We are natural deceivers and, whether we like to believe it or not, we all spend a substantial part of our time deceiving and being deceived. Most of the time we are even complicit in this when, for example, we accept an advertisers’ promises, or we lie to protect a friend’s ego.
There is a logic to the kind of easy widespread lies that oil the wheels of commerce or promote social cohesion, and we are not alone; other species do it and primates have even been seen to learn to use lying to have their needs met. Deceiving is part of what we do.
Self-deception is also part of what we do, but it is less logical. We regularly delude ourselves about, say, the state of the planet, our finances or the state of a relationship. We kid ourselves that our employer cares about us or that a problem will go away if we ignore it. We trick ourselves into believing something positive when the evidence is to the contrary, and we ignore sins in ourselves that we deplore in others.
Delusion protects us, and it can provide pleasure. It is a useful skill, for example, to be able to put our cares aside and pretend so that we can get on with life, and where would we be if we could engage in the fantasy of a movie by suspending belief for a short time?
Delusion allows us perpetually to collude with ourselves and carry pretence to ridiculous extremes. There is always the risk of a rude awakening some day, but that’s a long way off, and in the meantime it feels better that way, doesn’t it?
Gianetti, E., (1997), The Lies We Live By; the Art of Self-Deception, Bloomsbury, London.