If you have ever tried to reason with a hardcore fanatic, you would have noticed what I did. Even if you prove to him that his “facts” are either untrue or grossly exaggerated, he would coolly look the other way and continue with his allegations. He would keep throwing unsubstantiated prejudices about his pet hates. Whatever you do, you will not get him to empathize even a teeny weenie bit with those on the other side of the battle lines. “They are evil, they have done even worse things and they deserve it” would be the recurring themes.
What surprised me is that people harboring these believes are otherwise generally quite good and conscientious. They lead normal lives and hold noble values. Then what could be the reasons for the intense and unjustified hatred that they harbor? – The Jekyll and Hyde bit? – Got me probing.
It turned out that this could be attributed to some of the inbuilt faults in our thought processes. By listing them here, I am trying to throw light on the challenges that we will face when we try to break the walls people build around themselves…..
The Reticular Activation System (RAS) – The prime culprit. This is a mechanism in our brain that filters out unwanted inputs that come in. In a second, 1.6 million bits of information hit our brain. The poor thing can process only a measly 164 bits per second. So the RAS acts as a watchman and admits only the most important information. The rest gets bounced off. And it is we ourselves who tell the RAS what is important, through our thoughts, interests and actions. If you are planning to buy a new car and have shown interest in it, you will suddenly start seeing that car all over town. The car was always there. You however started noticing it now, because your RAS is admitting it in instead of bouncing it off. But what does RAS have to do with our topic? Lots. If you have a prejudice about a particular community or ideology and if you talk about it or read about it a couple of times, RAS kicks in. It will start increasingly alerting you with inputs that align with your point of view while blocking all inputs that stand against it. So you will not see the virtues, good actions and benevolence of your foes. You will see only their badmash and badass aspects. This is akin to LIKING certain pages on Facebook. FB will then flood you with recommendations of similar ones. You LIKE them too and soon your time line will be flooded with related stories taking it completely to one side of the debate. So you stop seeing things that disagree with you. And you get condemned to live sorely in your “Haters hell”.
Now that’s bad enough. But it doesn’t end here. Check out the long train of our thinking errors.
Cognitive Dissonance- When you encounter a belief or idea that contradicts your world view, that inconsistency causes stress or dissonance. (That’s what you get when someone refutes your political post on FB) .So you try to reduce this by actively avoiding situations and information which would increase the dissonance. So in the long run, you end up unfriending or ignoring all the dissenters and entertaining only a coterie of YES men – haters of the same feather.
Here comes the next one- Confirmation Bias– we have the tendency to look for or interpret information in a way that confirms our beliefs. We collect evidence selectively… very selectively. And we will misinterpret even the noblest of their actions to suit our opinion. “They did it for this”. Told Ya!!!
Check this one out – The “Just-World Phenomenon” If we witness an injustice done to someone we hate, in order to rationalize it, we will search for things that the victims did to deserve it. This is done to ease our anxiety .This peace of mind comes at the expense of blaming the innocent victims- so they deserve it. So if you hear that your favorite side has done something evil, you will promptly justify it by saying- they had it coming.
Now here is the icing on the cake- The Bias Blind Spot: We are often unaware of our own thought biases. So even after reading this article, you will vehemently deny that you have any of such thinking faults. Come on, you are above all these, aren’t you?
So where does this take us? – If we hate something or someone, we will not see the good things that they do. We will avoid being exposed to their good side, will interpret even the good things that they do as bad, will attribute any injustice done to them as something that they deserve, all while staying blissfully unaware of the unfairness in our thinking process.
Think about it- terrorist attacks, communal riots, imperial aggression, even discord in the family- who is right and wrong? Man, you could be so way off!!!!
The same hold good for the Lovers too.
Next time, you either judge or get into a heated debate with someone, remember this…