If At First You Don’t Succeed
As my kind indulgent regular readers will by now know very well, we humans evolved under conditions of scarcity and therefore conserving calories was the optimal strategy for making it through to another day. As thinking can consume up to 30% of the body’s blood glucose, and as that glucose was far more often needed to power muscles in the search for food or in flight from potential predators, we naturally evolved to do as little thinking as possible.
Unfortunately for us now, our modern world in no way resembles our evolutionary environment. And so we are highly maladapted and struggle to cope with the novel challenges presented by what we call civilization. As evolution is all about competition for resources, and as the most earnest competition occurs within the group, it’s not surprising that some of us discover we can gain significant advantage by exploiting the cognitive predispositions nature has given us.
The Ricky Gervais movie The Invention of Lying provides a comic take on this real-life superpower. But we don’t need fictional accounts to see just how powerful a weapon lying can be, provided that the lies in question are easy to understand. The human brain is evolved to shun complexity and crave simplicity. As reality is invariably complex, this means that nearly everyone will preferentially attach themselves to lies provided the lies are nice and simple. And so, this is what we get: a world filled with simple-minded lies that appeal to the great majority of us.
For as long as we’ve been able to record human history, and no doubt long before that, some people have used lies to exploit others. Priests, witch-doctors, shamans, and other peddlers of supernatural fairytales have long lived off the credulity of those around them, obtaining resources without having to work for them, by means of claiming a special relationship with tediously predictable figments of the human imagination.
Since the appearance of craft guilds during the European medieval period (doctors, lawyers, apothecaries, masons, etc.) we’ve seen a more formalized approach to claiming unique domain expertise. Each craft guild fashions its own distinctive markers such as dress code and develops jargon intentionally impermeable to…