Archive for June, 2017

In Louis Theroux’s LA Stories, Among the Sex Offenders, Louis interviews several sex offenders. One person he interviewed was twice convicted of rape. He admits he did it, but explains:

I’m not what we call a tree jumper. I don’t jump out of trees and attack women physically and hold them down and all that. no no no. This was a thing that happened with my girlfriend, got out of hand.

Another person Louis interviewed had been repeatedly convicted of indecent exposure (exhibitionism). He explained:

I think the standard impression of exhibitionists is someone that jumps out from behind a bush or a tree with a trench coat and tries to surprise someone. “Aha!” and shock them. When i do it, i want to retain their attention for as long as possible. I don’t want them to run away in fear. I want to be noticed. Maybe talked to. And in some cases they talk to me.

I suspect that the “at least I’m not a tree jumper” argument is not very effective. I think we would rather they admit to what they did and not try to contrast themselves with people who are worse. Yet, it seems very difficult for people to not do this. No matter what horrible thing someone’s done, the instinct is to say “at least I’m not like those other people.”

Some possibilities:

  1. It is actually an effective strategy, relatively speaking. Nothing is going to be very successful here, but this strategy perhaps reduces reputation damage to some degree.
  2. It’s ineffective and possibly makes things worse. However, people so badly need to not be hated and/or shunned that they cannot help but pull out tools from the persuasion toolbox, because they work well in most situations. Major violations of social norms like sex offenses are rare enough that we don’t have good strategies in these situations.
  3. It’s ineffective in persuading others, but effective in terms of self-deception. I feel like the main purpose of self-deception is to more effectively deceive others. Perhaps when others cannot be deceived (because the crime is too great), we still need the self-deception. This could be because there is some independent effect on our own mental health, or it could be that we just can’t recalibrate in these rare situations (not enough prior data).

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