The Scipionic Circle 100: The Art of Self-Justification, Subliminal Priming, and The Dichotomy of The Self
"No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives!" — Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Welcome to the final issue of The Scipionic Circle.
Thank you so much for your support over the past couple of years. I hope that The Scipionic Circle has led you to many novel ideas and captivating books.
Food for Thought
I. The Impact of Subliminal Word Priming on Social Behavior
"Suppose you volunteered to be a subject in the following experiment. First, the experimenter hands you some word problems and tells you to come and get her when you are finished. The word problems are easy: Just unscramble sets of five words and make sentences using four of them. For example, ‘they her bother see usually’ becomes either ‘they usually see her’ or ‘they usually bother her.’
“A few minutes later, when you have finished the test, you go out to the hallway as instructed. The experimenter is there, but she's engaged in a conversation with someone and isn't making eye contact with you. What do you suppose you'll do? Well, if half the sentences you unscrambled contained words related to rudeness (such as bother, brazen, aggressively), you will probably interrupt the experimenter within a minute or two to say, ‘Hey, I'm finished. What should I do now?’ But if you unscrambled sentences in which the rude words were swapped with words related to politeness (‘they her respect see usually’), the odds are you'll just sit there meekly and wait until the experimenter acknowledges you—ten minutes from now.
“And these effects don't even depend on your consciously reading the words; the same effects can occur when the words are presented subliminally, that is, flashed on a screen for just a few hundredths of a second, too fast for your conscious mind to register them. But some part of the mind does see the words, and it sets in motion behaviors that psychologists can measure." — From The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.
II. The Dichotomy of The Self
"To take charge of our stories, it is helpful to take on board an interesting perspective only now being fully discussed in the realms of psychology through the work of Daniel Kahneman: that we cannot talk about happiness without distinguishing between two selves that both operate within us: the experiencing self and the remembering self.
"When we look back over our lives and decide if we have had a happy time in this world, it is the remembering self that is making that judgment. However, it may be that some of those choices we made, which satisfied the future remembering self, were not at the time the most enjoyable experiences and therefore did not provide particular pleasure to the experiencing self.
"For our purposes, Kahneman's separation of those two selves seems to correlate with what we might intuitively understand to be the separation of happiness and pleasure: the former comes from a judgment we make, a sense of things being or having been right or as we would like them to be, and tends to be retrospective; whereas the latter relates to what we are being made to directly feel right now. Thus you might choose to spend an afternoon attending to a sick relative rather than go to a theme park with friends, choosing the least' pleasurable' option and leaving your experiencing self less fulfilled. But this choice might furnish your future remembering self with a better story of how you spent your afternoon and even contribute to a wider sense of happiness regarding what you do with your life." — From Happy by Derren Brown.
III. Cognitive Dissonance and the Art of Self-Justification
"The engine that drives self-justification, the energy that produces the need to justify our actions and decisions—especially the wrong ones—is an unpleasant feeling that Festinger called ‘cognitive dissonance.’ Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as ‘Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me’ and ‘I smoke two packs a day.’
"Dissonance produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don't rest easy until they find a way to reduce it. In this example, the most direct way for a smoker to reduce dissonance is by quitting. But if she has tried to quit and failed, now she must reduce dissonance by convincing herself that smoking isn't really so harmful, or that smoking is worth the risk because it helps her relax or prevents her from gaining weight (and after all, obesity is a health risk, too), and so on. Most smokers manage to reduce dissonance in many such ingenious, if self-deluding, ways."
"Have you ever done a little finessing of expenses on income taxes? That probably compensates for the legitimate expenses you forgot about, and besides, you'd be a fool not to, considering that everybody else does. Did you fail to report some extra cash income? You're entitled, given all the money that the government wastes on pork-barrel projects and programs you detest. Have you been writing personal e-mails and surfing the Net at your office when you should have been tending to business? Those are perks of the job, and besides, it's your own protest against those stupid company rules, and besides, your boss doesn't appreciate all the extra work you do.
"But, you say, all those justifications are true! The government does waste money! My company probably wouldn't mind if I spend a little time on e-mail and I do get my work done (eventually)! Whether those claims are true or false is irrelevant. When we cross these lines, we are justifying behavior that we know is wrong precisely so that we can continue to see ourselves as honest people and not criminals or thieves. Whether the behavior in question is a small thing like spilling ink on a hotel bedspread, or a big thing like embezzlement, the mechanism of self-justification is the same." — From Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Shawne Duperon on forgiveness:
“Forgiveness is accepting the apology you will never receive.”
II. Lucius Annaeus Seneca on our willingness to waste our time:
“No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay; yet we easily let others encroach on our lives—worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”
Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Thank you for reading over the years,
P.S. I will be continuing the Compendiums.