Self and Inconsistency
Tibor R. Machan
by Tibor R. Machan
more years ago than I like to admit I read a wonderful little book,
Prescott Leckyís Self-Consistency:
A Theory of Personality (New York: Island
Press, 1945). (I note, happily, its having been reissued in 1994.)
This work argued, in essence, that human beings seek, for the most
part, to hold beliefs and carry out actions that are all mutually
consistent. There is supposed to be a psychological reward for doing
so and that seems pretty much common sense. We often take pride
in being consistent, in not contradicting ourselves.
whenever we are discussing ideas or the larger issue of how we live
our lives, it seems clear enough that we insist on consistency.
Certainly in an election year we can see how journalists try to
hold the feet of politicians to the standard of consistency. If
they fail this test, they are open to all kinds of charges having
lied, lacking integrity, and so forth. And if witnesses at a trial
contradict themselves, all their credibility has been lost!
short, there is this idea that not only must things make sense to
us, come off coherently, otherwise there is something amiss, but
we ourselves need to make sense in what we believe. That is, basically,
the point of Leckyís little treatise: a healthy personality is one
thatís integrated, has it all together, as opposed to being in constant
conflict and out of kilter.
of course, this standard is one to which few of us manage to live
up. And an example stares me right here in the face I detest ending
sentences in prepositions, yet that one, right before this one,
does just that and is exactly right for it. What a drag! But this
is perhaps a minor inconsistency. What is much worse is the major
inconsistencies that people allow within their lives.
the people living in Newport Beach, California, about 30 miles south
of where I do. John Wayne Airport is located there and the cityís
officials, backed by many citizens, have enacted an ordinance that
prohibits planes from taking off and landing before 7 AM and after
10 PM. Moreover, every plane that takes off has to proceed like
one of those Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornets does, shoot nearly straight
up so as to spare the dear Newport Beach residents the trouble of
having to hear it climb slowly into the sky. (The pilot makes an
announcement of this on nearly every flight, just so as not to scare
the passengers to death when his machine immediately turns upward
at about a 45-degree angle.)
the fact that the citizens of Newport Beach, California, benefit
a great deal from the flying done by all the people who use this
airport all those folks traveling to conferences, business
meetings and other venues at which many of the affairs that benefit
these residents are conducted doesnít seem to occur to them
at all. They do not even consider the inconvenience they produce
for these folks who are probably actively engaged, day in and day
out, in serving them all in various capacities doctors, dentists,
CPAs, engineers, professors, actors, athletes and the rest. Never
mind that we just need some quiet in the air in our town,
even though the noise that we suppress would be made by the folks
who do us a world of good. And it isnít a big deal at any rate.
(They should live in Manhattan, next to a fire station!)
same kind of thing happens when drivers of cars express their anger
at drivers of eighteen wheeler trucks, most of which are carrying
wares the drivers of the small vehicles depend upon and use constantly.
Damn it, why are those big things out there? Or, why do these trains
going by make so much noise? Why donít they all go away and leave
us in peace?
mind that if all these nuisances disappeared, the dear residents
and all those annoyed drivers wouldnít have hardly any of the goodies
and services they dearly love to have around. Do they think about
how all those grocery stores get filled up with fruits, vegetables,
milk, meat and the rest? Without those trucks and trains they would
never get there. Nor would much of the business, entertainment,
and whatever else comprises the neighborhood culture exist if the
airport were to shut down.
is these little inconsistencies that I find fascinating, since the
people who hold onto them arenít dumb. They just want to both have
their cakes and eat them, too, hoping they can get away with that.
Many of them hate developments but they love the people living in
the homes that developers build and they beef, too, a lot about
escalating home prices! They do not want anyone to come live in
their canyons but they wouldnít themselves move out in a million
years. They cherish all creatures, great and small, accept they
have no problem living in their homes which have displaced and keep
away zillions of creatures from the spot of ground where the home
was built and now stands.
Professor Lecky said about people wishing to be self-consistent
is, sadly, just part of the story. They also often want to have
it all ways, however inconsistent that may be like the politicians
who criticize their opponents for lack of integrity but then turn
around and champion flexibility and pragmatism that is, abandonment
of integrity, the embrace of compromise in how public policies
should be shaped!
him mail] holds
the Freedom Communications Professorship of Free Enterprise and
Business Ethics at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman
University, CA. A Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford
University, he is author of 20+ books, most recently, Putting
Humans First: Why We Are Nature's Favorite.
© 2004 Tibor Machan