The book takes a deep dive into the issue of cognitive dissonance and self-justification: how people do and believe dumb things to maintain the feeling they are smart and in control, even when they are wrong or make mistakes. This leads to some serious problems in the long run, with people and systems spiraling into corruption one small step at a time.
I enjoyed the first half of the book, which focused on the aspects of psychology and scientific studies about brain behavior and memory. The second half of the book delved into the specific examples of how self-justification can infect and ruin various parts of society like criminal law, marriage, therapy, and torture. I thought this second half went way deeper into each topic than I was personally interested; the examples were painful, horrific, and really made me upset about how badly self-justification affects real lives, but I got that point very quickly and really wanted the author to move on to solutions and suggestions for improvement. There was a very small amount of that in the last chapter, and I was hoping for more.
Here are some of my biggest takeaways, and my full notes are below.
- Conflicts of interest are invisible to us.
- We believe our own judgments are less biased than others.
- Memory is not a hard drive; it is just our own storytelling to ourselves.
- We give stories a spin over time to self-justify.
- Source confusion, confabulation. Memories can be manipulated.
- Learn to say, "I'm sorry, it was my mistake, I want to understand what happened and how to avoid this."