Here’s a good way to ruin your afternoon. Go on the Internet and find any discussion thread that brings up overweight people (like this or this one). Stand back and watch as a crowd absolutely rants about how incredibly easy it is to lose weight, and how incredibly lazy you have to be to get fat. The conclusion will be that being fat is literally a moral failing and the sign of a bad, disgusting human being. It’s to the point of actual anger and violence directed toward the overweight in real life — the fat are one of the last groups people can openly hate.
But now take any of those people and try using the same logic with their weaknesses:
“You’re struggling to get by on your income? I can’t imagine how lazy a person would have to be to not be wealthy. Just go out there and make money! Duh!”
“You don’t have a girlfriend? I can’t imagine how much of an antisocial dick you have to be to not get a beautiful woman to love you. How hard is it to get off your ass and be a dynamic, sexy, personable human being?”
“You drink alcohol? Or smoke cigarettes? Or smoke pot? Why don’t you try not doing those things?”
“You suffer from depression or anxiety? Uh, have you tried not?”
Now watch as they rattle off ten thousand extenuating circumstances for their embarrassing problem (the economy is bad, women are bitches, I have an addiction) while completely rejecting all of the similar causes of obesity.
It’s called the fundamental attribution error.
It’s a universal thought process that says when other people screw up, it’s because they’re stupid or evil. But when we screw up, it’s totally circumstantial. Like if you notice a coworker showing up to work high on mescaline, it’s because he’s an out-of-control peyote hound. But if you show up at work high on mescaline, it’s because you had a flat tire and you needed the distraction.
The process feels so obvious when explained — we simply lack information about the context in which the other person screwed up, and so we fill it in with our own. If we’ve never been fat, then we assume the fat guy feels the exact same level of hunger as we do, that his metabolism is the same, that his upbringing is the same, that the spare time and energy he can devote to exercise is the same as ours. We think that both of us faced the exact same fork in the road and only one of us chose to eat churros.
The reality is, of course, that you were on completely different roads. The assumption that everyone’s circumstances are identical is so plainly wrong as to be borderline insane, but everyone does it. Pundits and politicians alike mock the unemployed as lazy, even though their own data shows that for every five unemployed people, there is only one open job. “I don’t understand, can’t you all just become radio talk show hosts like me?”