Jon Kyl’s Moral Confabulation is something we all do.

Lately, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have been having fun with Jon Kyl’s bizarre response to an error he made on the senate floor in saying that 90% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion.  The real figure is 3% and his bizarre response was that his use of the 90% figure was “not intended to be a factual statement”, which has become a new twitter meme.

In case you haven’t seen it, here is a summary:

The interesting thing to me of this story was a bit on the Daily Show where Wyatt Cenac points out that “in his defense, he’s only lying about something that he believes in.  It’s in service of a strongly held moral principle.  He’s not lying to get out of jury duty or be boastful.” (at about 1:10 in the below clip)

While the defense was intended to be comical, many might see Cenac’s explanation as a truly mitigating circumstance.  Kyl likely believed what he was saying, given that an intentional lie would undoubtedly be revealed.  At some point in our lives, many of us also believe in something so much that our perceptions of reality are altered.  Many people do indeed believe that sometimes the ends justifies the means, and from our data, those people are actually more likely to be liberals (or libertarians).  One might argue that our incursion into Libya, for many, is a case where the ends (saving civilian lives, increasing freedom) justifies the means (violence).  In other examples, Democrats believe that the health care reform bill will improve access to health care, and also reduce the deficit.  Republicans believe that reducing taxes on the wealthy will actually increase revenue.  There are arguments to be made for either position, but an objective observer would probably believe neither of these claims and it seems likely that moral principles (Democrats believe in a social safety net & Republicans believe taxes on the wealthy are immoral) are shaping perceptions of reality, which is the definition of moral confabulation, when you believe in something so strongly, that you don’t let objectivity get in your way.

- Ravi Iyer

ps. as if on queue, the Wall Street Journal published this perceptually skewed view of taxation, perhaps born out of their belief that higher taxes on the rich are immoral.  This article, by Jeffrey Sachs, details the correct math.  Of course, it is also possible that Sachs’ view of the statistics is skewed by his own moral views.

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