Post No.: 0670
We intuitively desire and gravitate towards simple internal models of the world over handling its true complex nature, hence we have a tendency to simplify our understanding of the actual world to the point of over-simplification. One example is how we believe there are ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’ rather than people whom sometimes do good and sometimes do bad.
If we find out that someone we otherwise don’t know very well has told a lie, then it appears logical to not trust them regarding anything else i.e. we’ll effectively presume that they necessarily always lie. We might even say so in these exact words.
Whether it’s prudent, foolish or categorically wrong to over-generalise someone’s entire character based on one or two data points depends on the risks. But it is proper to assess each claim or statement made by someone on its own individual merits rather than presume that any person always tell the truth or always tell falsehoods based on the known history of all of the previous (possibly unrelated) claims they’ve made. So treat every claim on its own merits and according to its own case-by-case evidence.
Over-generalising can get us into trouble if we over-trust someone, thus over-generalising can get us into trouble if we over-distrust someone. The fable of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ teaches us the lesson that if we lie (repeatedly) then we might not be trusted ever again. But it also teaches us from the other side that we might end up distrusting a genuine truth when there is a metaphorical wolf. Woof!
We should ideally assess the content of, and any evidence supporting, any claims or statements rather than the person making them, whether that person’s reputation has historically been good or bad. After all, a person with a good reputation may have simply not been caught out yet?
We can also assume that a person has lied to us before and is thus untrustworthy (perhaps based on trusting a third party’s assertion), when we didn’t really truly ascertain whether they were actually proven to be untrustworthy in the past or whether these past accusations were only assumptions (or propaganda lies) themselves? (In other words, we could be lied to about someone else lying?) It’s all about being critical thinkers rather than relying on any kind of lazy cognitive shortcuts or unsubstantiated ‘he said, she said’ postulations – when we have the time and opportunity to think.
Presumptions like ‘they lied once so they necessarily will every time’ are as logically flawed as ‘they told the truth once so they necessarily will every time’. Previous convictions aren’t admissible as evidence in criminal cases, despite most laypeople over-weighting such information – present evidence must be found to support a present allegation.
Judging individual cases based on a person’s perceived overall reputation employs the substitution heuristic – we’re trying to answer if someone is lying in this specific case by answering whether they appear to have lied in the past – and this can be fraught with danger. Gathering specific evidence should still rule one’s truth-detection strategy – after all, a lack of case-by-case critical thinking is what most increases the risk of falling for falsehoods or scams in the first place, whether it’s from trusting or distrusting something we shouldn’t have.
Too frequently in the online game Among Us, players vote for those who lied and got away with it in the previous game even though that has essentially nothing to do with whether they are an impostor and are lying in the current game! Two bad calls don’t make a right call. It’s kind of a revenge vote but – if one is just a regular crewmate and one doesn’t have any solid reason to suspect that player in the current round – it’ll only reduce one’s own chances of winning in this current game if one jettisons an innocent fellow crewmate!
We ourselves have almost certainly lied before or done regrettable things in the past, but we’ll know that it doesn’t mean that we always lie or do regrettable things. Post No.: 0454 investigated better ways to suss out liars.
Another potentially fallible heuristic is assuming that something seems so absurd that it cannot possibly be true… or conversely cannot possibly be made up! Such ‘rules of thumb’ can be all we’ve got when we’ve got nothing else to go by, but as you can see – they can completely contradict each other because they have no sound logic!
If we don’t have to make a guess, we can instead reserve our judgements unless and until we can gather more information. But we might instead make an overweening assumption like, “Don’t try to lie. You know what I’m talking about”, when they genuinely don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!
Also, just because someone may have fibbed about having a particular health condition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who claims to have the exact same condition must be telling fibs too. For example, even though a suspected liar claims to have a rare skin disorder so that he/she cannot sweat normally (the medical term is anhidrosis or hypohidrosis), it doesn’t mean this serious condition doesn’t exist and that anyone else who claims to have that disorder must be lying too. It’s like if someone fabricated a story about his/her grandma passing away in order to take the day off work, this doesn’t mean grandmas never die and anyone else who tries that ‘excuse’ must necessarily be lying too! Things that start off as a joke can sometimes turn out to be serious too.
The more unusual something is, the more it’ll be associated with very specific people or things – for example a relatively peculiar hairstyle that’s associated with a despot or an idiosyncratic catchphrase that’s associated with a celebrity who was later convicted of sex offences. But it doesn’t mean that anyone else with that same hairstyle or says that same catchphrase must necessarily be a despot or sex offender – that coiffure or phrase has nothing to do with committing any real crime. But our brains operate on making associations, and are quick to form stereotypes from them. And our instinct to over-stereotype is greater the less we’re personally familiar with something (in this case with a peculiar hairstyle or catchphrase). Likewise, the less we know about individuals who we’ve cognitively grouped together, the more we’ll tar them with the same brush.
We associate in broad strokes – even in the case of something like if we commend a piece of art for what it is, but subsequently learn that the artist supported a political ideology we strongly disagreed with, then consequently deeming that piece (that alludes to nothing regarding that ideology) as impossible to like anymore. The art cannot be dissociated from the artist, and the artist cannot be dissociated from his/her political views.
Just because someone made a lot of children happy on TV, it doesn’t mean they mightn’t have molested them too. Just because some corporations or governments like to bend the truth, it doesn’t mean they’re always up to no good. ‘Most of the time’ doesn’t mean ‘all of the time’. Something that 90% fits does not 100% fit. ‘Never before’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘there could never be a first time’. ‘Implies’ doesn’t mean ‘is’. ‘A’ doesn’t always automatically mean or lead to ‘B’, or ‘A plus B’ doesn’t always ‘equal C’. Therefore try not to jump to or over-extrapolate conclusions.
The quest for one thing doesn’t necessarily mean the quest for another thing, so if you want ‘A’ then directly think about and seek for ‘A’. Don’t assume that seeking ‘B’ will necessarily get you to ‘A’. For instance, fame doesn’t necessarily equal contentment.
Just because someone did something even similar in the past, it doesn’t necessarily mean they did it again – again we need to gather specific evidence for the present specific case before we can convict someone of this present specific charge. The courts often rely on character statements that testify a defendant’s past behaviour, but only as circumstantial evidence. Relevant and recent past convictions may also be taken into account too, but more for determining the punishment if a defendant is found guilty of the present charge based on the evidence for the present case.
Innocent people often do get arrested, but seeing someone get arrested might be enough for us to already presume that they must be guilty of something i.e. the person’s reputation has already been tarnished by being seen in handcuffs. The police themselves may also be biased to believe that everyone whom they’re sent to arrest is guilty. But arrested doesn’t mean charged, and charged doesn’t mean convicted. Meanwhile, guilty people sometimes get away with crimes but their public reputation remains good because they simply didn’t get caught.
It’s so natural for us to do it but we should try not to judge too much from first impressions and not let our first impressions of others be too sticky. Don’t judge strangers too soon – they may have had an unusually bad (or good) day, and so it was the particular situation or context. (Even a grey and rainy day can affect people’s moods.) Observe people in a wide variety of contexts and over time before judging their character – behaviours tend to regress to the average over time. Sometimes we won’t truly get to know somebody until we hear their full story and background from them personally too.
From first or otherwise limited impressions, we find it hard to believe that ‘bad people’ can do good things, or vice-versa, so people become over-generalised as if ‘they’re good/bad in one way then they must also be good/bad in other ways’. This halo effect is why it’s risky to fall too quickly for our first impressions. Another risk is applying confirmation bias to confirm our premature judgements. For example, you’ve prematurely judged someone as suspicious, so now you interpret every subsequent ambiguous behaviour of theirs as confirming your hypothesis, even when they’re in fact innocent.
Despite not being able to present firm evidence to support our accusations, or even sometimes after being presented with counterevidence against them – too many of us may still end up preferring to trust in our own hunches or gut feelings. But these hunches or gut feelings might be based on unconscious biases, like racism or sexism, rather than reliable insight. Accusing, begrudging or personally convicting someone of deceit based on feelings alone can very easily lead to injustices.
Don’t trust in rumours from others without substantiation no matter how many other people believe in something, because they’ve possibly all followed each other blindly. That’s how conspiracy theories can thrive. And if you weren’t there to witness an event then be brave enough to refrain from stating an opinion on what happened.
…Those who regularly read this blog will know that I’m on a sort of mission to get people to generally apply more effortful critical thinking. There are so many injustices committed by people who make assumptions and jump to erroneous conclusions based on their raw intuitions. In this world, too many who should be trusted aren’t trusted and listened to, and far too many who shouldn’t be trusted are. And we keep blaming the liars when we need to look at ourselves and wonder why we keep getting fooled.
Regarding facts and truths, whether related to worldviews or personal matters, I sometimes wish there were an omniscient God to tell everyone what a fool anyone has been for believing in false conjectures, presumptions and accusations with the conviction of faith, feeling or credulity rather than evidence.
Without such an overt deity to set the facts straight, the best we can do is to take every single independent allegation separately, seriously and on a case-by-case basis, and to seek and obtain ideally hard and direct evidence with an open, non-presumptuous mind.