The Dangers of Mirror-Image Thinking

Many difficulties of our current public discourse are pervaded by one relatively simple yet devilishly persistent cognitive difficulty. This is especially evident with current discussion regarding the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Many Westerners, in particular Americans, appear to have difficulty understanding and internalizing the differences between Western society and others. When trying to relay personal anecdotes about my experiences when travelling or even just discussing current events, I have often found the understanding of others to be critically lacking in basic context.

There is a problem in conceiving how, despite many similarities, other cultures can be so strikingly different. Some people are open to the new information. “Oh, well I’m glad I don’t live ‘there’ then!” being an example response to a newly revealed unpleasant fact. For some, however, such a realization is undesired, even a painful or jarring experience. Others refuse to have such an experience to begin with.

When facts presented in an honest attempt to inform and sway opinions are condemned as ‘racism’ and ‘bias’ , you are likely dealing with someone of such a stripe. For many there is a sort of blind faith that all people are basically the same. That the assumed homogenous body of humanity is not only generically the same but more specifically the same in a presumed inherent goodness. A personal belief in, and therefore desire to conclude towards, and find, a general equivalence between people and things in the world can be a severely exacerbating factor. Frequently those of such persuasions label any contrary, non-relativistic or equivalence based, view as ethically flawed. These are, at core, people whose worldview rests upon the ideas of relativism and general equivalence.

The cognitive difficulty in action here is neither new nor unknown.  It has simply been taken to extremes.

In the intelligence profession it is known as ‘Mirroring’. This is the faulty base assumption by the analyst that the subject in question thinks the same or similarly to themselves.The faulty, inaccurate nature of analysis conducted with this type of thinking has been self-evident over time in the intelligence community despite the relative ease that many people have in falling into this cognitive trap, so much so that it is a fundamental aspect of analyst training to stress the avoidance of such analytical pitfalls. 

There is a simple reason for the precision with which the Intelligence community, as a profession, has come to be able to recognize the various sources of errors in their judgment such as ‘Mirroring’, whereas public and political types typically do not. The Intelligence community isn’t just spinning fantasy. The predictions and analysis that are created based on intelligence are qualitatively measured products. Predictions, to put it mildly, can be inaccurate. To put it another way, they can get people killed by being the basis of further incorrect decisions.

Accuracy therefore is extremely important and desired. Hence even the concept of ‘Mirroring’ and teaching analysts to avoid it.

Easier said than done, of course.

But why is this important?  What really does this misconception of the subject of analysis result in?  In other words, why should you care?

Because the political left of our society is attempting to dogmatically enforce the same misconception in general society today.

An analyst, or in our case a thinker in general, can at times struggle, or not, to separate his own thoughts, reactions, and feelings regarding a subject and its genuine factual context. Separating his own thoughts and views from his desired goal of achieving deeper point-of-view empathy with the subject and attempting to predict what the decision-making process of the subject will be. One’s own view, if allowed, can often preclude a deeper and more genuine understanding of a subject from within its own perspective and context. It can cause the observer to fail to recognize and factor elements of the situation and their significance that he refuses to acknowledge or see the genuine relevance thereof.

This deviation of judgment from fact and reality is the cause of dangerous inaccuracies.

Make no mistake -- the risks of such a fundamentally flawed understanding of the world situation by society at large are not less, but greater, than those posed by the intelligence analyst. This stems from the simple fact that the scope of impact and decision-making between the two is so vastly different.

Take the example of the intelligence analyst. If his misjudgment could result in the deaths of a team of soldiers sent on a mission due to that faulty intelligence, what greater wrongs can be wrought by our society at large by exercising such flawed decision-making?

A war conceived in faulty understanding is only one of the more immediate and mild possibilities which occurs to me.

How much worse to call the just the unjust, or the unjust the just? To condemn a noble ally and instead coddle and give aid and comfort to an avowed enemy?

And yet our public discourse seems increasingly dominated by relativistic and equivalence based thinking and rhetoric. We as a people would be well advised to confront this nonsense and do away with it. It has long since begun to introduce the same inaccuracies of judgment and decision-making into our body politic.

How can such people who refuse to even acknowledge the differences between people or groups then be trusted to make accurate or reliable decisions? How can we entrust our national interest throughout the world to such obviously shoddy thinkers and decision-makers?

We should not.

And is there any greater example of such extreme failings in judgment as the public discourse regarding the conflict between Israel and Hamas? The differences between these two groups should be immediate and obvious to one who was simply willing to see them.

One is a democratic country of Western societal norms and values that respects life, liberty, and the individual.

The other is a terrorist organization that doesn’t have any of these norms or value any of these things.

One is a terrorist organization that specifically targets civilians, uses human shields, and literally throws candy in the streets to their children over the murder of the children of their self-declared enemies.

The other, simply put, isn’t.

There is no moral, social, or cultural equivalence to be found here. Only someone whose worldview rests therein, who emotionally ‘needs’ to see such equivalence there, will find it. Because it does not stand before even a passing scan of the basic facts available. ‘Mirroring’ out of obvious if deep seated emotional desire for it to be so, plain and simple.

Don’t hesitate. Call faulty judgment and an incomplete grasp of the situation what it is.

The future of our society, and how we make our future decisions, is at stake every time. Do not allow the left to be comfortable in their moralistic condemnations and hypocritical relativistic thinking.  It must not be normalized or accepted.  Instead normalize in yourself, and then in others, a complete disdain and willingness to confront such ridiculously shoddy thinking wherever you find it.