This past week has provided an excellent opportunity to observe people’s cognitive biases. The situation in Baltimore has prompted many to show those corrupted mini-programs of thinking that run automatically through their minds.
We have seen many various biases at work, such as the following 46 examples:
- All blacks are thugs. (With the possible exception of those who entertain us by playing sports.)
- All whites are racist..
- All police are thugs.
- All arrests of blacks by white police are racist acts.
- All arrests of blacks by white police are completely justified and proper.
- All people who get arrested had it coming.
- All protesting is wrong.
- I deserve to be violent and destructive and to steal because I am offended.
- If the police say it, it must be true.
- If it’s an attack against “us”, then it must be unwarranted.
- All criticisms against police are unwarranted.
- The “other side” can’t possibly have a good point to make.
- Even if the “other side” makes a good point, it cannot possibly weaken my position.
- I am right because of all these facts, and even if it turns out that these aren’t the facts at all, I’m still right.
- This is my opinion and I will not change it.
- All negative issues should be ignored.
- My side’s sins are less serious than your side’s sins.
- You are responsible for what your ancestors did—if it was bad.
- You are responsible for what people of your same skin color are doing now—-if it is bad.
- Because your skin color is different from mine, you are responsible for what is happening to people of my skin color.
- I am not responsible for what the government does during my watch as a citizen-overseer/voter.
- If people have been charged, they must be guilty.
- If people have been charged by someone who has an interest in the case, they must not be guilty.
- Any wrongdoing against a person of my skin color is the result of racism.
- The black cops who were charged in Freddie Gray’s death were exercising racism, too.
- Whatever the government does will be the right thing.
- Whatever the government does will be the wrong thing.
- Everything the media says is wrong.
- Everything the media says it right.
- Everything that my favorite news channel says is right, and everything that yours says is wrong.
- If it deeply offends me, it must be more important than issues that do not deeply offend me.
- Law and order is more important when it comes to keeping the public in line than it is when it comes to keeping government and law enforcement in line.
- Law and order is more important when it comes to keeping government and law enforcement in line than when it comes to keeping the public in line.
- I’m entitled to have one or more of these biases because I’ve been wronged.
- I’m more entitled to have one or more of these biases than you are.
- Those people should overcome all their biases, but it is not necessary for my people to overcome all our biases.
- I pretty much understand how all my people think.
- I pretty much understand how all your people think.
- It is wrong for you to rush to judgment where I do not agree with that judgment, but it is not wrong for me to rush to judgment on other issues.
- No matter how much they say, my opponents have but one point, and it’s necessarily wrong.
- If I were wrong about any of this, I would know it.
- If I’m wrong about any of this, I’m less wrong than you are, so I deserve to maintain my position.
- If I admit on the record that any of these biases are wrong, then I show my fair-mindedness and I earn the right to continue to operate as if I believed in them anyway.
- Whatever I thought before, this whole Baltimore mess just confirms it.
- People of differing skin color will necessarily have differing characters. The two are genetically linked.
- Racism is the fundamental problem in this whole mess.
The fundamental problem in this whole mess is that the American public stinks at thinking. It is poor at logic and probability, it is loaded with biases such as the ones listed above, and even worse, it does not like to think, so it avoids reflecting on these things—cutting off nearly any chance to learn something.
This is the sad state that leads to all kinds of inhumanity and injustice, including, but not limited to, racism. This is what leads churches to continue in practices that violate the facts of the very Bible they laud as the truth. This is what leads people to support political parties that do not keep the promises they make. This is what leads people to put off problems, rather than to solve them.
Right now, lots of people are mad at other people because of the “racism” being exercised by those other people. This is not the foundation, however—not the core of the issue. As it turns out, people of all skin color are vulnerable to this sort of cognitive laziness and error, and skin color is just one of many topics in which this lousy thinking raises its ugly head. Meanwhile, however, many are pounding away at “racism” as a fundamental evil that needs to be solved—and they’re doing it without having solved in themselves the cognitive bias and error that we all must guard against if we want to be completely rational and honest people.
We are all prone to cognitive error, and yet we do not have to make any particular error. We can learn to do better. We do not have to be biased and stubborn people. No, that’s not something we’re doomed to be; that’s something we choose to be.
To solve or to correct a problem is better than to persist in it. But he who hacks at the branches rather than at the root is wasting his time.