This will sound like tremendous hindsight bias, but truly, I saw most of this coming for Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
With the death of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in September, we witnessed the longest reign of any British monarch come to an end–70 years and 214 days, to be exact.
As expected, the Queen’s death has commenced the proverbial pedestal construction, full of overglorification and rose-colored aggrandizement as the windfall of accolades and tributes continues to accumulate.
Yet, as an experimental social psychologist who happens to study nonsensical behavior and nonsense detection, I’ve been somewhat puzzled since the Queen’s death–and I’m afraid I must call BS on something regarding the Queen’s legacy.
The outpouring of such wonderful sentiments has been immediate and consistent since the horrible news of her death.
Who wouldn’t hope to be honored in such fashion? The only problem is, it simply isn’t true–and there is absolutely no need to consult Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, nor Meghan,
Duchess of Sussex, on this one. That is because the record clearly shows the Queen’s most monumental blunder to humanity wasn’t something she did, but the contribution that wasn’t.
Queen Elizabeth II, like so many of her contemporaries, seemingly forgot to unclick the mute button and ultimately failed to join the greater Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The record shows that as he made his way to Oslo, Norway, to collect his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) practically stopped at the Queen’s front door by preaching a scholarly sermon in front of a 3,000-strong congregation at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Social psychological research on BS detection suggests that the “historical” record supporting Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy will succeed primarily because of the way people tend to respond mentally and emotionally to BS and lies, neglecting the all-important value of genuine evidence.
People are “bullible” to the extent they fail to recognize something is BS even when there are cues present that would otherwise signal that it is BS.
One of the reasons people are so bullible today is that the pace of life is faster than it’s ever been. We’re no longer patient for truth and appropriately validated discovery.
The ball is now in the court of King Charles III and, eventually, Charles’s elder son, William, Prince of Wales, to right the wrongs of the past one truth at a time.
BS is what emerges when people communicate with little to no regard for truth, established knowledge, or genuine evidence.
We now know that BS-ing behavior involves a broad array of rhetorical strategies that help us sound like we know what we’re talking about in order to impress others, persuade others, influence others, or explain things in an area in which our obligations to provide our opinions exceed our knowledge in that area.
My research shows that though there may be immediate benefits to individuals who BS, the unwanted consequences of BS to society can be great, including negative effects on learning,
memory, attitudes and opinions, and what we believe to be true–and what we believe to be true is fundamental to optimal judgment and decision making.
In the case of Queen Elizabeth II, few people have been heralded as such staunch champion advocates of peace, human rights, and equal opportunity with a deep sense of religious and civic duty.
The Queen was neither in attendance nor did she issue a statement about the event. It comes as little surprise there isn’t a single mention of Queen Elizabeth II in either The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. or the 736-page A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. That is because when it came to the movement, the Queen was a non-factor.
Yet, with a world stage and powerful voice that was inherited by her very position, it could have and should have been the Queen’s greatest contribution–she had nothing to lose and most everything to gain by being the real champion she is now ballyhooed to be. Unfortunately, we can only counterfactualize the impact the Queen’s voice would have had if only she actually joined the movement or marched stride for stride with the many MLKs who literally gave their lives for the movement.
We want answers and quick-fix solutions to problems now. Sure, the sluggish speeds of proper investigation and due diligence are far out-paced by our desire to feel a subjective sense of knowledge.
But that doesn’t mean we will do well in the ways of rational judgment and decision-making to believe in the nonsense that happens to sound good or align with what we already believe.
Although better information may not always lead to better judgments and decisions, better judgments and decisions almost always require better information.
So, let’s refrain from BS-ing ourselves about Queen Elizabeth II’s real legacy and true impact on the world—lest we increase our chances of making some of the very same bad decisions she made.