The principle of the vested interest.

When I was 14 years old, I was in the Sea Explorers. One day when a bunch of us were caulking our boats, I decided to amuse myself by convincing my friends of something. So I said, “those French are really clever the way they built the Eiffel Tower to resist high winds.” Then I went back to caulking. One of my shipmates couldn’t resist, but asked me “what do you mean?” I said “well you know Paris gets very high winds (of course I didn’t know that at all) and the Eiffel Tower is a very tall structure, and they didn’t want it to blow over in the winds so they had to do something special.” Then I went back to caulking again. Of course, someone else couldn’t help but ask me, “what do you mean something special?” I said, “well they built it out of something that could bend with the winds rather than break.” I went back to caulking. By this time they were hooked and so the question followed, “what special material?” I said, “hard rubber of course. But they had to paint it to make it look like steel.”

The argument that followed was very informative. At first they thought I was kidding, but I just kept a straight face throughout and cap to my logical argument after a while, one by one they came around to my way of thinking. At that point everyone agreed it made sense to build the Eiffel Tower out of hard rubber. I then said hey everybody I was just kidding I just made it up the Eiffel Tower is really built out of steel just as you thought. But then the my surprise, I ran into a phenomenon that I was not to understand until I began college and was studying psychology. That phenomenon is called Cognitive Dissonance: The mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

The Bible has a colorful way of describing it. Matt. 7:1-5. Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” It has always been popular for people to take out of context the first two words, “judge not.” However, they miss the actual point. The point is not the judging is wrong, it’s that judging wrongly is wrong. What is judging wrongly? Note the underlined phrase, there was a “speck in your brother’s eye and a log in your own eye.” What does that actually mean? How can someone have a log in their own eye? What it means is that a speck in your own eye looks like a log because it’s so close to you and prevents you from seeing properly or judging rightly. It is a colorful way of describing cognitive dissonance.

I call cognitive dissonance the principle of the vested interest. In the case of my shipmates, once they accepted my argument for the Eiffel Tower being made of hard rubber, they felt they had to defend their new position, especially because they changed what they had previously believed–the truth that the Tower was made of steel–to accept a new position. That new position had to be defended, or they would have looked like fools. I could not get them to admit they had been tricked. They would rather believe something that was manifestly false because they had a vested interest in doing so, than to admit they had been tricked into believing a (logical) lie. While this might be excusable for a group of 14 year olds, what can we say when adults who are often in positions of power and authority believe and defend falsehoods?

So we should all judge ourselves. The first question to ask in order to judge rightly is, “what is my vested interest in my position?” How do you benefit from believing something, or from the agenda you’re pursuing? Get the log out of your own eye!