Tuesday, April 21, 2009


More often than not, games are not what they initially seem: chess is not a game of pure skill, nor bingo a game of pure luck. A game is essentially an exercise where success is dependent upon the probabilistic exploitation of the parameters of its rules.

The great game of poker is no exception: it is not a card game so much as a betting game played by people with cards. What makes it an especially attractive activity, in contrast with other forms of gambling, is how it elegantly allows a person to be hostage to their own vanities. If I win, it's due to my skill, and if I lose, it's due to bad luck. I'm safe in the knowledge that my performance can't reliably be measured because, since cards are only rarely required to be shown, not only is most of my decision-making invisible, everybody else's is too, thereby eliminating any form of comparative yardstick, by them or by myself. It's this lack of a visible performance indicator that allows me safety in my self-delusion: I'm a 'shark' while the other players are 'donks' and 'fish'.

Poker's invisible performance index is a powerful metaphor for many other major fields of human pursuit where an unjustifiable arrogance is the net result.

The autonomy granted in the classroom is a seductive cocktail to teachers, trainers, instructors, lecturers, and professors. They represent containers of precious information and the students are grateful empty receptacles ready to be filled, or at least that's the mirage - and teachers proceed to take full credit for the results of the learning process. The academic profession is one that naturally encourages self-delusion, the entire model implicitly constructed with the aim of endowing each teacher with illusory feelings of success.

So wont to blatant obfuscating and lying with one another regarding our intimate relations with women, men are thus enthusiastic practitioners of self-delusion. When a woman says that men are stupid and useless, in this sense, I can see where she's coming from. She does have a visible comparative gauge to performance: her own experiences in addition to reliable detailed feedback from her girlfriends. We men can be eternally grateful that, for the sake of our fragile egos, the female gender only rarely give us negative comparative feedback - and, at least partly, that may be because the bar is set so dismally low.

I'm convinced this is what ultimately conspires to get even talented advertising executives so up themselves. The presence of the invisible performance index is a temptation to take full credit for the content of their graphic designs (CD and book covers, movie and theatre posters, political campaigns, commercial logos, and so on) yet none of the responsibility for failure. The effects of advertising and graphic design (as opposed to what they're aiming to sell) are extremely challenging to reliably measure. It's not that it can't be effective or ineffective, it's that it doesn't merit the revelling in reflected glory inherently encouraged. It's the food that counts, not how the cutlery is laid out on the table.


Alan.. said...

Although self-delusion in many cases may be a useful thing.

An honest appraisal of a man's sexual performance (to use one of your examples) could be enough to render him impotent, and thus utterly useless, whereas before he was only partially useless. :)

William Bennett said...

I'd suggest that self-delusion typically inhibits effective learning processes and strategies (as in the teaching model), but it's an interesting point, and you may well be right

Shonx said...

Robert Trivers came up with this concept (nabbed the summary from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-deception)

"In humans, awareness of the fact that one is acting deceptively often leads to tell-tale signs of deception. Therefore, if self-deception enables someone to believe their distortions, they will not present such signs of deception and will therefore appear to be telling the truth."

I think with more children being brought up to believe that they can do anything regardless of proof of talent, and then going through education where there is no good/bad or right/wrong, just difference and subjective "truths", whether the whole "reality" of society just becomes just another narcissistic reflection after a while - "I" cannot be wrong in my story.

It seems a small wonder that anyone could have an honest depiction of themselves in such circumstances.

Andy Capper said...

I prefer spin the bottle.

Miss Kerry said...

" When a woman says that men are stupid and useless, in this sense, I can see where she's coming from."
I think some of that is women's fault.
To this end, every woman should read ( MUST READ !) " what could he be thinking ( a male neurologist looks at a man's mind)."
Women are taught in the media ( so says the book ) to idealise "bridge brain men" ( which our William is example) " e.g.- able to communicate, likes to talk, is demonstrative etc. But these men are 25% at most , of population.
Then end of the masculine scale, is the average type of man- doesnt speak much, shows love by doing things( not telling ), not terribly emotionally demonstrative.
And so on.
Women have the responsibility to find this out, due to our more connected double hemispheres of brain- which is the source of our greater emotional empathy ( instinctual from childbearing ) and so on. Which men do not have as much.
Its expecting men to BE like women, to understand women, to ACT like women and to therefore, KNOW women - as women do is the issue.
It should be "viva la difference" not war of the sexes.
But, what should be taught in early school is eschewed for other more important things ( whatever those are!)
Its sad really.
Once I grasped this, I -even though being brought up by dad, mostly men friends, prefer men's company- thought I had a pretty good idea of men, now know that I will NEVER know what it is like being a man. In some ways. And vice versa.
But I also understand the types of mens brains, and how they act ( its rather uniform in some ways ) and thusly, am less of a complete dunderhead and more , hmmm these strange alien creatures are quite fascinating! ( well, some at least!)
Men, buy beg borrow or steal this book and MAKE your women ( friends family partners ) READ it.
Even if its beyond them, some part might stick.
And make it all a bit better for all of us.