The Yellow Belt Is About Practice…

While attaining the white belt we learned that everyone has a culture and that culture shapes our thinking. It informs how we make sense of the world around us and teaches us to believe that the behavior we practice in our culture is “normal”, while the culture of other groups is “foreign”. We tell ourselves this story so much that it almost always leads to naive realism, the belief that we see the world as it really is and anyone who disagrees is somehow bigoted or misinformed. This bias causes humans to split into tribes because we believe that our group is right about the way things are. It’s a fallacy, of course, because we have done little more than create a club based on our culture.

E.B. Tyler, the founder of cultural anthropology, defines culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. It is the stuff that helps groups of human beings survive in the world. Culture itself is an adaptive tool that allows humans to thrive in almost any environment. This can be seen, for example, when comparing the Inuit (Eskimo) people to New Yorkers. Both groups are human but couldn’t be more dissimilar; their cultures adapted to incredibly different environments. Which one is better? That depends on where you’re coming from; one could argue that the pizza is better in New York, but the Inuit would much prefer a seal burger.

The answer is really neither is better. Both cultures have evolved over generations to serve the people living in that environment. If you dropped a New Yorker into Nunavik Canada, their chances of thriving would be very slim. The same could be said if you dropped an Inuit into Times Square. Their culture just wouldn’t match the new environment and their lives would become very difficult, very quickly.

The point of all of this is to understand that human beings are largely the same but our culture is vastly different. It is also important to note that not every culture is best-suited to its current environment. In the past this wasn’t as important because people largely stayed in their corners of the Earth. Technology, however, has made the world smaller and humanity is being forced to comingle in a way that has never been seen before in history. As the great Katie O’Brien puts it, we are sitting down to “humanity’s first family dinner” and we’re all going to have to learn how to deal with drunk Uncle Bobby.

Practicing Mixed Mental Arts will help us do that. We learn that Uncle Bobby isn’t just a drunken asshole who yells at grandma and hugs us in an inappropriate way. We learn that he is a product of the good, the bad and the ugly of his culture, just as we are. We are all the same, and just as our culture has a group that we consider “drunk Uncle Bobby”, there is another culture somewhere that considers us the drunken uncle.

The white belt is about discovery. It teaches us that everyone has a culture and that to some extent we all get caught up in the bias of naive realism. The yellow belt is about practice. In our daily lives, we learn to clearly identify how culture affects the world around us. Whether looking towards the Middle East or America, into Islam or Atheism, we begin to see how profoundly human beings are affected by their culture. Good vs. evil is a myth and it is only tribe vs. tribe. Everybody thinks they are the good guys. For the practicing Mixed Mental Artist, the result of this practice is empathy, the ability to understand that even the behavior we consider the most appalling would be practiced by us if we were raised in a culture that deemed it normal. Seal burgers anyone?

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” 
-Matthew 7:3

And yet, looking outward is only the beginning. All of that learning about how culture binds and blinds others was just practice so we can begin to look at our favorite subject–ourselves. The difficult work in the yellow belt is learning to see our own cultural blind spots and identifying how we are a product of our culture. It is in figuring out how naïve realism affects us and how to slowly separate ourselves from that distorted view. This isn’t easy to do, but we can learn how with practice.

This is the yellow belt of Mixed Mental Arts.

  • Are you ready to actively learn the effect of culture on others?
  • Are you ready to consistently notice the log in your own eye regarding your cultural blind spots?
  • Do you want to let go of the biases of culture and naïve realism to try and develop a more realistic world view?

If you answered yes to these questions and you are ready to practice them daily, then you are ready to put it on.

Wear it in good health and get out there and practice.


  1. Nigel Matthew Gauvin Reply

    Thank you Nate McCabe for creating this framework. I am going to try my best to spot my own cultural biases and finding the roots of the bias (where did it come from, why does this idea have such a stronghold, etc.). As you point out, cultural beliefs serve as a tool to adapt to an environment but can become malignant if left unchallenged. I look forward to reading the rest of the belt system and to practice letting go of “bad” ideas. Keep up the good work Nate!

    1. Hunter "Toto" Maats Reply

      Hey, Nigel! We’re lucky to have Nate as our beltmaster helping to breakdown these ideas. Good on you for taking on the challenge to reflect on your own cultural baggage. If you get the chance to do a #CulturalConfession, I’d love to read it. Love to all humanity – Toto

  2. Pat McMahon Reply

    I really enjoy the podcasts and the knowledge bombs.
    I believe pain and suffering are real. I believe less suffering would be good compared to more suffering. What would you call someone intentionally inflicting pain and suffering on others? Say a serial pedophile who tortures golden retriever puppies for fun?
    How do you square that with “good vs. evil is a myth?”
    Thank you.

  3. Pat McMahon Reply

    I wouldn’t be reading about mixed mental art yellow belts if I wasn’t a fan. In fact, I was hoping I could actually get a badge or something. I think mixed mental arts should get into the accrediting fans who demonstrate mastery of certain concepts. I’m flattered the guy repeatedly mentioned in the Chris Ryan podcast responded.
    I don’t know the answer to your question, but I’ll go along and say culture. Are you granting that less suffering would be preferable to more?

    1. Dave Burns Reply

      I’m on my iPad right now, so I can’t search the page. Did Nate actually say good vs. evil is a myth?

      Suffering isn’t good or bad all by itself. Pointless suffering seems pretty bad to me, but pointless anything might qualify. Buddhists see suffering as inevitable but manageable. Stoics see it as the coin we sometimes pay for growth, integrity, meaning and other virtues worth pursuing. Maybe now I should defend growth and meaning?

      As for persons who intentionally inflict suffering on others, I am tempted to call them psychopaths. But are they evil, or broken, or sick, or insane, or mutated? Can we fix the world by punishing them, by isolating them where they do no harm, by treating or perhaps curing them, by mutillating them or by killing them? What is the story we tell about them? Where did their behavior come from and what can we do about it?

      We use myths or stories to make sense of our lives, and some help us but others hinder. We investigate the difference between ideas about reality and call it science. Can a myth be true? I always get confused between myths and legends.

      Haidt said, “I believe that a world without moralism, gossip, and judgement would quickly decay into chaos.” Is this a paradox? I don’t think good and evil are myths, in the sense that they’re made up or have nothing to do with our lives. But I’m not sure I agree with many of the persons who would insist that good vs. evil is *not* a myth. That is a long conversation, and this comment is already ridiculously long.

  4. Nate McCabe Post author Reply

    I’m not sure good vs. evil is a myth but it is certainly relative. Your example is extreme, but in a world of pedophilic dog abusers, he would be king.

  5. Aaron Poytress Reply

    Not sure how much you want to get into the “good vs. evil” topic, but I also found that comment interesting. Oddly enough I’ve been listening to a Jordan Peterson interview today on the same topic and couple of his thoughts offered a contrary view. He said: “There are things that are archetypally evil. You don’t get to escape from them because of culture [or] the particulars of a situation.” Also: “The deepest strata of thought that I’ve encountered makes the case that the most real thing is the eternal battle between good and evil.”
    I understand the author’s point that in the tribe vs. tribe arena, it’s unproductive to adopt the “we’re-the-good-guys, they’re-the-bad-guys” stance as a whole, but in certain situations (eg the aforementioned pedophile dog abuser) wouldn’t it be appropriate, even necessary? Doesn’t drunk Uncle Bobby need to be called out sometimes? An open-minded mixed mental artist still has to use a filter to some degree, no?

    On a side note, huge fan of your site, podcast, and this whole movement! Looking forward to earning more belts!

    1. Hunter "Toto" Maats Reply

      Hey Aaron! Just to build off what Nate “The Beltmaster” McCabe. I’m going to go with what Bill Shakespeare said here. “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” The second you choose to feel that things are good or bad then your emotions start affecting how you interpret things. Suddenly, you see them entirely through that lens. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have feelings about things. In fact, you can’t avoid having feelings about things. That’s the point of the Orange Belt and Descartes’ Error. You just have to remember that your feelings are distorting how you interpret it. Since Nate went to cannibalism in his post, let’s go there. I think cannibalism is bad. However, if I was in some sort of survival situation, I might have to change my feelings. And, in fact, humans have been (and probably still are) cannibals on the regular. How do those humans feeeeeeeeeeel about cannibalism? How do they interpret it? This is part of the real power of looking at hunter-gatherer societies. They reveal just how many of our own choices are cultural. China and England have their differences culturally but they’re both large-scale societies. For those to function, you have to have taken eating each other off the table. But if you and I were born in New Guinea, what would our culture teach us to feeeeeeeeel about the eating of human flesh? How would our minds interpret it as a result? This is not a case for cannibalism. I’m perfectly comfortable feeeeeeeling that it’s wrong. That’s a great taboo to have. But it’s worth remembering that it is a taboo because it really demonstrates the power of culture to bind and blind.

  6. Nate McCabe Post author Reply

    You’re absolutely right, and one of the things that makes something qualify as archetypically “evil” is that it is universally detested across most cultures. e.g. cannibalism or pedophilia. However, I would argue that in most cases, people doing “evil” things think they are taking good or necessary actions, e.g. Nazis or Terrorists, or are overall good people with one or two behaviors that are an outlier.

    Anyway, the point of the post is that it’s not so black and white. We can spend all day pointing our fingers at our “Uncle Bobby” without ever realizing we are someone else’s. Culture binds and blinds.

    Mostly, thanks for your comments! It’s great to have you as part of the community.

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