Consider the following story from the book “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at NYU:
Julie and Mark are sister and brother. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least, it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie is already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but decide not to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret, which makes them feel even closer to each other.
This story raises the question: If two adults, who are also siblings, consent to making love, is it acceptable?
If you’re like most people, then you probably immediately answered “no.”
But what if I then asked you to justify why you said no? What would you say?
Your first response may be, “Well incestuous sex leads to genetic abnormalities in the offspring.”
But then I’ll say, “But both siblings in the story used protection so that’s not a concern.”
This doesn’t however make you agree with me. Instead what most people typically do is begin searching for other arguments.
Your argument then may be, “Well incestuous sex is going to harm their relationship.”
But then I’ll respond by saying, “But the experience has brought the two siblings closer together.”
Most likely, you still won’t agree with me.
Instead what most people will say here is, “It just doesn’t feel right, but I don’t know why it doesn’t feel right.”
This is what’s known as “confabulation,” which is the scientific finding that people will readily fabricate reasons to explain their own behavior or opinions.
Haidt goes on to say,
“Moral arguments are similar to this: Two people feel strongly about an issue, their feelings come first, and their reasons are invented on the fly, to throw at each other. When you refute a person’s argument, does she generally change her mind and agree with you? Of course not, because the argument you defeated was not the cause of her position; it was made up after the judgement was already made.”
When people start to challenge your opinions and beliefs and you aren’t sure why you believe what you believe or you don’t have a strong enough argument to explain why you believe what you believe, you’ll notice that you will start to confabulate.
The problem with confabulation is that people are naturally great at making up explanations and reasons for why they believe in certain things.
But unfortunately, not great at knowing that they have done so.