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Jun 25 2013

They don’t think they are especially wonderful

I’m still thinking about dissonance theory and self-justification and how it relates to quarrels and feuds and rifts.

I’m wondering if it does me any good at all (in terms of avoiding some of the cognitive dissonance and thus some of the self-justification) that I actually don’t think of myself as an easy person to get along with. I’m well aware that I can be irritable, rude, and sometimes worse. It doesn’t rock my view of myself to realize that I’ve been obnoxious.

Tavris and Aronson address that, on page 199 of Mistakes Were Made, but they do it in an odd way.

Who do you imagine would be most likely to blame the victim: perpetrators who think highly of themselves and have strong feelings of self-worth, or those who are insecure and have low self-worth?

Hang on! Why put it that way? Why not say “those with a more realistic self-evaluation?

People who “think highly of themselves” are shits. Come on now. We’re human beings, we’re flawed, there’s a limit to how highly we ought to think of ourselves.

I don’t think it’s “insecure” to be aware of one’s own faults. I think it’s rational and reflective and sensible.

Dissonance theory makes the non-obvious prediction that it will be the former. For people who have low self-esteem, treating others badly or going along mindlessly with what others tell them to do is not terribly dissonant with their self-concept. Moreover, they are more likely to be self-deprecating and modest, because they don’t think they are especially wonderful. It is the people who think the most of themselves who, if they cause someone pain, must convince themselves that the other guy is a rat.

Well, right, so let’s not call that “insecure” and “having low self-worth” – let’s call it a reasonable self-assessment.

It’s Dunning-Kruger all over again. There’s such a thing as thinking too well of oneself, and it causes more harms than just irritating conceit (but that’s bad enough).

 

22 comments

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  1. 1
    Ophelia Benson

    I meant to incorporate something from another great comment by Martha at Stephanie’s:

    Second, we are, as Greta reminded us yesterday, a community that values rationality. I do think there’s a disadvantage in that quite a few people in our community pride themselves on their Rationality more than they seek to understand the cognitive biases that get in our way.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/06/25/yay-for-support/#comment-247751

  2. 2
    Brian E

    Modesty prevents me from holding forth on how wonderfully reasonable my self-assessment is. Not at all like those benighted overweening types with their unrealistic self-assessments. I’m just so dammed mediocre it warms the cockles. :D

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    Now cut that out, you fucker! :D

  4. 4
    machintelligence

    The self-worth axis and the reality of self evaluation axis may be nearly orthogonal. But that is pretty much what you said.

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    But seriously. I’m not saying I have fabulous self-awareness, just that I am aware that I have some faults that can be shelved under the heading “Asshole”. (That’s not to say that exhausts my faults, either.) And I really don’t know if that makes any difference at all to my proneness to cognitive dissonance and unreasonable self-justification. It might not. It might melt like a snowflake in the sun in the face of my instinct to think that underneath all the assholitude I’m Basically Swell.

  6. 6
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Agreed times Eleventy, Ophelia. It touches our long conversation about how those who *do* think they’re especially wonderful—-and who proclaim it as part of their self-marketing—are untrustworthy.

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    So Josh isn’t it odd that they worded it that way? As if more self-awareness is pathological? I don’t even think that’s really what they meant…but then again maybe it is.

    Depressed people are way better at risk assessment than non-depressed people. Hmm.

  8. 8
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    It is odd, but perhaps not, when you consider there’s a strong bias toward “positive thinking” and “self esteem” that runs from popular discourse all the way up. It’s a bad blind spot for researchers. They should fix it.

  9. 9
    changerofbits

    Agreed, “insecure” or “low self-worth” aren’t really good descriptors of those that have a realistic view of yourself. I would use “humility” or “honesty”, especially given the contrast of those who aren’t so modest. One more thought, people seem to have some instinctual drive to gain acceptance and admiration by others, but that certainly isn’t always the only or most healthy way to judge yourself.

  10. 10
    A Hermit

    The joke in my Mennonite days was that we were all very proud of humility…and of course, I’m more humble than you!!1!!

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    Ah and the Jewish joke with the punchline, “So, look who thinks he’s more humble!”

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    And by the way I have Mennonite ancestry, so it just goes to show.

  13. 13
    Martha

    Wow, Ophelia, I should use you as my publicist. If you keep this up, I’ll apparently be more likely to engage in victim-blaming!

    Seriously, thanks for the kind words. I haven’t read Mistakes Were Made, but it seems to me that the authors are conflating traits that lie on separate axes. The problem is, I can’t quite figure out what they are! Self-worth and self-importance are not the same things. Maybe one axis is self esteem, another is the ability to evaluate oneself, and still another is the tendency to think that the world revolves around oneself? There must be a better way to put that last bit. It just seems that some people are better at stepping away from a situation and seeing how their actions might affect others. So maybe empathy is the term I’m looking for?

  14. 14
    A. Noyd

    Ophelia (#1)

    I do think there’s a disadvantage in that quite a few people in our community pride themselves on their Rationality more than they seek to understand the cognitive biases that get in our way.

    Or they don’t even believe they’re susceptible to cognitive biases in the first place, unlike the rest of us mortals.

  15. 15
    brianpansky

    i was confused, shouldn’t there be three categories? too high, too low, and a middle realistic?

    depressed people can think of themselves as being very low, and it is not good to say that this is always totally realistic. though they shouldn’t be blamed for this, either.

  16. 16
    A Hermit

    And by the way I have Mennonite ancestry…

    Nah jo! Have your people call my people, we’ll do Faspa!

  17. 17
    Dave

    So what does it mean if you know for a fact that we’re all just monkeys who have gotten above ourselves by the workings of time and chance?

  18. 18
    karmacat

    It seems the writers have lumped people into 2 groups and don’t look at degrees of insecurity and self-confidence. In fact, the people who think too highly of themselves tend to be very insecure

  19. 19
    savagemutt

    It seems the writers have lumped people into 2 groups and don’t look at degrees of insecurity and self-confidence. In fact, the people who think too highly of themselves tend to be very insecure

    Absolutely. Before I got treatment for my depression I was an incredibly arrogant person. I thought I was a misunderstood genius in a world unworthy of me, and that’s why I was so damn sad all the time. My self-loathing would rear up occasionally when it would occur to me that maybe I wasn’t so special.

    Medication and the internet humbled me pretty well. The former elevated my mood and the latter introduced me to people who were a shitload smarter than me.

  20. 20
    Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam

    A. Noyd @ 14

    I do think there’s a disadvantage in that quite a few people in our community pride themselves on their Rationality more than they seek to understand the cognitive biases that get in our way.

    Or they don’t even believe they’re susceptible to cognitive biases in the first place, unlike the rest of us mortals.

    This is, of course, yet another cognitive bias.

  21. 21
    octopod

    Possibly a reference to depressive realism?

  22. 22
    Ophelia Benson

    Depressive realism is part of what I was thinking of, yes. But it’s what brian pansky said – how come there’s no middle?

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