Humans clearly have an automatic tendency to think in terms of good guys and bad guys. Old news, really. What I want to talk about is how insidious it is.
Let’s look at an absurdly black and white example first. Some games — such as the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons and a computer game I almost played at one point called RetroMUD — have a system where characters are officially classified as good, evil, or neither. (This is often called character alignment.) This kind of thing doesn’t need to be all black and white, but it often is. In the extreme versions, it goes like this: while it’s heinous for an evil creature to attack a good one, a good creature attacking an evil creature is doing a good deed even if the evil creature was just sitting there. After all, if the evil creature ever did something, it would be evil things. Because it’s evil. Often this applies to entire species or “races” of creatures. I mentioned RetroMUD because if I recall correctly the documentation said that to maintain a good alignment for your player character over time it was necessary to keep killing evil creatures — combining total naïveté with the bean-counting mechanics of a computer game to absurd results.
Okay, so how is any of this subtle? The subtlety is in how much our brain manages to fool us assuming something just like that even after we have reached the point where we would recognise it as absurd spelled out loud. Continue reading