I have a mental disorder that skews how I understand people. Among other things, I can't read body language or social cues well because I assume that everyone is hiding something. As I get to know someone new, I have to figure out not only what that is, but if it's something that will damage me in some way, how likely they are to do so, what would set them off to do it, and if there's a way I can stop it.
Having that wheel in the back of my head constantly turning means that I'm pretty quiet and sort of slow in new situations. I have developed a very fancy autopilot to take over while I'm figuring shit out, thanks to years in the service industry. If I want to function in society, when I meet people for the first time, I have to concede that what I believe about them, that they're a threat, is potentially wrong. In order to prove or disprove that information, I have to figure out how they make decisions, because if they're going to hurt me, they have to decide to first.
Decisions are manifestations of our motives. Understanding the reason we make decisions is one of the foundations of understanding yourself and others. Bad decisions result in everything from cheating spouses to stock market crashes, and no matter how we cling to whether we are right or wrong, we don't seem to realize that we're actually clinging to the fundamental way that we make choices.
Most of us consider emotions to be the worst basis for making decisions. It drives us to treat others unfairly, make racist assumptions, even ruin our own lives in search of short term gain. Emotional decision making is the lowest form of motive, right?
You're probably aware of cognitive bias, though I doubt you know all of them as the list is longer than shit you're not allowed to do in an art gallery. I think the general understanding of cognitive bias concludes that most of these happen when we rely on our irrational, emotional side and become blindsided to the clear and rational choice. In a perfect world, we should be able to determine a course of action based off of available information, cost and benefit, logic and foresight.
Except that we can't. Literally, can't.
Emotions are an inescapable part of why we make decisions. Our rational brain plays a clunky, back stage role in decision making, and more often than not it's not taking into account objective reality. When making choices, the emotional midbrain is stimulated by anything from colors, audio to social contact, but does your rational brain make the final decisions, quieting your midbrain like a happy puppy? Nope. As it turns out, the rational part of your brain is more of a henchmen to your emotional centers. It will offer you rationalizations to make you feel like you've made the right choice rather than take into account the world as a whole.
Think you're the exception, that you're better than that? It's unlikely. Dr Laurie Santos of Yale university conducted a study teaching monkeys a basic form of currency, dubbed "Monkeynomics" in order to be the most adorable, and found that they are largely susceptible to our same flawed thinking. That means that this level of bias is deeply ingrained into our DNA, and hasn't changed from its development in some very, very ancient ancestors.
Even learning that this happens doesn't make you less fallible. Being aware of the influence of your emotional decision center can lead to developing false confidence and an optimism bias. It's just another example of your rational brain succumbing to the happy go lucky feelings part, you've just changed the phrasing so that the reason that you're right makes you look well read, too.
This leads me to believe that the four most powerful words in the English language are: I Might Be Wrong. Even if you don't believe it per se, utter that sentence and there's a chance that your brain will search for a way to support that information as correct because it so desperately loves to be right, even if being right counter intuitively means that you're only right about being wrong.
A silver lining to my broken reality is that I know that my basis of making decision making is inherently and provably flawed. Knowing that there is an instinctual flaw means I have to assume that the opposite of my initial thought about anyone is usually, (I stress usually) true. It makes me seem terribly self aware when in reality I'm just holding up a hand puppet wile hiding behind a big ass wall, hoping everyone is distracted while I try to come up with a real person they can talk to that won't freak them out.
This mentality can be multiplied and divided to scale to almost any situation. We could apply it to our overall society, and we can reduce it to the individual level, because surprise! Society is made up of individuals who make choices. We have whole industries dedicated to influencing those choices and whole other industries trying to figure out how we make them in the first place.
It's actually very hard for me to grasp large social issues, particularly when dealing with sexism. I have to live my life under the assumption that I am always initially wrong, so when faced with someone accusing me of being wrong for something based on my gender, I have a very, very hard time differentiating. I don't have a lot more to say on that, it's just something I've noticed.
I really hate being dragged into social arguments, not because I don't have thoughts or opinions but because I'm so panicked by trying to figure out what is real or not that the added pressure of being a representative of reality becomes, well, potentially explosive.
Here's is what I do believe, because I instinctively don't believe it: People are basically good. At the very least, people are basically selfish, and as social primates it's often in our best interest to be basically good. It's a slight distinction but worth noting and a little easier to swallow.
If you know that you are always wrong, you have to develop a system if you want to function. For me, I called the system "Social Math." As I've done more research, it's a jumbled hybrid of Neuroeconomics, psychology and over glorifying the symptoms of a kind of split brain and derealization, a common feature to all kinds of mental disorders including depression and anxiety.
This is a long prelude to a series of articles about Social Math. I figure if it helped me function and feel normal, it might help someone else.
I like to write these long serials because I think it's more inclusive to present the information I've learned with my personal experience and reactions. You have to know that I'm speaking not just from personal experience but certainly not from a real academic one, either. If you understand the relative and holistic perspective of who I am as a writer, you have the ability to evaluate the actual truth and capacity for accuracy in my pieces. Is this a cliff hanger, is that how I'm ending this? That seems wrong. Oh well. More to come.
These articles focus more on psychology or how individuals function in a society. They're about as well thought out as anything else on the internet, and there's probably typos.