Humans are a funny kind of animal.
Recently I have been studying ideologies like red pill, black pill, feminism, political parties and various religious mindsets, and I notice something interesting about humans- we're quite a competitive bunch.
From a very young age, we develop a desire to divide people into teams, and compete them against each other. Capitalism v. communism. Left v. right. Often we might not even get to choose which team you're on... men v. women. Black v. white.
We want to be on the winning team, to "be right" in every argument, and to generally be top dog, as much as we can.
But we can't all be top dog, and we can't all win. And when the world doesn't give us what we hoped for, most of us see ourselves as victims.
This is unfortunate, because humans have incredible cognitive abilities. We have the brainpower to reflect, imagine, theorize, philosophize, create, understand abstract concepts like advanced mathematics, even control some of our autonomous physiological functions, if we train hard enough.
...and yet... we often favour the simplest animalistic thinking.
We are often at the mercy of our emotions, irrational fears and addictions - even when we can clearly see that these are entirely unhelpful to us.
Where does the "victim" mindset come from?
Today I want to dig into two specific aspects of thinking that I believe are at the heart of the "victim" mindset. And I'm going to give them names-
- The "External Reality" Mindset. This is the tendency to see your experience of life as being externally caused, by things outside of you. This especially relates to your emotional reactions - when we feel a strong emotion, we look for an external cause.
- The "One-Winner" Mindset. The tendency to sort and rank groups of people and things into "winner" and "losers."
As far as I'm aware, neither of these mindsets are officially classified as Cognitive Biases, but in much these same way, these appear to be fundamental predispositions your that mind has in how it filters, processes, and interprets information about your world.
Most importantly - these mindsets are both inaccurate and unhelpful. Understanding them, why they exist, and where they cause problems is very useful.
Let's have a deeper look.
The "External Reality" Mindset
Humans seem to be designed to see the world as something that is pretty much entirely outside of us.
It's like we're not really part of it... an unwilling actor in a play. Life happens TO us, with little consent on our part. If we get hurt, it was because of something outside of us. If we feel happy, it was also because of something outside of us. So we spend a huge amount of time blaming others, or being needy towards people.
When you feel emotionally affected by something, your mind tends to immediately look for an external explanation for that emotion.
Feeling happy? It must be that ice cream, or the new car you just got, or the cute smile from that stranger.
Feeling sad? You must be missing someone, or feeling lonely because you're not with your friends.
Feeling angry? Obviously, someone has wronged you.
When it comes to unpleasant emotions, we often take this concept to the extreme, feeling like we must deal with the external source in order to resolve the emotion. We rarely even ask "are my interpretations correct here?" or "have I identified the right cause for this feeling?", or "what role did I play in this situation?"
Why is this?
Most likely, this is due to our evolution from other mammals, and our physical design.
Look at yourself objectively for a minute. All of your primary information about the world comes from your 5 senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. And all 5 of these senses are designed to analyze the external world.
Our mind tends to believe that what we can see, is true & real - or what our senses tell us, This is why "virtual reality" technology affects us so powerfully.
Sure, you can focus them on yourself. But your mind has carefully calibrated itself to subtract you from your sensory inputs. It's not that useful to taste your tongue, or smell your nose.
This is because survival for animals depends largely on examining the outside world for opportunities & threats. Food, danger, sex, are all external things, so we are calibrated for that.
Our human mind is capable of deep introspection, but that much more requires training.
And, schools don't focus on introspective skills, like journaling, reflection, meditation, or critical thinking... because they have little direct use in the modern economy.
Instead, your attention is focused on developing more external skills...
- "Practical" Sciences, like chemistry and engineering
Because for most countries, these are things that raise the GDP, and generate taxable income.
In the end, your worldview is still focused on external things, and seeing problems and solutions as things that are outside of you.
You're never taught...
- how to manage your emotions.
- how to look at yourself critically.
- how to reflect, journal, or meditate.
- and never taught Self-Development.
This leads to two
When I feel emotional pain, I am at the mercy of that pain. I am unable to control it or change it.
In short - I cannot change my internal reality, without first changing my external reality.
This is happening to me against my will.
Have you noticed... that most people think of themselves as the Victim in an unwanted situation?
Unless you do journaling or meditation, most people never have that mirror.
I'm pretty sure this a key reason why people blame others for bad things (and thus play the victim)
Victim Mindset. Anything bad that happens is
As a result, unless someone is doing reflection, journaling, & meditation, they have a pretty crap mirror, and think more or less like mammals, which means;
- victim mindset
- no self-responsibility
- neediness towards others for "happy chemicals" like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine
- a very absolutist black & white view of the world - things are good or bad, right or wrong.
The "One-Winner" (aka "One-Truth") Mindset
Why is this?
My best guesses would be Serotonin & Dopamine.
As mammals, we are deeply wired to organise things into hierarchies, from best to worst.
- Dopamine levels indicate e.g. the "best" source of food, or the most attractive genetic match for a mate.
- Serotonin organises our social world into a clearly defined hierarchy. We know who the leader in our tribe. We know who is the leader among any 2 individuals we encounter, even if one of those individuals is us.
Considering two food options, your brain will always prefer one. By default (the untrained mammal mind), it will usually choose the option with the highest & quickest calorie benefit. Becuase your mammal mind is designed to keep you fed and alive.
In fact, this is why I think fat and sugar taste so good. Your brain is smart. It knows that fat has 9 calories per gram. while carbs (including sugar) and protein only have 4 calories per gram.
It also knows that simple carbs (such as sugar) digest very quicky and are quick sources of energy. So your brain tells you they taste good.
Considering two mate options, your brain will again prefer one. If your mind is untrained, that will mostly be based on observable physical characteristics, relating to health and reproductive success. A man might notice a woman's breasts and hips.
It makes sense that these mammalian, emotional interpretations of our world would consequently set a pattern for all of our interpretations.
It's a Black & White world.
First, we have a tendency to see the world as mostly black-and-white. All of the things that affect us are either helpful, or harmful. We rarely see things as both helpful and harmful at the same time, even though this is often the case. Also, we generally prefer not to contextualize things.
I generally think that someone stabbing me with a knife is a Bad Thing. Even if it's a surgeon doing important work, my mind struggles to feel OK.
Winning is Everything.
Among the "helpful" things ( the "white" or good things in our world ), we seek to identify a winner. A "best" and most right version of those things.
This is especially true in social contexts...
Few people identify as both Republican, and Democrat. And whichever side they choose, is obviously the correct side, with the opposite side being terribly misguided.
When you witness an argument, you tend to
This is why people tend to "take sides" when a couple splits up, even if they were friends with both people before the relationship began.
And that interpretation is very subjective.
BUT, BY DEFINITION, ONLY ONE PERSON CAN WIN.
Which is best, and who's the boss? ( There can be only one )
We think and speak in terms of "The winner," "the boss," "the alpha," "the best"... it's never "a winner," or "a boss"...
Our mind appears to be very focused on identifying, and remembering the "winners" in social groups...
- Who was the first man to walk on the moon? Now who was the second? Do you know?
- Name any 5 US presidents. Now name any 5 US vice-presidents. Was it harder?
- What's the greatest country in the World? By no means is this clear today, and yet your brain probably came up with a first answer almost reactively.
- Who's the alpha, or the queen in any social group?
- The president of any country? The head of any company? The leader of any organisation?
- Most political systems have a single individual primary
- Even families tend to have a head of the household - and among the children, often a "boss child," which is frequently the eldest.
- Who is the top-dog player ( or team ) in your favourite sport?
- Who is your "best" friend?
And again, only one person can win.
What's the truth? ( There can also be only one )
When you're watching a disagreement, we have an almost innate desire to take sides. We want to see one person as wrong and the other as right. The same when we see countries at war, there is a good guy and a bad guy.
Popular holywood is based on this- the "good guy" and the "bad guy". The story about "the two OK guys" confuses us, and often loses our interest.
It's why when a couple splits up, most people take sides.
It's also why we really struggle with quantum physics, because it's testably true, but radically different from the more easily observable truth of classical physics, atoms, chemistry, & gravity. How can you have two truths, that appear to contradict each other?
It's also why religion and science debate fervently. We want there to either be a God, or for there to be evolution. Most of us struggle to consider that both could be true, at the same time.
#2 isn't good enough.
If you're hungry, and given a piece of boiled chicken, you'd love it.
But if you're offered a choice, between that boiled chicken, and some ice cream... you'd probably struggle to eat the chicken.
#2 is a victim. Of life. Fate. Genetic disadvantage. Unfair judging.
Stranger = danger.
"Unknowns" represent a risk, and are never candidates as "Winners". Which means, they must be "Losers."
Have you ever met a stranger, who you immediately see as a good and trusted friend? Not very often. Yet this was different as a kid. At 3 years old, every other kid you saw was immediately your new best friend. Literally, we have to train this out of kids, with "stranger danger."
- People I haven't met are not my friends.
- Foods I haven't tried probably aren't good.
- Careers, sports, & hobbies I haven't tried, I probably won't be any good at.
Strangers are not classed as Friends.
How does this impact you?
Limited Curiosity, a resistence to trying new things
A mis-perception of "unknown" as "dangerous"
What Can I do?
Create your mirror
Meditation. Learn to recognize your emotional senses, and identify them as distinct and separate from your rational thoughts.
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As I'm writing this, I've not yet studied Cognitive Biases, it's at the top of my list- but I'm very keen to know if there is an "External Cause Bias".
Similarly, if there is a "Black & White Bias" which explains why e.g. in an argument, we have a desire to see one person as wrong and the other as right.
It almost makes me wish that all human babies could be Helen Kellers for the first couple of years, so that they are forced to develop a deep sense of self-awareness before any actual involvement with the world. Obviously, human's can't work that way, our senses have to develop during infancy, or they don't develop at all.
Or that sleep involved a conscious state, where all of your external senses are disconnected, but you spend 1/3 of the day learning about your inner self.
I have been reading a lot lately about ideologies like red pill, black pill, feminism, and various religious mindsets, and I notice something interesting about humans- we seem to be designed to see the world as something that is entirely outside of us. Like we're not really part of it... an unwilling actor in a play. If we get hurt, it was because of something outside of us. If we feel happy, it was because of something outside of us. So we spend a huge amount of time blaming others, or being needy towards people.
Why people feel better...
- Breaking up with someone, rather than being broken up with
- Quitting a job, rather than being fired
- Throwing a game, rather than losing
"External Attribution Bias"
Ever felt angry, and then snapped at the next person who looked at you crossly? This is an example.
Roller coaster video
Fear videos haunted house
Mammal mind reacts -> emotion
Rational mind tries to explain
When untrained, it seeks the most visibly evident cause
When there is someone to blame, we blame them.