FTP013 - Us and Them: Can We Consciously Eliminate Our Own Biases and Discrimination?
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Mike: Hello again, this is episode number 13. This one is all about us and them psychology, also known as the basis of all racism.

Euvie: Right. First, I want to talk about why we chose this topic in the first place as opposed to something [00:00:30] a little more futuristic like flying cars or brain uploading. The reason why we want to talk about this is because, as technology evolves, a lot of things in our lives become easier. The thing that doesn’t change unless we put conscious effort into it is ourselves as humans. Our brains, a lot of scientists say, are still the same as they were 10,000 years ago. We’re at a point in our evolution where, in order to progress further as human beings, we have to make a conscious effort.

Mike: [00:01:00] Yeah, we’re still running on outdated software. We’re running on Windows 3.1. I don’t even know if that was an operating system. 3.1? 3.5? 7, let’s just say 7, that’s old enough.

Euvie: A lot of the time, when people wrote science fiction, say in the 50s or 60s, they imagined 2014 to be the year where we have robots everywhere and flying cars, where we talk to each other telepathically. Although we do have amazing computers in our pocket that used to take up the [00:01:30] whole room, which is our smart phones, we have automated a lot of things in our lives and in our industries. It feels like life is still the same and that’s because we as humans haven’t changed very much.

Mike: We’re still apes swinging in the jungle beating our chests and showing status to the rest of the group.

Euvie: “Look at my iPhone 6 Plus.”

Mike: You’ve got a background in psychology and you’ve got a bit of an insight into this that I think most people don’t have. [00:02:00] Why don’t you start off talking about what us and them psychology is all about?

Euvie: Right. In psychology it’s called the ingroup/outgroup mentality. What this is is that we favour people of our own group, we’re more willing to help them, we’re more willing to understand them, see them as well-rounded human beings, see the as good and well meaning, and we see the people of the outgroup – or the people who we perceive to be as the outgroup – as dangerous, dishonest, dumb. We also tend to see them [00:02:30] as more homogenous. We see them as all the same. The reason why this is – there’s actually an evolutionary reason to this – is that we’ve all been very small groups as humans, about 150 people or less, small tribes.

Because the resources were scarce and we had to work for our resources – nothing was automated at the time – we had to hoard things. This kind of mentality of favouring our own group helped us, because we were more likely to keep resources in [00:03:00] our own group and, therefore, that group would survive and pass on their genes. Whereas, if we blocked out people of the other group, then our group would get more resources.

Mike: Things are different now because we have globally distributed information, we can get resources to and from different locations quite quickly, quite easily, minimal energy and expense required. The idea that we need to be separated by borders and smaller groups just doesn’t apply anymore. [00:03:30] We’re still running on that system and that thought process of our tiny little groups and our tiny little borders. Why do you think we continue to do that today and how can we change it?

Euvie: I think our brains are just wired a certain way. If you look at human evolution, the time scale on the x-axis is very, very long. We were living in very similar conditions for a long time, for thousands and thousands of years. Children and their parents had, more or less, the same lives. [00:04:00] Now, in the last 100 years especially, things start changing exponentially. We’re in the hockey stick. Our parent’s lives were very different than our own lives. Our children’s lives will be even more different than our own lives. It’s not just the generations, it’s the sub-generations – people who were born five years apart, even their lives might be drastically different.

For example, people who were born before internet was in every home and then people who were born after that, their mentality is going to be very different. We have to consciously [00:04:30] direct our own evolution now. All these cognitive biases that we have that are left over from the thousands of years of evolution, we have to be aware of them and we have to try to change them. Why this matters is because, now, we’re living in a very interconnected world, very mixed world, where our groups are not so geographically defined. For example, you might be a member of a certain subreddit, or you might be a gamer and you play online [00:05:00] with your buddies who are all over the world and who are of different ages and different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ethnic origins. Groups are not so clearly defined anymore and they’re very distributed.

Mike: If you think about it, how many tables have we sat at just in the last two years where not a single person at the table shared a nationality or background with anybody else at the table?

Euvie: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. This is another bias that we have is that we tend to gravitate [00:05:30] towards people who have the same biases. That’s because we don’t want to be wrong, we want to be accepted and we want others to agree with us. We tend to seek out people who have the same views of the world and, therefore, the same biases. We perpetuate our own biases, which is really funny. For example, in our little group of entrepreneurs, people think of jobbers as this derogatory term, “Why don’t their just start their own business?” It’s so funny because it just seems like [00:06:00] such an arbitrary distinction. They really see it as an inferior thing.

I think that, no matter how much we try to see ourselves as unbiased and reasonable, open-minded people, our brains just aren’t wired that way. We have to consciously change that and create new habits.

Mike: Let’s talk about the outgroup effect where you tend to view any external groups as simpler, less diverse, more prone to [00:06:30] problems or more prone to certain types of behaviour just because they’re members of that group. Why is it that people view their won group as this diverse and intelligent mixture of people, and anything outside of it as just this homogenous, milky bend of people.

Euvie: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I can’t think specifically of any scientific findings to do with this, but my assumption would be that it’s because we automatically discount outsiders as somebody we don’t need to associate with. People of our ingroup, [00:07:00] it’s beneficial to us to know everything that’s happening in their lives. That’s why gossip exists is because we have this predisposition to want to know things about people of our own group, or people who we perceive to be in our group. For example, if somebody is sick in your group, you want to avoid them because you don’t want to get their illness.

You want to know when somebody’s sick. If somebody just got married, you would want to know that information because it can help you navigate the social structure of the group better. [00:07:30] It’s funny how we’re operating with these caveman brains in a technologically advanced society, there’s just so many ways that it doesn’t fit.

Mike: I think one thing we are realizing now is that geography plays less and less of a role, although we’re still separated by governments and borders. Where do we see that going in the future?

Euvie: Yeah. Peter Diamandis wrote this article recently – I’ll link to it in the show notes. He talks about how [00:08:00] people’s nationalities and borders and your passport is defining you less and less, and how in the future it’s very possible that we won’t have these distinctions, or they won’t be as meaningful as they are now. For example, right now, we’ve noticed this traveling, that people from certain countries or certain passports are favoured more. You can get visas easily or you can enter countries without visas at all. People from other countries, for example, Vietnam, [00:08:30] it’s very difficult for them to travel because they’re discriminated against with that passport.

They need a visa to go everywhere, they need an extra background check to go everywhere. It’s strange that these things still define us. I think in the future we’re going to have to adapt, we’re going to have to overcome these biases, we’re going to have to learn to not discriminate against people based on certain characteristics that actually have nothing to do with their competency or their incompetency in a certain field.

Mike: [00:09:00] Yeah, an interesting thing that happened recently is Estonia is offering a digital citizenship to people who don’t live in the country. You can open a company very quickly, a bank account. That could be a really interesting way that we start to surpass government regulation and borders, and start having assets and citizenships all over the world. Countries that would allow us to do this would attract more entrepreneurs, more innovation, more foreign money. I think it would be a win/win for most countries to eventually adopt this.

Euvie: Yeah. [00:09:30] Also, I’m interested in non-country-based passports, a sovereign passport. That would be really cool. It could be a distributed governing body, like a non-governmental organization, that can screen people and give out this passport that would be valid for international travel. Almost like a diplomatic passport, because you wouldn’t belong to any country, so it wouldn’t be assumed that you have biased interests.

Mike: You could imagine a lot of Americans giving up their passports [00:10:00] if that kind of thing existed. You don’t have to pay taxes while you’re traveling abroad, you don’t have to pay a ton of money to get rid of your citizenship or transfer a citizenship, as Americans currently have to do.

Euvie: Yeah, we have a lot of American friends and it seems that it’s very difficult if they do want to give up their citizenship. They have to give a very large portion of their assets. They don’t make it very easy.

Mike: There’s even this dramatic display that has to happen where they shred your passport in front of you. They make you watch it. You shed a single tear.

Euvie: [00:10:30] You have to go through a psych evaluation actually, to give up your American citizenship. They’re like, “Are you sure? Are you sane? Why are you giving up your citizenship?”

Mike: “How could you possibly not want to live in the US?” Maybe we should talk about examples of us and them think, because it’s easy just to assume it’s only about racism. It doesn’t just exist in that, it’s also, I think, the basis of inequality with genders, with sexual preferences, it’s the reason that gay marriage has not been legal for so many years [00:11:00] and that gay couples have had to fight for their rights just to have the same level of equality with straight couples, arguments online between religious people and atheists. It’s easy, as an atheist, to say that you believe in science and you don’t believe in the spaghetti monster in the sky and looking at all religious people as the same, as this blanket unintelligent group that believes in a fairy tale, but you’re doing the exact same thing, which is to oversimplify.

I think something we forget when we quickly group people together is that [00:11:30] everybody’s an individual. Say, if you’re traveling and you get into a taxi cab and you get ripped off by that cab driver, it doesn’t mean every single cab driver in that city or the continent is like that. I see that a lot while we’re traveling. We see a lot of expats and other travellers just make these really loose and blanket assumptions about the countries they’re visiting, thinking, “People are the same,” because they had one experience with one person. It’s just simply not the case.

Euvie: And the other way around. [00:12:00] I think there’s been a lot of focus on white people being racist, but actually everybody’s racist. They’ve done studies on this where people in western countries have been educated not to ever show racism, but the study shows implicit association. They can tell whether you associate certain cultures or certain groups with bad or good qualities. Actually, everybody has their own biases and they’re not all the same. Some people might be more or less biased by race, [00:12:30] or by sexual orientation, or by age, or body shape. There’s many different ways to discriminate against others but everybody discriminates.

I think the first thing we have to do is just accept that we all have these biases. It’s natural for us to want to categorize things, because that’s how we learn and that’s how we learn new concepts. If every situation in our life was unique, then we wouldn’t be able to [00:13:00] make any kind of predictions or make quick decisions at all, because we would have to try to take in all the information that exists about the situation. These stereotypes or these categorizations actually help us make decisions quickly. It’s just that we have to be aware when we’re doing it when it doesn’t apply.

Mike: I think we need to be aware of the negative effects of that kind of categorization. How does it hurt you to overcategorize a group of people? What do you miss out on when you do that?

Euvie: [00:13:30] Yeah. That’s what we talked about before, that we are living in increasingly interconnected worlds. We can’t just stay in our village and ignore all outsiders. We have to interact with them, we have to live with all kinds of different people around us. It hurts us because we’re limiting ourselves from opportunities that could arise.

Mike: You lose opportunities to learn. I can only speak for myself but that’s one of the biggest drivers, [00:14:00] motivating things in my life is to find opportunities to learn. When I realize that I’m stereotyping a group of people or stereotyping a single person, if I realize that then I also realize that I’m losing out opportunities to learn from that person, because I’m making a lot of assumptions that just maybe are not true. I think the way we label ourselves plays a role in this, as well. When you call yourself an entrepreneur, or Russian, or Caucasian, how do you think that that limits you and your [00:14:30] scope of your own personality and intelligence? How does that put you in a box and you’re doing it to yourself?

Euvie: It’s the same. You’re limiting your opportunities because you feel like something might not fit your character. If you think outside the box, it might give you a really amazing experience that will contribute to your life later. Okay, why don’t we talk about overcoming biases. Now that we understand that it’s a problem and everybody has this problem, it’s nothing to point a finger at, to say, “You’re racist, you’re a homophobe, you’re this, you’re that.” [00:15:00] It’s just a matter of wanting to improve ourselves and actually doing it. They’ve done a bunch of studies – and I’ll link to some of them in the show notes, which will be at futurethinkers.org/episode13 – and in these studies they’ve tried different ways to reduce people’s bias, specifically in terms of race.

This is a big problem in the workplace. It’s becoming more and more of a diverse culture but it’s not represented very well in the workplace. For example, big companies like Twitter, [00:15:30] Facebook, Google, are still predominantly white, male. A lot of companies try to employ these diversification tactics or quotas and that sometimes ends up backfiring. I was reading this one article where they talked about how sometimes when companies have this type of quota, the other workers at the company can perceive the people of colour or women as weaker and not able to [00:16:00] get to that position themselves, like they needed assistance. They discriminate against them anyway.

They see it as, “Without this initiative, you wouldn’t have gotten this job. You must be not as good as me.” Then people end up forming their little cliques inside the company, where those people end up being ostracized anyway. The differential treatment of groups, whether it’s helping them or discriminating against them, either way it hurts in the end. [00:16:30] This is something that they found in the study that when you try to artificially help a certain group of people, like by having a diversification rule in your workplace, it actually hurts that group of people and it hurts everyone. This is something I think that is really important as a takeaway from this, is that it’s not just treating groups badly it’s also treating groups disproportionately well. There’s another article that I was reading today that [00:17:00] talked about this specifically, the favouritism of the ingroup favouring people who are either of your ethnic background, or from your family, or people who you perceive to be on the same team. They’ve done studies about that, too, just randomly dividing a group of participants into two and then saying, “You’re team A, you’re team B.”

Then they were asked to rate different people of either the same team or the other team on how smart they are, how attractive they are etcetera. People consistently rated members [00:17:30] of their own group more positively, even though they were just randomly divided five minutes ago. It’s crazy how this works. Either way, we have to be aware of these things and just learn to not do it, to catch ourselves doing it, and to I think consider everybody’s individual circumstance instead of making a blanket judgement either positive or negative.

Mike: You’ve heard of the Venus Project, right?

Euvie: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mike: The Venus Project is an idea of new world governance in that [00:18:00] we start operating on an economic system based on resources. In a resource-based economy, most or all of our decisions are based on what resources we have available to us. But this type of economy requires that everybody in the world works together.

Euvie: I like the idea of the Venus Project. I think it’s very positive but, again, I’m not really sure how that would work in reality, considering that we still have greed, and jealousy, and biases. I think we have to eradicate those things first before we can move onto a utopian system [00:18:30] like that.

Mike: If we’re going to transition into a world of abundance, I think we do need to take into account the resources hoarded in different areas of the globe and we need to eradicate the idea of us and them and start thinking of us and us. It’s just all of us. Getting out of group thinking, getting of hoarding of resources is, in my mind, one of the bigger hurdles that we have to get through.

Euvie: Yeah, one of my favourite books is Abundance by Peter Diamandis. I think we’ve mentioned it before on the podcast, [00:19:00] what he talks about I that, right now, we’re living in a more abundant world than we ever have. Per capita, we have the fewest people ever in the history of mankind dying from war and from disease and from murders, any kind of foul play. Life expectancy is at an all-time high, resource production is at an all-time high, child mortality is at an all-time low, and health and longevity at an all-time high, as well. Yet, people still think like the world is ending. [00:19:30] They talk about, “The world is going to shit and global warming,” and all these things.

The reason why people still think this way, even though we live much better lives than our ancestors did, is because our brains are wired the same way. We’re still wired to look for things that could potentially kill us or hurt us and we react to those things more strongly than to things that are consistently positive.

Mike: which actually brings me to a couple of very simple solutions. Those would be: figuring out ways to control your mind, [00:20:00] to control your fears. Whether that be through meditation, or consuming of psychedelics, or taking time to think abundantly, to think positively and to affirm to yourself that everything is going to be okay. I don’t really see a lot of other solutions other than taking care of yourself, taking care of your mind. That’s really the only way that you can overcome fears.

Euvie: I agree with you absolutely. I find that meditation is a particularly good way to do this. Also, [00:20:30] for those who are non-meditators, imagining a person of the race that you think is inferior doing something really good and feeling the feelings of that situation, of them doing something really good to you.

Mike: We’re still operating on the assumption in this conversation that it’s just racism. I don’t think racism is the issue and I think that’s the problem that motivated me to want to talk about this topic to begin with. People look at groups of people and think, “I’m not racist, I’m not [00:21:00] homophobic, I just hate this group of people.” The attitude is the exact same thing, the criteria for hating that people is the only thing that’s really changed. I think we focus unnecessarily a lot of tension on racism and homophobia. Hot topic discussions that are happening right now, go on Twitter, you can see it right now, I think are misidentified. The problem, the true problem, is really misidentified.

It’s that one group is identifying as A and saying, “[00:21:30] Everyone outside of this group is B.” Whatever differences or whatever reasons that they have to hate the other one become way easier to follow through with if you just believe you’re this group and everyone else is in this group. It just becomes easy to hate and discriminate against other people.

Euvie: It’s not so much the isms that are the problem, it’s the whole idea of group think in the first place, because it doesn’t matter if the associations are positive or negative, it’s just that we see this group as separate from ourselves. [00:22:00] Yeah, I have a different solution. It is to ask yourself, “What is this person’s story?” Then it becomes very clear that that person’s story is individual and the things that have shaped their lives might be culturally influenced, location influenced, but ultimately they are unique.

Mike: You have to imagine that if you were in their same position, you had the same upbringing, the same genetics, the same life experience, you would have to be [00:22:30] the same person and do the same thing. Someone’s background creates who that person is. If you’ve gone through the same thing, you would do the same thing. I think we have to imagine that people aren’t making decisions or doing things that you don’t like because they’re stupid or inferior. I think it’s really about their story, their background, their upbringing. What has caused them to behave in the way that they are behaving? I think it’s important to think of them as an individual, not just quickly associate them with a group of people based off of a just very [00:23:00] generic set of criteria. Darker skin. Turban. Female. It’s just so easy to do that and then just assume everyone’s the same. That’s really the problem.

Euvie: Yeah. Sometimes I think it can be really difficult to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. For example, here in Thailand or in Vietnam, we’ve encountered a lot of taxi drivers who cannot read maps and don’t know north, south, east, west. They just get completely lost and you might tell them where you’re going and point it out on the map several times, [00:23:30] but they just have no idea. They don’t want to lose face, so they’ll never tell you that they don’t actually understand the map but they end up taking you to the wrong place and it’s very frustrating. You waste time and money.

For me, it can sometimes be hard to put myself in those shoes, because, “Why don’t you just learn how to read a map?” I’ve read maps since I was a little kid and I remember my dad teaching me when I was very little where north, south, east, west is. The sun rises in the east always. [00:24:00] I actually asked Thai people why so many Thais can’t read maps and they say that it just wasn’t emphasized when they were in school, it wasn’t considered a very useful skill. The way that they tell directions is more from a first-person perspective, like, “You walk down the street for five minutes, then you see a red building on your left, then you turn right, then you turn on a second street to the right,” etcetera. It’s more just first person’s perspective rather than top-down view, like the map.

Mike: I think it’s interesting [00:24:30] how people of any level of intelligence can also have the same biases about people below their level of intelligence. You would think the more intelligent, the more quote unquote enlightened you become the more these biases start revealing themselves to be what they are where you realize, “That’s just an urge I have inside to feel this way about this group, this skin colour,” or whatever. People with a high level of intelligence will still look at people with less intelligence and think, “They’re just stupid. How dare they [00:25:00] not try and better themselves? How dare they not put effort into themselves to learn or educate themselves?”

Again, I think you have to go back to think like, we’re all spending a certain amount of time on this earth and we’re spending our attention in different ways. If you’re an intelligent person and you look at people who are less intelligent and you just can’t imagine how they could be that way, just remember that they’re spending their time on different things and they might have hidden talents that you’re not even aware of. They might have different thing that they care about, different values that cause them [00:25:30] not to care about the same things you do. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid, it doesn’t mean they’re ignorant, it just means their time has been spent in different ways. In the end, we’re all going to die so, really, what is the value of dedicating your life, first, to intelligence rather than to happiness.

Euvie: Yeah. Actually, that’s another thing. Intelligence is a human invented concept. The IQ, the intelligence quotient was invented in the 20th century. Actually, when they originally devised the test, women performed [00:26:00] a lot better on it than men. Then the scientist who invented it had to change it because, “How can women be smarter than men? That’s just not true.” Then the test got changed so that, on average, men would perform slightly better than women. Later, in the 20th century, they administered this test to people of different ethnic backgrounds and they found that white people performed better than some other people and then Asian people performed even better than white people.

If you think about it, it’s still a human-devised measure [00:26:30] of whatever, because it only measures specific things like math, logic, abstract thinking. In other cultures, those things might be less valued. I might be really good at getting around in the city, where things are more linear and I can look at a map, look north, south, whatever. If I were in the jungle without a map, without GPS, I would probably get lost. A person who grew up in the jungle would be able to track themselves very easily, because they use a different method, a different [00:27:00] way of thinking. They might think that they’re really intelligent, that spatial orientation, and I’m really stupid.

Mike: Yeah, “How does the city girl not know how to navigate in the jungle? What an idiot.” Not only that, the benefit of just sitting still for long periods of time, perhaps you could call it meditating, or clearing your thoughts, or just having a blank mind. The benefits of that would be eliminating your various neuroses, or fears, or worries. That’s something you can easily say that we in the western world [00:27:30] have a real problem with. You can define people by whatever measure you create, intelligence or ability to navigate or whatever, but we need to think about happiness and peacefulness as a measurable and think, “You might be intelligent but are you happy? Are you at peace in your life?”

Maybe some people from other cultures have it right. Maybe we in the western world don’t have it right. Maybe there’s just other things that we can teach each other. Maybe there’s opportunities for us to learn from [00:28:00] other cultures that aren’t as technologically advanced but have other skills that we could benefit from.

“We are running on outdated software”, “operating cavemen brains in a technologically advanced society”.

For thousands of years, our environment changed very slowly. Parents and children had more or less the same lives. Now we live in a world of exponential technological chance. Borders are becoming blurry and social groups increasingly distributed. What was once an adaptive mental process that helped us make snap judgements and quick decisions is now considered a major detriment. Stereotyping, discrimination, out-group hostility.

We now have to consciously direct our own evolution to overcome these shortcomings and prepare ourselves for the ever-increasing pace of change.

In this episode of The Future Thinkers Podcast:

  • Why futurology needs to be concerned with the topic of human biases
  • The psychology behind in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination
  • How globalization and de-localization is affecting societies
  • What we can do about our own biases and stereotypes
  • Why we need a conscious evolution

Mentions & resources

Mentioned & Recommended Books:

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