The Third Person Effect – Why You Are Not So Openminded

The Third Person Effect is yet another reason why most people get sucked deeper into their online echo-chambers. A lot of people have some self-examining to do for sure!

The Third Person Effect

The Third Person Effect – Why You Are Not So Openminded

By Gary Z. McGee

“The misconception: You believe your opinions and decisions are based on experience and facts, while those who disagree with you are falling for the lies and propaganda of sources you don’t trust. The truth: Everyone believes the people they disagree with are gullible, and everyone thinks they are far less susceptible to persuasion than they truly are.” ~David McRaney, You Are Not So Smart

We all think we’re openminded. Even closeminded people think they are openminded. So how do we know for sure?

The cutting answer is: we don’t know for sure. And we shouldn’t want to be. Being sure, being certain, is the main ingredient for closemindedness. The next main ingredient is blind belief. Then perhaps comfort and taking oneself too seriously.

Put all these ingredients together and you have the makings of some seriously soothing self-serving soup: the third person effect.

The third person effect is a version of the self-serving bias, where you excuse your failures and believe that you are more successful, more intelligent, and more skilled than you really are. So, it follows, that you would also believe that you are less gullible than others.

This creates a psychological rift between you and the world you are trying to understand. But building a bridge across the rift begins with you. It begins by admitting that you are not as openminded as you thought you were. It follows by understanding —balls to bones, ovaries to marrow— that you are a fallible, imperfect, hypocritical naked ape going through the motions of making sense out of a universe that cannot be made sense out of. Only then can you attempt open-mindedness. And even then, you will fail.

The trick is to be okay with it. The secret is to look at yourself and the culture surrounding you as merely a bunch of fallible, imperfect, hypocritical, closeminded, naked apes and to have a laugh about it. Yuck it up. It’s all laughable anyway. We’re all a part of the cosmic joke. The fact that we all suffer from cognitive biasesis hilarious. This way you will be less likely to take yourself too seriously, and you’ll be more likely to be openminded about the way the world works.

You’ll be less likely to be fearful about what someone else has to say, and more likely to give them the freedom to say what they feel they must say, even if you disagree with it. You will be less likely to feel the need to censor people, and more likely to appreciate freedom of speech.

Ugh, Social Media again…

The current rampant censoring of social media platforms on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter is a serious symptom of the third person effect. But this kind of thing has been happening since time immemorial. From religious orthodoxies attempting to silence “heretical propaganda,” to the political status quos seeking to censor speech out of “fear of dissent.” The third person effect rises out of a false sense of thinking it knows best. It arises out of fear. But it pulls it off by playing on the fears of others and claiming that certain messages might harm “more impressionable minds.”

But if you truly wish to be open-minded, then you must be okay with other people being openminded enough to make up their own minds. Diversity is key. The more diverse opinions there are, the less likely anybody will get stuck in the tyranny of a single opinion. Because, remember, everyone is a fallible, imperfect, hypocritical, closeminded naked ape. So the more fallible, imperfect, hypocritical, closeminded opinions we have canceling each other out, the better.

The cream will eventually rise to the top. Without diversity of opinion, the cream never even gets whipped up. Without diversity of opinion, there is just stagnant authority, stale power and brittle tyranny muddying the waters.

As David McRaney wisely advised, “When the third person effect leads you to condone censorship, take a step back and imagine the sort of message people on the other side might think are brainwashing you, and then ask yourself if those messages should be censored too.” Bam! Right in the Self-seriousness!

Question Everything

If you’re trying to be more openminded, try this: Question everything (especially yourself), practice using probability rather than belief, embrace being wrong, and remain curious. But if these seem too simple for you, here are two advanced strategies you can use to help curtail the third person effect…

McGee’s Guillotine:

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” ~Lao Tzu

McGee’s guillotine is an addendum to Occam’s razor. It’s a remedy for the cognitive dissonance that ails us all. Its single task, and raison d’etre, being: Worldviews should not be aggrandized unnecessarily, therefore when you’re faced with two competing worldviews the healthier one (in accordance with universal laws) tends to be the correct one, and the unhealthier one (less in accordance with universal laws) should be learned from and discarded.

McGee’s guillotine chops away the ignorance of human opinion and replaces it with the natural dictation of universal law (health) so that a valid opinion can be reinserted. It goes beyond shedding the superfluous and cuts the human head (ego) out of the equation, so that a new healthier head (individuated ego) can grow back.

Essentially, McGee’s guillotine is a chopping block of self-overcoming. It’s a kind of life-death-rebirth process of open-mindedness: Learn; unlearn; relearn.

Operation Mindfuck:

“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.” ~Gloria Steinem

A mindfuck a day keeps the brainwash away.

Operation Mindfuck is the daily practice of unwashing the brainwash, even if it doesn’t seem to be necessary. It’s done despite oneself, and in spite of our petty placations and sentimental comforts. It’s done strategically.

In operation mindfuck, one goes out of their way to flip the tables on themselves. It’s self-inflicting, a staged burning platform. They purposefully counter their own worldview, forcing themselves into the shoes of the “other side.”

Operation Mindfuck is about questioning to the nth degree. It’s about shocking the settled system, waking up the sleeping soul, and agitating the tired and boring routine. It’s about getting down to the roots in order to distinguish vital necessity from invalid opinion. It’s untangling unnecessary knots of thought. It’s peeling away superfluous layers of cultural conditioning and political brainwashing in order to reveal the Desert of the Real despite the comfortable Matrix.

In conclusion, just remember: At the end of the day, no matter what strategy you use, you will always be a fallible, imperfect, hypocritical, naked ape. So just have a sense of humor about it. Laugh it off. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Do this, and you are less likely to get caught up in the brambles of the third person effect.

About the Author

Gary ‘Z’ McGeea former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

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