A perusal of Robert Trivers’ new book led me to conclude that his logic was flawed. A deeper reading of it this morning helped me crystallize why that’s the case. Trivers lays out his premise in the Preface by announcing that “we are thoroughgoing liars, even to ourselves”. Sounds a bit like “everything I say is a lie except that and that …”.
Trivers goes on to say that he has tried to strike a balance between what can be scientifically shown with some certatinty and what is provocative but far from certain, and he has tried to make clear which is which. I’d like to give Trivers the benefit of the doubt, but thus far the clarity eludes me. Trivers posits that self-deception occurs when the conscious mind is kept in the dark. His essential hypothesis is that the entire counterintuitive arrangement of self-deception exists for the benefit of manipulating others.
In hanging his hat on a theory as to what is available to consciousness, Trivers steps into a hall of infinite regress. Anyone plunging the depths of infinite regress risks dredging up garbage. It is odd for an author wrapping his argument in the biology and science of human behavior not to acknowledge that his premise hinges on the answer (if there is one) to the homunculus problem, and for someone adopting an evolutionary paradigm to at least touch upon evolutionary cybernetics.
Professional provocateurs always intrigue me. Trivers notes that one of the hallmarks of self deception is the creation of self-serving social theories. In that sense, his socio-political theory about the hyper-complex Israel-Palestinian dilemma are a perfect Family Guy illustration, neither clarifying truth nor exposing the origin of its biases.