Friday, 9 April 2021

High status liars

There is an interesting if fairly familiar piece in Quillette about the link between status and belief.

Many have discovered an argument hack. They don’t need to argue that something is false. They just need to show that it’s associated with low status. The converse is also true: You don’t need to argue that something is true. You just need to show that it’s associated with high status. And when low status people express the truth, it sometimes becomes high status to lie...

The idea is that there are two paths, or two “routes,” to persuading others. The first type, termed the “central” route, comes from careful and thoughtful consideration of the messages we hear. When the central route is engaged, we actively evaluate the information presented, and try to discern whether or not it’s true.

When the “peripheral” route is engaged, we pay more attention to cues apart from the actual information or content or the message. For example, we might evaluate someone’s argument based on how attractive they are or where they were educated, without considering the actual merits of their message.

The whole piece is worth reading, if only as a reminder of how difficult it is to correct self-serving falsehoods promoted by elites. Especially where beliefs are high status lifestyle options.

Furthermore, knowing that we could lose status if we don’t believe in something causes us to be more likely to believe in it to guard against that loss. Considerations of what happens to our own reputation guides our beliefs, leading us to adopt a popular view to preserve or enhance our social positions. We implicitly ask ourselves, “What are the social consequences of holding (or not holding) this belief?”

The problem is, if we cannot collectively spot the high status liars now, what hope is there for the future? Understanding the psychology doesn't achieve anything.


Sam Vega said...

One of the few benefits of ageing is that issues of status become less pressing. I'm OK about believing the unpopular stuff it it makes more sense.

But I wonder if I'm just trying to maintain my own sense of having high status. Am I just maintaining a self-image of being independent, rational, my own man?

A K Haart said...

Sam - I have similar thoughts. To some degree it is a kind of internal status, but we also know it doesn't amount to much in the outside world.

The more I ponder this status idea the more I'm attracted to it even though it is familiar, especially as authority.

Doonhamer said...

Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, sir.

A K Haart said...

Doonhamer - I thought Boris had bagged that one.