SELF-DECEPTION IN SERVICE OF
I was interested in self-deception well before I became interested in evolutionary biology, and I was conscious of deception as a problem from a very early age. At the end of my freshman year at Harvard in 1962, when I left mathematics in despair and disrepute (stripped of my scholarships, placed on academic probation, etc. ), I decided to devote my life—not to science— but to fighting the good fights in society, toward justice instead of truth. Toward that end, I saw myself becoming a lawyer, concentrating on civil rights, poverty, and criminal law. I asked someone what you majored in if you were going to become a lawyer, and they said U. S. history—the Federalist papers, the Bill of Rights, Supreme Court decisions, that kind of thing. So, I studied U. S. history. It was at once apparent that U. S. history was not so much an academic discipline as an exercise in self-deception. They were title of the books gave away the game, for example, The Genius of American Democracy, a popular book in the early 1960s by Daniel Boorstin. The chief problem in U. S. historiography was, why are we the greatest nation that ever existed and the greatest people who ever strode the face of the earth? The competing schools of thought in U. S. history were competing answers to those questions. For example, the existence of a frontier was said to inspire such virtues, the benefits of upper-class Englishmen designing a new government, or the wave of immigrants that populated the United States, and so on. So, I saw the field as an exercise in self-deception.
During the Vietnam War, one could see, perhaps, some of the negative consequences that accompanied the self-glorification that was the study of U. S. history. I also remember being astonished, then, at how often in defense of a particular administration official or the president himself, someone would say, “Yes, but he sincerely believes that we are acting in the best interests of the Vietnamese. ” Such a person was believed to be superior to