You Are Only Half Right About Bias

an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially : a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment : prejudice


I observe that you are only half right about bias, friend.  You are spot on with what you think already, but you are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle, and that is really holding you back in life.

So far, you have a firm grasp on the following:

  1. Bias is a departure from reality.
  2. Unless they are very diligent, people can easily fall into the trap of being biased in various ways.
  3. People who aren’t used to doing a lot of cognitive work tend not to see their own bias.
  4. Many people simply do not care much if they are wrong in their outlook.
  5. Bias causes a lot of needless hurt and frustration in the world—things that could be avoided if only people were diligent at being deliberately honest and objective.
  6. People can be perfectly rational, objective, and diligent in one area, and be irresponsibly biased and even incorrigible in another.
  7. If people would simply check things out before choosing to believe them, a lot of bias would disappear immediately.
  8. Bias is built on a character flaw and is never a good thing.

You are quite right in all these things.  Overall, however, you are only half right about bias, friend.  What you are missing is this:

Bias is even bad when it’s yours.

That’s right.  The behavior that concerns you so much in others is just as bad when you do it yourself—and you are doing it yourself.  You don’t get a special break simply because you are you.

I’m sure you’ve heard the survey results that talk about how the whole country disapproves of Congress’ behavior, yet each voter tends to re-elect the same Members each election.  Well, that’s what you are like.  You fuss about other people’s bias quite regularly.  You worry and fret over it.  You try to convince them that it’s wrong and that they need to change.  You tisk tisk at their dullness and stubbornness, and you are convinced that “people like them” are “ruining” our society.

But you are like them yourself.  You take pride in the few areas in which you have actually done your homework, but you far overestimate your cognitive accomplishments, for you have a great many things about which you are yet wrong and ill-informed.  You think that others are mostly biased, and that you are not.

Meanwhile, someone who actually has a handle on some facts you to which you are still oblivious is trying to get through to you.  And they’re having a hard time with you.  They just can’t seem to get you to listen, to pay attention, or to be honest.

You say, “I don’t have the time to look into that right now.”  Or, “There are other topics that interest me more at this time.”  Or, “I just don’t find your point to be compelling.”  Whatever it takes to keep from checking it out, that’s what you do.

Now, please understand that I’m not taking the usual path here.  Many people, it seems, would tell you that you ought to shut up about the bias of others until you have overcome your own bias.  And further, they do not expect you to overcome your own bias.  Rather, they just want you to shut up.

But I have a different way of seeing the situation.  I expect you to do the right thing and to get your act together.  I expect you to diligently apply what you already know in general about bias to yourself.  I expect you to keep helping others, but to do it by taking it higher yourself.  I expect you to adopt a no-bias paradigm for your own life—to check out everything that others say against you to find out whether it’s true or not before you continue.  I expect you to vet things before you write them on Facebook.  I expect you to vet things before believing them, even.  Yes, it’s hard work, but you and your intellectual integrity are worth it.

Yes, yes, you already do these things—but not in all areas of life.  You are remarkably rational (reality-based) in some of your opinions, but not in all of them.  And I am simply trying to get you to care about that.  I want you to care about it when you are wrong.  I want you to correct yourself more often than you are corrected by others.  This way, you can take their correction as helping you with something that is already important to you, rather than as attacking you.

I don’t want you to be a hypocrite, friend.  And it is my hope that, deep down inside, you don’t want you to be a hypocrite, either.  Rather, I want you to be an authentic person whose chosen paradigms are applied all throughout your own character.  So that’s why I’m talking to you about your bias.

It’s one of the oldest charges known to man:  “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it.”

Is that really the sort of person you want to be?  I certainly hope not.

So here I stand, willing to risk our friendship over pointing this out to you, and hoping that you’ll take the high road by adopting what I’m saying to you.  Any idiot can live a biased life.  So can any genius.  But I’m not talking about intelligence here; I’m talking about authenticity.  In short, I’m asking you to take something that you see as a good idea for others, and to make it a way of life for yourself.

Authentic people can change the world for the better, where hypocrites only serve to further its divisions and its strife.

Life is short; why not do something extraordinary while we are here?


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