Living a Lie: The Roll of Self-deception in 2024 Election

In 1976, in the foreword to Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, the biologist Robert Trivers floated a novel explanation for such self-serving biases: We dupe ourselves in order to deceive others, creating social advantage. Psychologists have identified several ways of fooling ourselves that include biased information-gathering, biased reasoning and biased recollections. The steps that Trivers outlined includes the way we seek information that supports what we want to believe and avoid that which does not. Trivers argues that a glowing self-view makes others see us in the same light, leading to mating and cooperative opportunities. Supporting this argument, Cameron Anderson, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, showed in 2012 that overconfident people are seen as more competent and have higher social status. “I believe there is a good possibility that self-deception evolved for the purpose of other-deception,” Anderson says.1

We all do it. We engage in self-deception – hiding the truth from ourselves about our true feelings, motives, or circumstances. When we’re deceiving ourselves, we’re denying evidence, logic, or reality and rationalizing choices or behaviors to serve a false narrative. We’re not seeing or viewing things accurately. Self-deception is often a defense mechanism used for self-protection, and it can be used for self-enhancement. But it often becomes a form of self-sabotage and betrayal because it denies reality. When we deceive ourselves, we become our own enemy posing as a friend. Self-deception can involve denial of hard truths, minimization of painful matters, or projection of fault onto others. Our self-deception usually comes with a fair amount of discomfort and anxiety, in part because of the cognitive dissonance we experience when we do it. (Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort we feel when behavior and beliefs do not complement each other or when we hold two contradictory beliefs.)

Psychologists have traditionally argued we evolved to overestimate our good qualities because it makes us feel good. But even if individuals don’t bear specific responsibility for their being in that state, self-deception may nevertheless be morally objectionable, destructive and dangerous. Some argue that self-deception evolved to facilitate interpersonal deception by eliminating the cues and cognitive load that consciously lying produces and by mitigating retaliation should the deceit become evident. On this view, the real gains associated with positive illusions and other self-deceptions are by-products that serve this greater evolutionary end by enhancing self-deceiver’s ability to deceive. Von Hippel and Trivers contend that “by deceiving themselves about their own positive qualities and the negative qualities of others, people are able to display greater confidence than they might otherwise feel, thereby enabling them to advance socially and materially.” The inherent danger of self-deception is that for as long as you do, no one may really be able to help you.

Of all the problems in organizations, self-deception is the most common, and the most damaging. Self-deception can lead to treating people like objects because we view their needs as less important than our own, inflating our own virtues and other people’s faults. This can lead to a vicious cycle of mutual blame and mistreatment. It’s contagious. The more self-deception occurs, the more it will spread to others. Though it can be hard to detect, there are signs of self-deception in action. For example, we’re probably deceiving ourselves when we: (1) keep making excuses for ourselves, (2) can’t accept responsibility for things, (3) keep blaming others, (4) keep avoiding unpleasant realities. (5) feel defensive or threatened when people challenge us. On the plus side, self-deception can make us feel better about ourselves and help us maintain our confidence in the face of challenges and setbacks. But it can also help us avoid taking responsibility for our actions.2

Some people spend their entire life in self-deception or denial, but the situations or circumstances that we are denying will usually get worse with timeobserves Terri Cole, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. This can lead us to detract from our mental and emotional clarity; cause us to lose sight of who we really are and what’s real because we’ve been deceiving ourselves so long; lead us to deceiving others often, not just ourselves. In short, it can become a downward spiral leading to further self-deception and a host of other problems in our lives, many of which are quite serious. And the longer we do it, the more we believe the lies. In leadership roles self-deception: can prevent us from seeing beyond our own opinions and priorities, lead to unethical decisions and behaviors, including justifying poor behavior, such as intimidation, harassment, or bullying.

All political projects are to some degree based on unifying myths and imagined future possibilities. The conservative movement created a past and a future for itself: a past ideal of America to mourn, elevate, and try to re-create, and a future in which it vanquishes the forces deforming the country. Self-deception could be the common ground between Trump and his supporters. His lies may be all about self-deception. Back in 2016 religious leaders acknowledged Trump to be a “flawed leader” who has support of conservative Christians because he opposes “pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government liberalism” that was embodied by the Democratic nominee. Trump’s bond with white Christian nationalists reaches level we haven’t seen before. Trump sells his lies with conviction. That a sizeable segment of the country has given up on whether there was a riot, labeled insurrection or not, is a case of mass denial of self-deception.

An existential threat, put simply, is a threat to society – a veritable threat to existence does not have to be present for someone to experience a sense of existential threat. Trump draws fervent support from conservatives who believe the president is willing to restore the country to its moral and constitutional foundations. Trump’s existential threat: “If we don’t win on November 5th, I think our country is going to cease to exist. It could be the last election we ever have. I actually mean that. If we don’t win, I think this could be the last election we ever have…” On the other hand, Donald Trump represents an existential threat to the current system. Trump won the nomination as the candidate who lied the most, won the presidency as someone known to lie; has an unshakable base despite ongoing lies. Former President Donald Trump amounts to an “existential threat” to democracy and the rule of law, claim legal experts.

Trump’s enablers must face consequences too.  By aiding and abetting President Trump even as his lies are repeatedly exposed, they’ve become complicit – and, with tear gas in the streets and more than 200,000 dead from the coronavirus, the price of collaboration has already turned out to be extraordinarily high. Enablers support the Trump’s behavior out of fear, love, or a misguided sense of loyalty. Autocrats, like Trump, surround themselves with their political cronies and lackies rather than competent people – have no way of eliciting, recognizing or assessing useful criticism. They are unwilling to hear anything negative – that leads to very bad decisions. There’s no doubt that Donald Trump was the instigator of the 2020 insurrection. But the former president’s schemes never would have gotten far (or even off the ground) without the participation of right-wing media executives, lawyers and pliant state officials. Without holding these enablers accountable, democracy and the rule of law will remain at risk.

We live in a world of crisis and existential threat caused by authoritarianism, militarism, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction – all of which limit our freedom and lead to the oppression of others. Existentialists call on us to live in freedom in active rebellion against the oppressive forces that keep people from being able to live in responsible freedom in our world. Actively living out responsible freedom in a world of existential threats requires actively working for the liberation of others, especially those who are the most vulnerable to the oppression of dehumanizing systems within our societies.  However, we must do so in such a way that we do not lose ourselves to some external entity but rather continue to will our own genuine freedom in the midst of a community of equal persons who also will their freedom.

Von Hippel offers two pieces of wisdom regarding self-deception: “My Machiavellian advice is this is a tool that works,” he says. “If you need to convince somebody of something, if your career or social success depends on persuasion, then the first person who needs to be [convinced] is yourself.” On the defensive side, he says, whenever anyone tries to convince you of something, think about what might be motivating that person. Even if he is not lying to you, he may be deceiving both you and himself. Self-deception in politics in America is a big problem. The most important step in countering self-deception in America is for voters to turn out and reject Donald Trump, and overwhelmingly vote for President Joe Biden. Also, support free thinking Republicans who are considering a Party in Exile to return when Trump is removed – will ensure a functioning Republican Party in the future that supports democracy.

 1 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/living-a-lie-we-deceive-ourselves-to-better-deceive-others/

2  https://greggvanourek.com/self-deception/

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