According to a groundbreaking new study into the mysterious workings of the human mind, and reported by the New York Times, our species developed its well-honed capacity for reason and argument not to seek out truth, however nuanced or elusive it may be, but rather for a decidedly more selfish purpose: to win.
Lest my sarcasm escape detection, I meant the preceding sentence as a joke. Why should this be such a revelatio n? It strikes me as obvious as saying that men start wars to impress women, or that the 21st Century workforce is getting fatter because people spend so much time in front of computers. (The first example can’t be proven, per se, but the second was also reported recently by the New York Times, whose motto, of course, is “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”)
I get that the Times has an obligation to print relevant news of all stripes, and revolutionary insights into human behavior should certainly get their share of precious ink — or less-precious pixels — but surely someone’s done a study, somewhere, that might actually change the way we think about the world, our place in it, or even just the way we debate with our domestic partners over which kind of toothpaste to buy.
The study’s findings aren’ t en tirely mundane, of course. I found it interesting that people respond more to certitude than logic, for example, explaining perhaps how the Tea Party developed such a fanatical following. I also found it interesting that people tend to remember things that confirm their beliefs over things that don’t, which also explains a lot about the political quagmire we’ re in today.
Beyond politics, perhaps this study could help us navigate our personal lives as well, or at least better understand what we’re doing when we get into it w ith a co-worker over whose turn it is to change the water cooler jug, or with the lady in line who insists she was there first.
Then again, I always knew in such situations that I was arguing to win.