Mental Independence

By: Jason Barclay


Mental independence is a crucial aspect of human survival and societal harmony, with implications that extend beyond personal well-being to influence collective decisions and actions profoundly. Despite its significance, there seems to be limited awareness or in-depth discussion surrounding this issue. Many individuals may not even realize the extent to which their mental independence could be compromised.

The illusion of immunity from propaganda, or the distortion of "the others," can often veil the challenging truth: our minds may not be as free as we believe them to be.


The Impact of Word-of-Mouth Information

Consider this: have you ever accepted information from a friend without asking for evidence? If they mention a traffic jam, you might change your route without verifying the claim. What if, instead of blindly accepting their word, we sought confirmation through tools like Google Maps? This behavior isn't about distrusting our friends but prioritizing accuracy. Although seemingly minor, this change can significantly affect our decisions and actions, reducing reliance on unverified or potentially incorrect information.

Whenever we hear phrases like "Did you know that…," it's crucial to consider this. Engaging in conversation is important, but we must refrain from accepting unverified facts or using them as a reason to vilify "the others."

Many of us find comfort in worldviews that unfortunately make blanket statements about "the others," including how “they will never accept us.” Our brains actively seek to validate these beliefs and refute contradicting information.

And given that IQ is linked to improved pattern recognition, an intelligent person might become better equipped to only find patterns in what they already hold to be true. Such behavior can become perilous when even the most intelligent individuals may contribute to escalating divisions. This also poses the question, "How dangerous can it be if the most intellectual among us fuel our growing divides?"


The Interpersonal Struggle for Fairness and Truth

This discussion extends beyond information accuracy to embrace fairness, truth, and balance in relationships. The 50% divorce rate, even among those with similar ideologies, backgrounds, and economic statuses, underscores the difficulty of attaining balance.

When stress pushes us into fight or flight mode, our brains instinctively perceive existential threats, not just from significant dangers like predatory animals, but from minor worries and insecurities. For instance, anxiety over the stability of a relationship can trigger continuous fight or flight responses. When under such perceived threat, it's unreasonable to expect self-reflection or balanced conversation. Our focus shifts entirely towards survival, where we tend to magnify flaws around us and blame others for our struggles. For more insight into the fight or flight response and its pervasive influence on our lives, particularly mental independence, I recommend visiting this page.

Blinded by fear and self-preservation, we lose the ability to engage in meaningful conversations and problem-solving, essential for any long-term relationship, let alone a society at large. Let's consider a client's story to illustrate this, although I must stress that you, dear readers, only accept this as a story without witness testimony.

This client, who struggled with obesity, shared a poignant narrative about her relationship. She was slim and attractive when they first met, but over time, she sensed her partner's growing distance. This perceived rejection triggered stress and anxiety, which she initially linked to a minor weight gain. However, this worry spiraled into an obsession, leading to a significant weight gain. She planned revenge by losing weight, regaining her slim figure, and then leaving him to show what he lost. Ironically, she ended up becoming clinically obese. After recounting her story, she recognized that stress, not weight, was the real barrier in their relationship. While I lost contact over time, I was informed that this realization significantly improved their relationship.


The Role of Bias in Political Division

The deep-seated divisions in our society are exacerbated when individuals across the political spectrum readily accept uncorroborated allegations about one another without interrogating their truth. This behavior deviates from the principles of mental independence. Instead of engaging in conflict with those we've been conditioned to mistrust, we should understand that the attributes we abhor are often rooted in the actions of a minority, which do not accurately reflect the values or actions of the majority.


The Importance of Vetting Information

We advocate for an urgent call to action: meticulous verification of information, particularly when it pertains to sweeping characterizations of opposing political factions. It's imperative to scrutinize information that aligns with our beliefs, just as rigorously as we question information that contradicts them. As hinted at by Einstein's message to movie writers: "Your audience will possess 160 IQ points to notice your smallest flaws and only 30 IQ points in comprehending your message."

In many online debates, a routine phenomenon emerges where each side dismisses the research of the other, while increasingly bolstering their own claims with rumors and anecdotes. It's a state of 160 IQ points used to dissect research papers from the opposition, and 30 IQ points when accepting even the flimsiest rumors that support their own arguments.

While we all have sources of information we've decided to trust, it's important to recognize that blind trust contradicts mental independence. If posed the question "What source do you trust completely, such that it would never require evidence?", the ideal response should be 'none'.

Moreover, our escalating emotions against "the others" often obstruct our ability to think clearly. Expressions like "Not again!" or "Those darned ******!" stir up emotions that tether us to skewed narratives, at best inhibiting our capacity to work together towards shared solutions. In this manner, our emotions become yet another fetter on our mental independence. When we believe we are righteous, we may in fact be falling prey to this phenomenon. As long as we have the affirmation from those on our side, we might think, "what's the harm in that?" However, such thinking only further deepens our societal divisions, pushing us towards extreme levels of political polarization.


Balancing Lived Experience with Factual Evidence

While it's essential to ground our viewpoints in research and empirical facts, this doesn't mean we should discount our lived experiences. Nevertheless, it's equally important that we approach discussions with empathy and rationality, particularly when dealing with divisive or contentious subjects. Our ability to harmonize personal experiences with evidence-based perspectives enables a comprehensive understanding that is vital for fostering productive dialogue and promoting mental independence.


The Power of Empathy and Unity Against Fear

When we encounter information that stokes fear and hatred, it's crucial that we question its authenticity. Blindly accepting such information only serves to restrict our mental independence.

Exercising empathy in dialogue necessitates a willingness to imagine life from the other person's perspective. We frequently witness politicians dismiss a concern until they or their families are directly affected by it. This approach can be useful when interacting with someone who mistakenly extrapolates their personal experiences to represent a broader truth.

While it might seem easy to extend empathy selectively towards those we inherently care for or agree with, this narrow application ultimately blinds us to the larger reality. It obstructs potential solutions and hinders peaceful coexistence. Thus, to maintain mental independence, it's essential that we apply empathy in an unbiased manner, breaking free from the limitations of fear and hatred.


False Consensus Effect

To exemplify the points discussed, let's consider the "False Consensus Effect". This cognitive bias prompts individuals to overestimate the extent to which their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are shared by others. We generally assume that our perspectives and actions are 'typical' or 'widespread', expecting others to think and act the way we do, even when such may not be true.

This bias affects our perceptions and interactions in multiple ways. For instance, it can result in surprise when we encounter dissenting opinions, or lead us to make inaccurate predictions about others' behavior. The False Consensus Effect can manifest in various situations, from minor preferences to more complex political and social attitudes.

Coined by social psychologist Lee Ross and his team in the late 1970s, the term 'False Consensus Effect' emerged from their research, revealing that not only do we overestimate how much others share our viewpoints, but we also tend to label those with differing opinions as aberrant or atypical. This bias plays a significant role in creating social bubbles, polarizing societies, and complicating the resolution of social and political conflicts.


Conclusion and Recommendations

In summary, our collective aim should be to pursue truth and comprehension, instead of succumbing to stereotypes or divisive discourse. This entails making an effort to grasp the viewpoints of those we disagree with, excluding any extreme perspectives from either side. To visualize these dynamics on a larger scale, we recommend the series "Star–Crossed".

"Star-Crossed" is an insightful television series that delves into a world starkly divided by conflicting ideologies and demonstrates how cognitive biases and the False Consensus Effect intensify these divisions. Set against a dystopian backdrop, the plot orbits two factions, each dominated by extreme beliefs and narratives. The series illustrates how these extreme elements inaccurately appear to represent the entire faction, fostering misconceptions, hostility, and escalating tensions.

On one hand, there is a faction that advocates for stringent traditional values, inflexible social hierarchies, and the preservation of the status quo. Their rhetoric and actions often project an image of exclusion, conservatism, and resistance to change. Conversely, another group is driven by progressive ideals, advocating for equality, social justice, and challenging existing power structures. They, too, occasionally resort to extreme measures and incendiary rhetoric to broadcast their message.

The protagonists of "Star-Crossed" find themselves ensnared in this network of divisive rhetoric and actions, their lives affected by the implications of cognitive bias and the False Consensus Effect. Through their experiences, the series illuminates the perils of assuming that the most vocal individuals on either side genuinely represent the entire group. It probes how individual biases and preconceptions can warp perceptions, making it challenging for people to look beyond polarizing narratives.

As the narrative evolves, "Star-Crossed" strives to foster empathy and understanding by highlighting the complexities, challenges, and humanity inherent to characters on both sides. By encouraging viewers to scrutinize their own biases and preconceived notions, the show stimulates reflection on the wider ramifications of divisive rhetoric and the hazards of broadly stereotyping entire groups.

Ultimately, "Star-Crossed" acts as a timely prompt for the importance of dialogue, empathy, and open-mindedness in bridging divides and cultivating a more inclusive society.

With this in mind, we commend those willing to reassess their stances, scrutinize the narratives they've accepted, and dedicate themselves towards deeper understanding.


Suggestions for Future Research

As we look ahead, we strongly advocate for additional research and effort in this area, encompassing but not limited to studies examining the influence of stress on decision-making, the processes behind bias formation and strategies for mitigation, and identifying the most efficient methods to cultivate empathy and understanding in diverse societies.


The Significance of Education and Institutions


Furthermore, it is vital to scrutinize the roles that education and public institutions undertake in endorsing critical thinking, discernment, and empathy. The introduction of educational programs and public policies dedicated to these objectives could considerably influence the cultivation of mental independence and societal harmony.


Concluding Reflections

Mental independence transcends simple freedom of thought—it necessitates a critical, empathetic, and discerning mindset. Amidst the deluge of both information and misinformation in our digital era, the capacity to distinguish truth from falsehood is more essential than ever. As we nurture these competencies within ourselves, we contribute to a more tolerant, less polarized society. In this progression towards mental independence, we safeguard not only our personal tranquility, but also foster broader societal harmony based on reality, transparency, honesty, empathy, resolution-seeking, prosperity, and success.