Jon Elster

Because it is often easy to detect the operation of motivated belief formation in others, we tend to disbelieve the conclusions reached in this way, without pausing to see whether the evidence might in fact justify them. Until around 1990 I believed, with most of my friends, that on a scale of evil from 0 to 10 (the worst), Communism scored around 7 or 8. Since the recent revelations I believe that 10 is the appropriate number. The reason for my misperception of the evidence was not an idealistic belief that Communism was a worthy ideal that had been betrayed by actual Communists. In that case, I would simply have been victim of wishful thinking or self-deception. Rather, I was misled by the hysterical character of those who claimed all along that Communism scored 10. My ignorance of their claims was not entirely irrational. On average, it makes sense to discount the claims of the manifestly hysterical. Yet even hysterics can be right, albeit for the wrong reasons. Because I sensed and still believe that many of these fierce anti-Communists would have said the same regardless of the evidence, I could not believe that what they said did in fact correspond to the evidence. I made the mistake of thinking of them as a clock that is always one hour late rather than as a broken clock that shows the right time twice a day.

Jon Elster, Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 136-137, n. 16