Systems’ Impact on the Individual: You Are Now Less Dumb by David McRaney

You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Out Smart Yourself by David McRaney (Gotham Books)

Systems’ Impact on the Individual

I’m bringing this excellent book out again (it was never far away) because well, Mob Mentality has new significance these days. It doesn’t matter which side you’ve chosen politically – it does – but it’s not David McRaney’s point in the book.

We are tribal people since the dawn of time and nothing has changed. We seek similarity because we want comfort and confirmation for our ideas, behaviors, and worst of all, our fears. The illusion of asymmetric insight says we create groups of similarity but seriously believe that we have created teams with diversity though subconsciously, in fact we are demanding deep similarity (women in tech?). This looking for the Home Zone or the Sweet Spot has a lot to do with our primal desires for safety and continuity. It is one of the bases for human tenacity.

According to McRaney, and many psychologists concur, we regularly practice hindsight bias, a belief that we have made better past choices than we actually have. Horribly, we use this imperfect memory to support our choices for the future. We tell ourselves a story about “us” (the narrative bias) and we tailor this story and our actions to create a more perfectly engaged life despite real actions and consequences. We try to “make the best of” a situation. This stoic perspective too distorts our memory further.

According to McRaney and Dan McAdams, we also have an immediate emotional response to information that doesn’t support our view – we get bored, and move on, protecting us from cognitive dissonance (mental anxiety) that occurs when we are faced with challenging and potentially better information.

As social media presents many sides of an argument, the main protagonist characters develop, for us, a Halo Effect. Based on a few traits, we begin to see them as either completely perfect or completely off base. One incident, one moment in time, and we categorize or ignore everything said or done currently. This is the point when we stop thinking, stop asking questions, and begin to build fortresses that we know logically will never keep the truth out. But we try and we try to convince others without really listening to them.

McRaney brings up another important point that has seriously affected my own life. He refers to this as glucose levels of behavior. Drink too much sweet coffee? Skip meals to keep yourself in shape? Binge eating during crisis moments? Our sugar levels can affect our moods, energy levels, and executive function of the brain; the part that does all the snazzy stuff humans are known for. Starving yourself will not make you any easier to deal with as many spouses and partners can testify.

Not surprisingly for sufferers, we don’t always know why we get angry, (misattribution of arousal) and I would add, are depressed. Nutrition, memories, and external situations can have an immediate effect but these are easier to understand and perhaps change.

In the current world situation, we’re seeing much of what McRaney refers to as the Backfire Effect. This instinctual emotional default says that as our beliefs and actions are challenged, we will, for many reasons, attempt to rationalize and strengthen our resolve. Parents of small children see this every day. “I’ll keep explaining to you why I’m NOT wrong,” the child seems to be saying.

Strangely, but not surprisingly, we are not as confident as we wish to appear. Pluralistic ignorance occurs when we think everyone understands better than we do. No one raises their hand to ask a question in class because we don’t wish to appear stupid. This particular behavior is founded on pluralistic majority – the often-strong belief that we are always in the minority.

Could this get anymore complicated? YES!

Remember, we pass our similar beliefs along to others and these people often unintentionally serve as cultural carriers of cognitive error. “It’s a bad, crazy, untrue idea, but let’s run with it because so many people believe that it’s true. And why do others seem to stand up for the wrong thing?

Guilt and fear of exposure is a funny thing. Funny sad, not ha-ha funny. People become normal enforcers to prove their loyalty and redirect the limelight away from them selves even as closeted gay people fight against openly gay people. These people, perhaps openly gay at home, mistakenly believe they can separate or “clean up” their public façade to head off suspicion of their own homosexuality.

De- individuation is a situation that happens often as any parent can tell you. “If everyone jumps off the bridge would you do it too?” Sadly, yes. We are capable of doing bad things in groups that we would never do solo. Teams give us the illusion of strength and righteousness. “We can’t all be wrong, can we?” Looters, massive police action, and familial abuse must not be too crazy if many people are doing it, right?

Finally, and this reminds me to get back to work: there exists self-enhancement bias – We over schedule our lives and perhaps miss deadlines (and important social interactions) to defeat potential despair. After all, if we are busy nothing can go wrong and if I don’t like what I’m seeing, I will just become bored and move onto something else. Perhaps I’ll do something less emotionally challenging.

This is an excellent handbook for everyone dealing with people.

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