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As Haidt notes, our unconscious selves automatically give orders to our conscious, reasoning selves, meaning that our unconscious thoughts and motives are what drive the decisions we consciously make and the actions we choose to take. In light of this, we try to influence the outcome of how our (and others’) unconsciousness drives us and determines our outcomes by making a concentrated effort to present ourselves to others in a specific, predetermined way, regardless of whether or not it is our true selves that we are presenting to others (or benefiting from). We do not do this to be deceitful, but rather, to exhibit and exert control over who we are and where our lives lead and to try and gain favor or advantage over others. The problem is, the result is an inauthentic self. Since we are all capable of doing this, no one will ever really, truly know if we are receiving someone’s authentic or contrived self, and so we complicate the game with defense. The result is social comparison, wherein we all judge and compare ourselves to one another in order to conjure the favoritism of others.
The problem with this is that studies suggest that while we portray inauthentic selves, we are actually pretty good at accurately perceiving others. It’s our own self-perceptions that are skewed. Essentially, in our attempts to trick others into seeing a different perception of who we are and what we deserve, we are only tricking ourselves, ending up with inflated or skewed self-perceptions of who we are and what we deserve (not others). While we can generally read and make judgments about others with accuracy, we end up overestimating our own worth and virtue in our attempts to portray ourselves in a specific light. Haidt’s work makes it clear that the special information we think we know about ourselves complicates this issue because it leads to a false rationalization about our choices and actions, which in turn leads to an inaccurate self-perception. This is why we are more inept in our judgments about ourselves versus our judgment of others. When this phenomenon of self-inflated bias drives the social competition we engage in, the result is unexpected consequences, such as disappointment and disputes with others. We end up spinning and distorting our own self-assessments to the point that we make it possible for to others perceive us more accurately than we can perceive ourselves, which often results in our own confusion over how other’s have taken us wrong, never realizing that it’s our own selves who are perceiving us inaccurately. Haidt shows us that even when we are confronted by this problem of self-perception, we tend to apply it to our perceptions about others, perpetuating the problem of how we see ourselves in relation to how we actually are.
This is what naïve realism is, as Haidt defines it. We think we see the world as it actually is, which leads to over-estimation and in turn, to the difficulty in realizing that it is our perceptions of self that are biased. This only skews our general world view further, because we tend to identify disagreement not as a result of our own bias but rather, the result of someone else’s. For Haidt, this is the big issue at hand, because this kind of inflation and over-estimation is magnified at the group level, making social harmony an impossibility on account of individual and group discord.
We have all personally witnessed the construction and effects of naïve realism. For me, an instance that comes to mind is a religious debate I recently had. When I disagreed about a particular Catholic doctrine, my coworker snapped back that my lack of Catholic upbringing limited my understanding about the “evil” of abortion because I presumably could not see the Christian value of life at conception. The coworker, however, never stopped to realize that maybe her upbringing (which includes the ideologies she was raised to accept as truth) was skewing her perception of when life begins. In other words, it never dawned on her that it may just have been her background, and not mine, that was distorting our definition of when life begins. We ended the conversation but never reached resolution. This example illustrates Haidt’s point that it is often our self-perceptions (or lack thereof) that informs our ideas bout others.