We are all familiar with optical illusions. In certain environments, straight lines appear to be bent; or, looking at a picture of a candle stick, we see an old woman who suddenly changes into a young woman. Optical illusions occur because of the structure of our brains. The human species sees these illusions because of the way our brains function.
Unfortunately, the brain is also subject to moral illusions, one of which is the self-serving bias. Because something is good or enjoyable for us, we assume that it is good for everybody. For example, a person has casual sex outside of marriage or commitment to one’s partner. That person then assumes that all sex is good under all circumstances. Or someone who’s obese sees fatness as acceptable because they like to eat cake and ice cream.
There is also the in-group out-group bias. Democrats perceive sexual abuse by Bill Clinton as normal—as “what men do” according to one Democratic woman I knew. Donald Trump’s liaisons, on the other hand, are evil and depraved since he is a Republican. (I am a Democrat, I should note.) Or Quakers see themselves as spiritually good while evangelical Christians are bad and deluded.
A third moral illusion is the just world fallacy. To soothe our own anxiety about life, we assume that the world is basically good and fair. So, when some evil is inflicted upon a person, we assume that the victim—at least a little—deserves what he or she got. An example might be the girl in tight jean shorts and revealing blouse who is raped. We think to ourselves, “Well, she really shouldn’t have been dressed so provocatively.” Or a drug addict dies from an accidental overdose; and we say to ourselves, “He shouldn’t have been taking drugs in the first place.”
To better understand both optical and moral illusions I recommend visiting this web page from the University of Texas (my alma mater). And we might ask ourselves what moral illusions Quakers tend to hold.
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