Bullshitting yourself

There’s a fairly general class of behaviors I’ve been calling “lying to yourself.” They include things like

  • saying to yourself that you don’t want to go to a party because you’re tired, as opposed to because it’s far away and you don’t really know the people who are going to be there and that makes you anxious
  • saying to yourself that you’re in graduate school because you love your subject, as opposed to because the idea of no longer being in school is terrifying to you

but also things like

  • tricking yourself into thinking that the work you’re doing is more important than it is, in order to motivate yourself to do it, e.g. using rewards like candy
  • tricking yourself into feeling happy, e.g. with video games built on fake accomplishment
  • eating food whose taste has been decoupled from its nutritional content, e.g. highly processed food.

But I’m starting to think I’ve been using the wrong name. I think the name I want is actually bullshitting yourself.

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Terrorism and conceptual gerrymandering

Periodically people write articles arguing that terrorism is not a problem because it doesn’t kill very many people, especially when compared to various other amusing causes of death, such as choking, drowning in a bath, lightning strikesbicycles, heat waves, accidental gunshots, etc.

This is a terrible argument. Here’s an example that will hopefully make this clear. Let’s say I have a friend named Steve. Steve is a murderer. And murder, unlike terrorism, is a huge problem, right? Well, it turns out that murder by Steve is a tiny problem. Steve only murders, let’s say, 10 people a year. That’s less than the number of people who die every year in parachuting accidents! So murder-by-Steve isn’t worth worrying about, just like terrorism.

Right?

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Alcohol creates common knowledge

Some of my friends don’t know what drinking is for, and even among those who do, they don’t all know that they all know what drinking is for. So here is my picture of what drinking is for.

The standard story is that drinking is good because it lowers people’s inhibitions. But here is an interesting observation: people like to synchronize their drinking, by clinking their glasses together and all drinking at the same time. What does this accomplish that everyone drinking independently doesn’t accomplish?

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