Hitler's sweater and other little quirks
Sunday viewing for the Dobelli family in Lucerne, Switzerland in the 1970s revolved around watching downhill skiiing on television. Young Rolf Dobelli was encouraged by his family to root for Swiss skiers but he didn't see the point.
The differential between the top skiers was mere fractions of a second. All they were proving was that they were proficient. As for the Swiss aspect of things, he reasoned if he had been born a few yards outside Switzerland's many borders he would be cheering for a different nation.
So began the questioning of Rolf Dobelli, which has led to much questioning since and the writing of the acclaimed bestseller, The Art of Thinking Clearly.
The above story is in chapter 79 of Dobelli's 99-chapter book, I kid you not, and comes under the title of Why you identify with your football team, subtitled - In-group out-group bias. The chapters are all three pages long and challenge our thought processes. He concludes chapter 79 with: "identifying with a group distorts your view of the facts. Should you ever be sent to war, and you don't agree with its goals, desert".
Easy for you to say Dobelli, from your lofty ivory tower.
Here's a beauty of a chapter title for you: 54 Would you wear Hitler's sweater? by way of explaining Contagion Bias. He reasons people wouldn't even if it was laundered because it would be bad karma. He relates the story of a France 2 journalist friend who liberated some gold-plated drinking glasses from Saddam Hussein's palace after his fall in 2003. I'll bet she's not exactly loving the idea of being presented in the guise of a looter. After all, how many France 2 journalists were hanging around Baghdad in those days?
Anyway, she is having a dinner party and a guest asks: "Are these from Lafayette"? Bringing the reply: "No, they are from Saddam Hussein". The guest promptly spat his drink back into the glass.
This highlights the contagion bias inherent in all of us. Wearing Hitler's sweater and drinking from Saddam Hussein's glass isn't going to do us any harm, it is just another one of the many irrational thought processes that we carry around with us.
Finally, Dobelli concludes with some advice that will put everyone in this newsroom out of a job. It is that hoary old chestnut: don't read the news, it makes you sick. "Heidi Klum separates from Seal. New world record in shot put," none of that does you any good he opines. Now I know what is wrong with me.
Updated: July 3, 2013 04:00 AM