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Cognition of People and Women’s Rights: Getting to the Root of the Problem

Article by Eric Gondwe (BMC, MBA, DD), author of Breaking Spiritual Strongholds and Healing the Wounded Spirit: Dealing with Root Causes.

The root of the problem in addressing women’s civil rights is at the mental and emotional level. This is more so among in the menfolk camp. Men claim to be less emotional yet this topic is addressed primarily on an emotional level when being faced. Words like “I feel,” “I believe,” “My opinion is,” are used in statements for making emotional conclusions. Emotional thinking overrides rational thinking.

John Churton Collins is quoted saying, “Half of our mistakes in life arises from feeling where we ought to think, and thinking where we ought to feel.” Women’s rights matters need our thinking parts, not our feeling ones.

While emotional thinking may be appropriate in some areas it’s a harmful ingredient on women’s civil rights matters. This is mainly because at the root of our emotions are cultural influences that have shaped them. Our cultural influences in the various areas we live worldwide mostly constitute centuries and generations of behavioral norms that have been passed on us without question. Some are good while others are bad.

For both good or bad behavioral norms what happens when we accept them without any question is that we subordinate rationality for tradition. Worse still is that we accept to perpetuate even irrational behavioral norms. When this happens our  nervous system or brain wiring goes through a cultural programming that can be equated to forms of brainwashing and propaganda. Ultimately what results is self-propaganda. We end up embracing the inherited beliefs and behavioral norms in such a way that we build protective walls around them to blindly justify and perpetuate them. With self-propaganda there is blind allegiance to the Fuhrer or headship of tradition.

What is self-propaganda?
“Self propaganda is a form of propaganda and indoctrination performed by an individual or a group on oneself. Essentially, it is the act of telling yourself (Or a group telling themselves) something that they consider to be true, or to convince themselves, with the unfortunate repercussion of their having no doubts.

“Because of what they do to themselves, they will go over every aspect of their side of the “argument” to prove to themselves that they are right, and will refuse to look at any alternatives. Self propaganda is a form of self-deception and indoctrination. It functions at individual and social levels: political, economic, and religious. It hides behind partial truths and ignores questions of critical thought,” (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia, “Self propaganda” (emphasis added).

Why is self-propaganda so prevalent, whether over women’s rights or over other matters?
It is due to what is called Herd Instinct, an aspect of social cognitive biases. The meaning of Herd Instinct is related to what the term implies: a flock or large group of animals sticking together. It is a common tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behavioral norms of the majority to feel safer and to avoid conflict. It’s also known as Group think, Majoritarianism, Mob rule, Mobocracy (a street term), and Monkey see, monkey do syndrome (a street term).

Herd instinct is among cognitive biases studied in the field of cognitive science. Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field drawing from such areas as psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, philosophy, and so on. It is the study of the mind, intelligence, and learning.

Herd instinct and all other forms of cognitive biases and self-propaganda have one thing in common. They hide behind partial truths and ignore questions requiring critical thought to resolve. Each of us to some extent embraces some form of bias, irrational behavior and thoughts to some level. The challenge is in endeavoring to end the ones that infringe or violate the rights of others.

Some biases are outright wrong, like racial and gender discrimination. Others like religious and political biases are only wrong if carried to extremes where the rights of others are violated if people try to  impose their understanding on others against their will. The next page on cognitive biases and thinking inside man-made boxes has detailed info on major types of cognitive biases. Below is a brief list of social cognitive biases (or simply social biases).

  • Class bias: bias favoring one social class and bias ignoring social or class divisions;
  • Commercial bias: advertising, coverage of political campaigns favoring corporate interests, or reporting favoring media owner interests;
  • Ethnic or racial bias: racism, nationalism, regionalism and tribalism;
  • Geographical bias: describing a dispute as it is conducted in one country, when the dispute is framed differently elsewhere;
  • Nationalistic bias: favoring or opposing the interests or views of a particular nation;
  • Gender bias: including sexism and heteronormativity;
  • Linguistic bias, favoring certain languages;
  • Political bias: bias in favor of or against a particular political party, philosophy, policy or candidate;
  • Religious bias: bias for or against religion, faith or beliefs;
  • Sensationalist bias: favoring the exceptional over the ordinary. This includes emphasizing, distorting, or fabricating exceptional news to boost commercial ratings;
  • Scientific bias (including anti-scientific and scientific skepticism): favoring (or disfavoring) a scientist, inventor, or theory for non-scientific reasons. This can also include excessive favoring (or disfavoring) prevalent scientific opinion, if in doing so, notable viewpoints are no longer being treated neutrally.
    (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia, “Bias”)

The above biases are only a fraction of many other biases that influence our thinking process. They show that our understanding of matters in life is tainted or contaminated by our emotions, imperfect perception, self-interests, opinions, external influences, culture, and so on.

Cognitive Biases: How we Think Inside our Boxes
Instead of seeing reality in its best possible true sense our mental flaws process reality through a filtered method that ends up seeing reality from a biased view. A biased view is a perspective that sees something from our own preference, opinion, or favored outlook with little or no consideration to analyze the facts.

Our biased view on matters in life constitute our man-made boxes that limit us from seeing reality in its best possible true sense. Our thinking is limited within these boxes that we put ourselves in. They can be either self-made boxes or can be boxes made by others who have successfully put us in a box of their biased views.

Biases are therefore the opposite of objectivity. Objectivity is an independent or neutral analysis that is free from influence of bias. Objectivity considers all available information without taking any sides. It is a search for the actual truth rather a search to prove one’s side of understanding, biases, cultural influences, expectations, or preferences.

It can therefore be said that bias is the art of interpreting reality with our own feelings, beliefs, preferences, experiences, personalities, and emotions. It is clouding reality with our own subjective perceptions. Objectivity is the art of separating our own feelings, beliefs, preferences, experiences, personalities, and emotions from reality. This is what is expected to of us when facing matters on women’s rights. We ought not to run to tradition, culture, and all the historical biases that cloud our thinking. We ought to work to move out of our own subjective reality in order to see the true objective reality on women’s rights.

Reality as each of us knows it is quite a subjective view than an objective view in many areas. We largely live in our own boxes, shaped by our inborn makeup (inborn personality traits) and by our upbringing (home, friends, community, education, economics, politics, religion, media, pivotal life experiences, etc). William Hazlitt said, “We are all of us, more or less, the slaves of opinion,” (Hazlitt (1778-1830) British essayist).

The result is seeing reality with what cognitive psychologists call “cognitive biases.” It is partial realty and partial subjective perception. The percentage of each subject area varies from person to person and from each one’s learning curve in life.

What are cognitive biases?
A good definition of cognitive biases is given by Richards J. Heuer, Jr. in his book Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. His book was apparently written for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for its Center for the Study of Intelligence. If you have no clue who or what the CIA is it may be better to remain clueless. It’s certainly not a Christian institution and is capable of doing some "scary" things.

Here’s Heuer’s definition: “Cognitive biases are mental errors caused by our simplified information processing strategies. It is important to distinguish cognitive biases from other forms of bias, such as cultural bias, organizational bias, or bias that results from one’s own self-interest. In other words, a cognitive bias does not result from any emotional or intellectual predisposition toward a certain judgment, but rather from subconscious mental procedures for processing information. A cognitive bias is a mental error that is consistent and predictable.” (Richards J. Heuer, Jr, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, page 111).

Thus some of what we think is right could be wrong. Each of us can find out if we’re willing to test the assumed truth against other different and disagreeing points of view. Thus the challenge is removing subjective perceptions that are blocking the true realty being seen.

It is worth removing the boxes that lock us in our own world of reality because true reality is liberating. Boxes are mental prisons and their harm in life depends on the relative importance of an area they’re affecting in our lives. The different kinds of mental boxes are the types of wrong beliefs and perceptions being followed. There are some wrong beliefs and perceptions that are very destructive to one’s life while others may not be so harmful.

Like ignorance our mental boxes are a form of mental slavery that render us to be vulnerable to exploitation in the areas of wrong thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. Mental boxes constitute a lack of knowledge to the right understanding. Lack of knowledge is basically ignorance. The bible has sad news about lack of knowledge.

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,” Hosea 4:6.

Lack of knowledge therefore leads to destruction. This destruction can be in any area(s) of one’s life: spiritual, social, physical health, or material health. One of these forms of destruction is in the social area in relating or dealing with women. Unless we deal with the flawed thinking and tainted understanding people (men and women) will continue giving knee-jerk responses and defending their flawed reasoning. This is the root of the problem. It’s worth addressing it when solving the injustice and exploitation of women.

A deliberate cultural reprogramming effort will therefore be an essential component. The page on solutions for women’s equal rights deals with this topic. There has been centuries of hard-won progress yet we’ve a long way to go -especially in Africa and other developing countries.

Article compiled by Eric Gondwe, author of Breaking Spiritual Strongholds and Healing the Wounded Spirit: Dealing with Root Causes.

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