4 Common Things That Are Turning Us Into Horrible People
No one thinks they're the villain in their own life story. At the very worst, they're the antihero, presumably with a sweet goatee and an eye patch. However, no matter how right or how much of a good person you think you are, daily life has a way of transforming the best of us into absolute shit-gibbons. Your worldview and morality are being changed for the worse at this very moment, just as it has been changed for years ...
You Tell Dumb Lies To Fit In
Even if you're the world's best person, you've probably told a lie in the last few hours. Parents tell their kids that the goldfish is sleeping. A friend tells you that they think your short story has potential. The doctor tells you his hands aren't cold. Sometimes we just say shit to move the narrative along because it's easier. And sometimes we do it to take advantage, to defraud, to destroy, to all kinds of D words. And sometimes we're just dumb -- also a D word.
In one study, 46 percent of people are aged 18-49 admitted to lying about watching a TV show. That is arguably one of the most vacuous things a human could possibly lie about, ranking up there with lying about your favorite color or whether or not you pissed in a neighbor's mailbox. So why would anyone lie and say they watched Game Of Thrones when they hadn't? Fear of being ostracized. You want to fit in with a group, so if everyone loves Young Sheldon, you pretend the bile isn't simmering in the back of your throat .
For the most staggering case of completely unhinged lies that you'll ever see, we need only to travel to a steakhouse. Anyone who's ever enjoyed that sweet, nourishing flesh of the beast knows that you can typically order a steak cooked in about five different ways: rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, and well. Donald Trump famously got raked over those delicious steak-charring coals for liking his steak well-done and with ketchup. Fool, they said! Heretic of beef!
But then looky here at some top-shelf investigative reporting from FiveThirtyEight. With the data to back them up from Longhorn Steakhouse, they concluded that while the majority of people say they like to order their steak medium rare, a year's worth of orders from 491 steakhouses concluded that medium is far and away the most popular way to order a steak, followed by medium well. Well-done steaks represent 11 percent of all steak orders, and all told, nearly 75 percent of orders are for medium or more done. People like their damn meat cooked -- they just don't want to admit it, because food snobs have screeched that this is the "wrong" way to enjoy that particular food. So to avoid being classified as a beef-abusing simpleton, people happily lie about how much cow blood they enjoy on their plates. Somewhat related to this ...
Groupthink Forces Us To Lie In Unison
We like to think that the average person, if given the choice, would not sneak poison into your coffee even if your nemesis offered them $500 to do it. But put that average person into a large corporation and give them the chance to secretly poison a community's groundwater in order to save a trivial amount on waste disposal, and suddenly all of those good people will combine to create a lying piece of shit hivemind.
This too turns up in experiments. Put an honest person in a group that seems to be a little unscrupulous, and they'll quickly fall prey to poop scruples, which is a term I plan to trademark. More bizarrely, honest people are willing to engage in dishonesty on behalf of others if they feel like there will be a payoff in a group setting, but will remain honest on an individual basis.
The Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich set up a pretty simple method of measuring this. Subjects would watch the rolls of some dice and report the numbers -- the higher the roll, the bigger the payout they'd get. Participants watched individually and then in a group where they could communicate over chat. In the group setting, people just started automatically trying to coordinate lies to ensure everyone got a bigger payout, even when they'd be honest individually. It's almost as if people know it would be selfish to lie for personal gain, but to lie for group gain is OK because it's for the "greater good," even if it's screwing everyone in the world outside that room.
Lies Come Easier At Certain Times Of Day
I worked in an office for a while where the administrative assistant used to say "Don't talk to me before I've had my coffee!" almost every day. Every day, just twisting a knife deeper and deeper into a joke that has never once been funny, gutting it like a sacrificial cow and dancing upon its shredded and rotting innards right next to my desk. All because, as you can guess, she wasn't a "morning person." Well, not only is this a real thing, but the implications are kind of terrifying.
Science people have labelled those who work best in the mornings as "larks," and those who do best during the evening as "owls." And in fact, experiments indicate that morning people excel at being honest and moral in the morning. As the day progresses, they become less and less so. It works in reverse for owls -- they're more likely to get moral in the evening, but tell bitter lies in their cranky morning hours.
The obvious solution would be, of course, to simply arrange all of humanity into rotating shifts, the two never allowed to interact with each other under any circumstances. Unfortunately, the world isn't quite so simple. There's actually a full 24-hour range to work in, so you have a chance to fit into any time on the clock depending on your chronotype. So if you're dealing with someone who seems to be a lying sack of snakes, try interacting with them at some other time of day. Show up at their house at midnight. If the results aren't satisfactory, come back at four in the morning. The best version of them is hiding somewhere, dammit!
Yes, Power Turns You Into A Liar
The trite old saying goes "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- something most of us would have realized anyway after just observing the world for seven or eight minutes. But when we quote it, we're always thinking of other people -- politicians, CEOs, abusive cops. We never stop to ask how long it would take power to corrupt our own souls. Fortunately, science has looked into this too, and the answer is that it takes about the length of one experiment.
After using psychometric data to determine some basic personality traits (like honesty), a group of participants were allowed to play boss in a game. They had to decide how to pay out cash to workers, with the potential to give themselves a larger portion at the expense of everyone else, in the typical "The Universe is one giant blank check made out to me!" manner we associate with greedy assholes. People who scored as being more dishonest were dishonest right out of the gate, giving themselves more money than everyone else. But the more interesting part is that the honest people stayed true to themselves at first, then slowly degraded into Gollums of greed and assery over time, taking more than their fair shares.
And that's in a controlled experiment, with nothing really at stake! It seems like "power corrupts" doesn't require a throne or corner office to work -- just the slightest sense that you can give yourself an unfair share and get away with it.
If you're the type of unscrupulous person who just wants to be good at lying, you can actually just get your own lie detector test. Best of all, it comes in game form!
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