Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

5 ‘Errors’ In Thinking That Have Effectively Changed The World

Published on December 22, 2015 by   ·   No Comments

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COLLECTIVE EVOLUTION

 It seems everywhere we turn there is bad news — our economy is lagging, our political institutions are failing us, and environmental destruction and climate change are upon us. With such uncertainty and confusion as to where we are headed, it is difficult to navigate the world and make sense of why and how we have managed to get to this point. Work by Jared Diamond, Joseph Tainter, and Ronald Wright has contributed much to the conversation around understanding why societies fail, succeed, or simply collapse. There are numerous reasons why societies collapse, ranging from environmental degradation (soil erosion, salinity problems, water scarcity), overpopulation, over exploitation of natural resources (water, forestry, over fishing, overhunting), and economic dislocation. Many of these problems are a direct result of how we make decisions and human errors of thinking.

Our human misjudgements and biases impact every aspect of our lives and influence what happens throughout society. While there are hundreds of biases which shape how we think and act, our discussion will focus on a few which are particularly relevant at this point in time. It is the choices and decisions we make which really matter, as these define us as individuals, communities, and nations. These decisions ultimately determine our future and that of the generations to come. It is through our choices and our ability to see through the fog that we will be able to make better, more informed decisions, for the benefit of all.

1. SOCIAL COMPARISON

“In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence.”

Thorsten Veblen

Social comparison bias is having the feelings of aversion and competitiveness with others, be it physically or mentally. Envy is closely related to social comparison bias and also stems from the feeling of lacking something, be they possessions, achievements, or certain personal qualities. Not only does the vicious circle of envy and jealously drive us mad with striving to make more money, it can also lead us into the debt trap. Financial journalist Shira Boss, author of Why Keeping up with the Joneses is Keeping us in Debt, suggests the social side of our finances — a need to keep up with friends, neighbours, and colleagues through expensive dinners, designer clothing, and, yes, new cars, is a huge contributor to high debt and a negative savings rate in the United States. (1)

Our intrinsic values promoting social, emotional, and ecological wellbeing have been eroded by the constant mantra of ‘go shopping.’ Not only has consumerism destroyed our levels of wellbeing, happiness, and our social networks, it is has become a powerful driver for the demand for resources that is unrivalled in human history. Marketers tell us that having better relationships and experiences is dependent upon using their products over others. Marketers offer branding which provides people with choices. These choices give people the illusory feeling of freedom to make important decisions.

2. AUTHORITY BIAS

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”

Leonardo da Vinci

In light of economic liberalisation over recent decades, citizens of many Western nations have developed an overriding compliance with authority and conformity. The corporatisation of the mainstream media has led to a lack of transparency and bias toward certain political and corporate agendas. These are not always in the best interests of citizens. Robert Cialdini, in his popular book, The Psychology of Influence and Persuasion, highlights how powerful authority bias is one of the cornerstones for the effective influence of people. People tend to obey orders from others if they perceive or believe others hold some form of authority. We see examples of this authority bias in almost every aspect of our society, from religious institutions, the medical fraternity, educational bodies, and our governments.

There are subtle examples of the authority bias at play each day within our political, economic, and social circles. We see our political leaders and masters of business talking about financial crisis and economic reforms, offering solutions we accept regardless of their ability to solve the problems. Research on obedience to authority and social influence shows how easy it is to manipulate everyday citizens into obeying destructive authority or uncritically accepting supposed ‘experts.’ We take cues from institutions, the media, and television commentators whose analysis we accept without looking objectively at the issues. As authority (be it real or perceived) is communicated to various individuals or groups, it brings with it potential changes and modifications in human behaviour. Authority can alter an individual’s perceptions and thoughts to conform to various messages or causes.

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