Tom's Reviews > Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris
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's review
Oct 31, 09

Read in October, 2009

I think the point the authors make in this book is a very good one: that despite being hardwired to reduce cognitive dissonance in their own favor, human beings have the capacity and responsibility to see this tendency for what it is and resist it in the interests of honesty and justice.

I see two flaws in their argument:

1) In a number of places, the authors talk about confronting our self serving beliefs with "the facts". I wonder where we're supposed to find these facts and how we're supposed to know once we've got them. It's easy enough to claim that my beliefs already are "facts". Every day items of conventional wisdom which "everyone knows" and considers factual are discovered to be in error. Even if we find a "fact" that no one disputes now, there's no guarantee that someone won't figure out why it's wrong tomorrow. The best we can do is to question ourselves honestly and apply the best information available to our situations, but there's always the possibility of new information displacing what we once thought were "facts".

2) The authors recommend institutionalizing corrective measures like videotaping all police interrogations and fostering a culture of tolerance toward mistakes to facilitate learning. I fear that anything that can be institutionalized will foster its own blind spots and ways of resisting change. It seems to me that the only real solution is constant thoughtful vigilance and ruthless honesty with oneself.

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