This story is about a person we all hate: the hypocrite. The televangelist who's privately sinning. The co-worker who pretends to be a team player but is really a throat-cutter. Well, scientists are learning that humans are born to be hypocrites -- we're designed to say one thing and do another.
Why? Well, says evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban, your brain is a crowded place. You think you have one mind that you control ... but really, you have a competing collection of rogue minds.
"There are little mechanisms in your head designed to store memories, do vision, monitor your heart rate," says Kurzban. "But there's also a lot evidence now that there are different systems in your head to choose mates, choose friends, become valued in a social group, and so on. Once you think of the mind as a collection of little systems inside it, then those guys can go off and do their own things."
Kurzban has written a book called Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite. He says hypocrisy gives you an evolutionary advantage. If you can convince your competitors to, for example, be just as monogamous as you are so they don't reproduce - meanwhile, you're actually mating with the whole tribe and having TONS of kids - then you are a reproductive winner.
"You could be better off by stopping people from doing the very things that you are," he says. "In fact, this is why I think we don't like hypocrites. A hypocrite is really someone who's trying to stop other people from doing exactly what they want to do, which is just a form of competition - that's just trying to get an advantage."
So when you say you're law-abiding, but you fudge your taxes, or the speed limit? You tell your partner not to criticize you, but you're full of criticisms of your partner? Congratulations -- you're a competitive human.
I asked Kurzban: Ever since you've been thinking about why hypocrisy is understandable, have you found yourself being more hypocritical? Doing your thing and condemning others, because that's the kind of competitive social animal you are?
He answered: no. "I've tried to go the other way and become more aware of my own behavior, since it's so easy to be inconsistent. One of the things I've tried to do is when I am morally condemning something, I think, 'What's the justification for that?'"
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