The capacity for self-deception has long puzzled philosophers, psychologists, and laypeople alike. How is it that we can hold two apparently contradictory beliefs at the same time? And why is it that, more often than not, we are unaware of the inconsistency in our own beliefs?
The first thing to note about self-deception is that it is often motivated by a desire to protect ourselves from psychological pain. For example, if we have been hurt in the past by a romantic partner, we may tell ourselves that we do not need or deserve love in order to avoid the pain of rejection. Or if we have been passed over for a promotion at work, we may convince ourselves that the job was not actually worth having in order to preserve our self-esteem. In these cases, self-deception allows us to maintain a positive view of ourselves in the face of negative events.
Of course, self-deception can also be motivated by a desire for gain, rather than a avoidance of loss. For example, salespeople are often adept at deceiving themselves about their products in order to make more sales. Politicians may do the same thing when it comes to their policies. In such cases, self-deception allows us to see the world in a way that is more favorable to our interests.
While self-deception might seem like something that only benefits individuals, there are also some ways in which it can benefit society as a whole.
For example, self-deception can be useful in order to cover up the fact that we are failing in our jobs or in our relationships. If we have not done our job well, then it may be protective to ignore the truth.
On a societal level, it is less clear when and where self-deception exists. Who is engaged in self-deception? Is it the atheist or the religious person? Is it the liberal or the conservative? It is difficult to say. What is clear, however, is that self-deception is a part of human nature and, as such, is likely to be with us for as long as we exist. Let us say that we really wanted to get to the bottom of these questions. How would we go about doing so? Our first step would be to ask ourselves: what is the nature of self-deception? Is it a conscious or unconscious act? Next, we would ask: why do people engage in self-deception? How do they engage in it? Finally, we would ask: what effects does self-deception have on society?