Cognitive egocentrism: liberal politics & understanding Islam and Muslim world

Cognitive ego-centrism is a tendency to project your own mindset onto other people. Of course, everyone has their unique mindset which they bring and apply to everything. But it is impossible to understand another person’s mindset exactly, so we try to make sense of it, and put the pieces of the puzzle together. Since we understand our own mindset best, we tend to project parts of our own mindset onto others even if it is different from their mindset. And we have a very hard time comprehending how and why other people’s mindset might be different.

In this video, Richard Landes discusses how Cognitive ego-centrism comes into play when the west and its culture of democracy and equal rights comes in contact with the eastern Muslim world which has a mindset of all or nothing, and a pride-based, revenge-based culture. When these two worlds meet, they don’t comprehend one another because the west is open and inviting, and thinks that other cultures will participate in kind, but the Islamic world’s mindset is that of conquering the whole world for Islam, and it won’t stop until it does. So while the Muslims try to conquer the west ideologically and with violence, people brought up with western culture and values simply concede.

The important difference between western culture and Muslim culture is that in the west, when you have disputes or people coming together, you try to find solutions that would work well for both parties, and that if you would be nice to people, they would be nice to you in return. And people are generally thought of as good until proven otherwise. We tend to project this on people who don’t necessarily share this point of view. But in Arab and Muslim culture, there is what can be identified as a zero-sum mentality. In a zero-sum game mentality, if someone wins, the other side necessarily loses, even if in reality both sides win something. So in the mind of a zero-sum game player, anything that registers as a win or a benefit for the other side registers to the zero-sum game player as a loss for themselves. As a result, people who come from zero-sum game cultures tend to project their mentality onto other people.

So there is a mutual misunderstanding of the two sides by each side.

Generally, when such different cultures come together, the zero-sum game sum wins because they don’t settle for any outcome that isn’t an all out win.

Furthermore, a common attitude in the west is that if something isn’t working, then it must be our fault and not the other side. Richard refers to this as masochistic omnipotence syndrome where there is a strong tendency to think that it is all our fault, and take any responsibility out of the hands of the other party.

To sum up the issues, here they are:

1) Tendency to self-blame
2) Omnipotence fantasy where you are responsibly for everything right or wrong
3) Misunderstanding of true motivations of the Muslim culture

When the west makes a concession, the west thinks it is generous. But the Muslims and Arabs take it as a sign of weakness, and an invitation for further aggression which will bring about further concessions.

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