of self-awareness about my beliefs, I question everything. I entertain the thought that I might be wrong, I embrace every doubt I can find, I try to find my bias. I suspect it doesn’t always work but I think it does.

      1. Yep. I feel that little burst of pleasure when “my” political party scores a point against Those Idiots on the other side, but then I notice it, recognize it for what it is, and ignore it.  I look honestly and openly at the other side’s viewpoint and try to see if there’s any validity to it, and there often is.

        I experience bias, but I’m aware of it and neutralize it.

        1. I remember in college someone made this very point during a class discussion about the nature of the right/left wing dichotomy in American politics. The prof. asked a simple question that still haunts me:
          What policies has the American right wing ever supported that made America better?

          I can’t think of shit man, and I’ve tried for years. It’s been loyalty to the King, slavery, fuck n*****s, bitches are too dumb to vote, drug wars, nuke Vietnam and whales, Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve!
          What the fuck are they good for?
          I think sometimes when you stare into the abyss you can only find one monster.

          1. Repeal of the draft by Nixon. (He usually ignored Milton Friedman but took his advice that time.)

            Repeal of confiscatory taxes by Reagan.

            Containment of Communist totalitarianism.

            Abolition of slavery by theocratic religious fanatics who elected a corporate lawyer named Lincoln.

            Opposition  to eugenics. Didn’t you read Steven J. Gould? (Actually, I must admit that was a matter of the right and the left opposing a middle-of-the-road policy.)

            Control of inflation.

          2. But isn’t that just a No True Scotsman fallacy, where you’re defining “right wing” in a way that lumps all those bad things on their side and doesn’t include any good things?  The Republicans were the original anti-slavery party.

  43. I disagree that most people are stupid and delusional. I think most irrational decision making is based between the conscious and subconscious — the subconscious meaning our instincts and what naturally impels us forward. When we do something ridiculous, or incline ourselves toward an ideology, it is us making a choice (whether we’re aware of it or not) about carrying forward. Sometimes we just give in, because we decide that fighting is too difficult, or blending in is an easier choice. And we also have to consider the fact that constantly being contrarian is impractical. For example, could you imagine if no one obeyed the rules of the road? Basically I’m saying that being geared toward conformity isn’t a bad thing. I’m certainly glad that most people consider murder to be wrong.

  44. Everyone has certain weaknesses and elements of stupidity. It’s part of being human to be flawed. Some people choose to ignore their flaws (through self-delusion or with full awareness), whilst others choose to revel in them. Many others try to improve them – hence an entire industry of self-help books and therapists. In fact, it’s just as valid to argue that many people have a vested interest in feeling inadequate compared to others… it feeds their neuroses… it’s part of who they are. I think this book is only telling part of the story. What about everyone who likes to feel inadequate… who actively seeks underdog status?

    I’m not buying this book. It feels a bit to close to the ‘self help’ section for me. A kind of guilty, knowing self-help for all those who feel really smart but want to give themselves a little massage of humility.

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