The ideal persona?
I’ve been thinking about the stuff in this post on and off for a long time. I probably shouldn’t post this and I may still change my mind and pull it down later on.
Anyway, to function well in their daily lives, most people deceive themselves to some degree. They tell themselves that their work matters a great deal (/more than it does); that they make a (/much bigger) difference (/than they actually do); that they are smarter and more accomplished than they really are.
The deluded optimist looks for opportunities he wouldn’t have sought, had he been more realistic. And the deluded pessimist misses options he might have had a shot at, had he been more realistic. If we’re thinking only about maximizing opportunities, it seems that systematic overconfidence/optimism is the strictly dominant strategy. At least if we don’t include costs in the equation. We can’t just ignore those of course, because most people know that if you ask out a girl and she says no, it will hurt. The girl may not feel any pain, but the rejected suitor will. The interesting thing here is that whereas one could in theory say: ‘I should just ignore that it hurts and try finding another girl’, for most people an optimal strategy would seem to have to include previous encounters and previous outcomes because those previous events contain important information that should ideally be included in the decision making process. A low-quality male who does not change his strategy after the first ten rejections will have a lower likelihood of being successful in terms of finding a partner than will a low-quality male that decides to mostly target low-quality females after the first three rejections, although the expected quality of the former’s potential partner is higher than the expected quality of the latter’s. One could make some corresponding remarks regarding the female’s problem; a female who’s never approached should ideally probably have a lower rejection rate than a female who’s approached all the time.
Most people do take previous information into account to some extent and this is, I believe, a huge part of why self-confidence is such a big deal for humans when it comes to figuring out who’s attractive and who isn’t. If you’re very self-confident, it’s most likely because you’ve been given reason to be; if you’re a male, the natural inference to make is to assume that you’ve not been rejected very much in the past and that you’ve had success with attractive partners before – if you’re female, self-confidence means that you’ve been approached a lot and have had to say no to a lot of males and thus you can afford to be picky. Another thing to note is that it takes at least some experience to become self-confident; you can fake it if you’re unexperienced, but that’s not quite the same thing – and females are generally good at spotting fakers because they have to be. Why do they have to be? Because if self-confidence is a very important variable when it comes to assigning value to a potential match, it becomes obvious that males will try to cheat and signal that they are self-confident even though they haven’t had a lot of success in the past. Females who couldn’t spot the cheaters had offspring with the low-quality guys in the past, so they had fewer offspring.
Low-qulity males are telling themselves they’re high quality. High quality males know they are high quality, and that they’re higher quality than low-quality males who tell themselves that they are high quality. And it’s not just ‘high quality’; every male around will try very hard, with a great deal of success, to convince himself that he’d be the best partner of all the potential partners the female would ever meet in a relevant time-frame. The more successful his self-deceit is, the higher quality partner he will gain access to. There’s the truth, and then there’s the truth plus X %. At some point, say X-upper bar, the risk/reward-relationship will become unfavourable to him given his risk profile (he’ll have less success than he would with a lower self-deceit level because all females can see that he’s much lower value than he thinks and put him in the faker category) – but if all other males have a positive X, an X of zero is strictly dominated. In expected terms the worst strategy a male could pick would probably be to try to be completely realistic about his options and not engage in any kind of (self-)deceit at all; a male who doesn’t even pretend to be higher quality than he is will have lower chances than most lower quality males who pretend to be high-quality.
Self-deceit helps on the dating scene. It helps when it comes to finding reasons for getting up in the morning. It helps when you’re telling your own story about how great you are and how every mistake you ever made was really somebody else’s fault.
I know I engage in a lot of self-deceit. We all do. But somehow I seem to have this impression that I’m a lot worse at using it constructively than are most people. Instrumental rationality is all about using rationality to solve problems, to achieve goals. So not to engage in the proper type of and level of self-deceit is not instrumentally rational. But I still much prefer the current me to a me who thinks much more highly of himself – I really dislike that guy whenever I see him in myself. Self-deceit incidentally isn’t the only relevant variable here. Telling myself that I should be more dominant and aggressive would also likely help my options. But I don’t want to be more aggressive or dominant because that’s not who I am and it’s not who I want to be.
I find it frustrating that the person I want to be don’t seem to be able to have the options I want to have. Either I need to change who I am or I need to change what I want. I find changing what I want very hard.