While Mixed Mental Arts teaches you about humanity’s cognitive biases one at a time, that’s just our way of making it easier to learn how you and your fellow humans think. In practice, the glorious thing about fast thinking is that it all happens at once, combining to create convincing beliefs that are not only bad at approximating reality, but inspire the worst behavior. Take, for example, the glorious cognitive crapfest that Mixed Mental Artist Adam Hansen calls Dumb-barring.
If you’re an orange belt, then you already know about The Dunbar Number, or the inability of every human brain to track more than about 150 close relationships. Everyone else beyond that number is an abstract stereotype. However, the problem isn’t stereotyping, it’s what our stereotype is based on. If your view of college kids is based on the kids who say weird shit, then you’ve got a seriously skewed stereotype of college kids. If your view of Muslims is based on ISIS, then you’ve also got a seriously skewed stereotype of Muslims. And if your stereotype of Americans is based on the shit you see on TV, then you’ve got a seriously skewed stereotype of Americans. Yes, Europeans. This means you. Europeans stereotype too. In fact, all humans do. But when you stereotype around a really unrepresentative sample and forget that it’s a stereotype then you’ve been Dumb-barred.
Dumb-barring actually rests not just on The Dunbar Number BUT ALSO the Availability Bias, Descartes’ Error (the green belt), Confabulation and Naive Realism (the white belt). Think about how all this combines.
Descartes’ Error: The most emotionally upsetting thing makes the strongest impression. Muslims get upset by seeing the Koran defiled. Americans get upset by the burning of the American flag. Some men get upset by the idea that college kids think that gender doesn’t matter. The strong feelings generated by these experiences then drive their thinking AND create flash memories.
The Dunbar Number: Unfamiliarity with the other group..
Availability Bias: The first thing that comes to mind is the most upsetting thing. Isn’t this negativity bias?
Confabulation: The mind abhors a vacuum and so it fills in blanks with the notion that all of the members of a group are the same.
Naive Realism: That belief now makes perfect sense.
It takes a lot of slow thinking to de-confuse (or just defuse) all these disparate parts of your thinking and become aware that your brain even does this. The mainstream media, some podcast hosts, and bloggers thrive on finding the MOST emotionally dramatic events possible and using that drama to snatch your attention. While the stated goal is “keeping you informed about what’s going on in the world” or “drawing your attention to a danger to our way of life”, in reality, they’re just trying to get attention for themselves.
ISIS doesn’t kill people in subtle ways. They kill them in the most emotionally upsetting ways possible. They dip people in acid. They behead them on TV drawing on powerful symbols like the orange jumpsuits of Guantanamo prisoners. Media and podcasters then are incensed by this and give ISIS the attention they want. The result is that supposed enemies are actually in cahoots. They are opposing characters in a global soap opera, playing to different audiences. ISIS uses the resulting drone attacks that often accidentally kill innocents to cast itself as defenders of the oppressed to their Muslim audience. Meanwhile, on the other side, the actions against ISIS are used to portray Western leaders as taking decisive, positive action against ISIS. ISIS and the US are in an unholy alliance in the battle for legitimacy. If either stopped participating, then the other would lose the basis for all human action: a compelling narrative.
And that idea of an unholy alliance doesn’t just exist between supposed enemies in any global conflict. It exists among the cognitive biases baked into every human brain. In fact, Mixed Mental Arts’ Beltmaster, Nate McCabe, has singled out the three cognitive biases in the white, yellow, orange and green belt as the Unholy Trinity at the root of all human conflict.
The Unholy Trinity = Naive Realism + The Dunbar Number + Descartes Error
Either way, to think better, and to get humanity thinking better, requires understanding our many cognitive biases and how they interact. Humanity has a lot of slow thinking ahead of it to get to better collective decisions.
Note: I’m going to make a note to start thanking people whose contributions weren’t obvious in the post. Thanks, Isaiah “The Cunning Linguist” Gooley, for editing this into something fit for human consumption 🙂