Biological anthropologist Robert Trivers in his book, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, identifies seven categories of self-deception (pp. 15-27):
- Self-inflation, i.e., self-aggrandizement
- Derogation of others, i.e., wrongly belittling another person
- Biases of power, i.e., power distorts one's view of self, others, and world
- Illusion of control, i.e., thinking one has more power than is the case
- Construction of biased social theory, i.e., wrongly conceptualizing how one's social group functions
- Moral superiority, i.e., mistakenly believing you occupy the moral high ground
- False personal narratives, i.e., inventing, intentionally or otherwise, an autobiographical story that is not factual.
Trivers persuasively argues that self-deception results from both human genetics and cultural influences, suggesting that the split may be 50-50. Deception is also pervasive. For example, in courting, humans universally give thought to personal grooming, seeking to convey a particular image. Genetics predispose a liking for certain body types or shapes; culture shapes plumage preferences.
In what ways, large or small, do you engage in deceit or self-deception? Who does this harm? Who benefits from it?
I'm unconvinced that all forms of self-deception and deceit are wrong. Someone who always speaks the truth, as s/he sees it, is at best socially awkward and at worse sometimes needlessly cruel. Some forms of self-deception may induce us to become a better person as we pretend to be a person that we hope to become (some forms of psychotherapy rely on this technique as does the power of positive thinking popularized by clerics such as Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller). Integrity may connote seeking to walk a path more fully, reavling who one hopes to be, instead of consistently and accurately revealing who one is.
In these 50 days of Easter, how can self-deception constructively lead to living more abundantly?