There’s a particularly powerful mental model – I won’t identify it for those of you who are still learning to memorize them on your own, leaving you a bit of a challenge – that constantly comes up in the news in a way that makes me so incredibly angry it’s hard to understate.
This afternoon, another story I was reading out of Oklahoma illustrates it perfectly. To understand human behavior, you need to see how someone can believe something that seems almost impossible.
Gawker has the full story, but here is the short version.
These three teenagers (see picture at Gawker) were, in the words of one of them, “bored” and decided they wanted to “kill someone”. Before it happened, one of them allegedly posted on Facebook, “bang. two drops in two hours.”
They are believed to have waited for a victim to run by, and it happened to be a young Australian college student named Christopher, 22 years old, in the United States for a baseball program. He was jogging and passed the three suspects. They followed him by car, pulled up behind him, and allegedly shot him in the back. Christopher died on the spot, not knowing why he was shot, or what had happened. He wasn’t even robbed. They just wanted to murder someone.
(Here is the insane part. Because they are slightly under the age of demarcation for adulthood, they aren’t eligible for the death penalty despite this appearing to be a slam-dunk case for the prosecution. Instead, these worthless pieces of trash get to sit in a taxpayer funded, health-care-provided facility for the next 50+ years, contributing nothing to society, but costing six-figures per year to everyone else between the group of them. But that is besides the point, at least for the purposes of this discussion.)
What catches my attention is that the father of one of the perpetrators, when talking about his son, who has had past encounters with the law, said he was a “good boy.”
This is a seemingly rational man, with no connection to the crime, and yet, when faced with the unbelievably destructive acts of an individual that resulted in damage beyond comprehension, still insisted that the alleged perpetrator was inherently “good”.
Even knowing that deaths like this are rare – out of nearly 314,000,000 people in the United States barely 11,000 or 12,000 per year are murdered with a gun each year, or 0.00366% of the population, and almost all of them involve inter-gang conflicts or domestic disputes (you are far more likely to be killed in a car crash or by overeating) – it doesn’t lessen the sense of outrage.
Almost no recurring phenomenon reveals the extent of irrational thinking in regards to this particular mental model as the “good boy” syndrome.
Do not give into it. You need to focus on impartial data when making judgments like this, especially when it comes to areas where you can’t trust yourself to be impartial. No matter how tempting it is, do not listen to the siren call, no matter how badly you want to fool yourself, wrapping up in a false sense of distorted reality. Face the truth for what it is, no matter how unpleasant. Ignoring things does not make them go away. Acknowledging something does not make it more real. It just arms you to react more appropriately to protect your own best interest when and if things go south.
You’re going to start seeing it everywhere. It’s still disheartening to see how often the mother of some brutal rapist can sit in a courtroom and wail about how her son is “good” or how the family members of a woman who secretly gave birth to a baby then murdered him will try to intervene with the courts because they are just not getting that their daughter, the killer, is still “good”. It’s insanity.