Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Self-Confidence Man

David Brooks writes:
There's an astonishing article in the current issue of The Atlantic summarizing a new book by Catty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code.* Social science reveals, it turns out, that women suffer from a lack of self-confidence!
Harold Lloyd in Movie Crazy (1932), via The Man on the Flying Trapeze.
No, for reals, with empirical evidence. They consistently underestimate the value of things they've done, like their results on a test, or what they will do in the future, like the size of their paychecks five years from now.** [jump]
Something about this piece makes me feel tremendously macho for some reason. I won't say I suffer from excessive self-confidence myself, but I will wryly refer to myself as a self-aggrandizing pundit.
In fact research shows that most people, as opposed to women, are overconfident. Thus Daniel Kahneman found that most of us are unaware that murders committed in Detroit are also committed in Michigan, which is clearly because of overconfidence***; while Dan Ariely has learned that we talk up our virtues and rationalize away our faults in order to feel better about ourselves, and call ourselves honest even though we pretend to read things we haven't read, never acknowledge an error in our published work, and paper over our history as a viciously partisan warmonger with the image of a kindly, bland, objective, mildly humorous social psychology professor.
In fact I can't even understand what Kay and Shipman are complaining about, since it's clear that we'd all be better off if women had still less self-confidence. The real problem is that women don't capitalize on their lack of self-confidence, as they could easily do if they'd only be a little more assertive about it.
Via Margaret Gunning.
Or the real issue is not the confidence part but the self part, because the self is maddeningly elusive. The philosopher David Hume, for instance, couldn't find his, because there was always a perception in the way.****
It's really better to ignore the self altogether, in the sense that if worrying about the self doesn't make you too self-conscious it probably makes you selfish. Rather than approaching life with a self-confidence mind-set, you should have an instrumentalist mind-set. At a dinner party, instead of asking, "How am I coming across?" you should ask, "What does this specific dinner require?" When someone proposes marriage, instead of wondering whether the person is going to make you happy for the next half century you should wonder whether you admire the person enough to live your life as an offering to him. 
Or her, as the case may be. It's easier, anyhow, to go through life not grousing that your column isn't coming out as interesting as it started out looking, but focusing on how to bring it to an end.
*In fact mostly an excerpt from the book's introduction, which you can read for free at Amazon. The full title, perhaps indicating a lack of confidence, is The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know. I'm afraid it's the usual case of Brooks confusing self-help with science.
**Apparently among British B-school students women's forecasts of their future incomes are 20% lower than men's. I have the funniest feeling that this is not a sign of low self-confidence but maybe something else, like a recognition that they're going to be treated as inferiors.
*** And not, say, because of a semi-racist picture of Detroit as a black city and Michigan as a white state so that Detroit in our minds isn't really in Michigan.
****This has to be a dream-addled recollection from undergraduate days and the famous Chicago Great Books syllabus of Hume's argument in refutation of Descartes's cogito, especially comical in that Brooks really is, in his own naive way, a Cartesian. Of course the main point of today's column is anti-Cartesian, and indeed anti–philosophy as a whole: Brooks's nihilist maxim, "Don't know thyself, whatever thou dost, it can only get thee in trouble."

No comments:

Post a Comment