Biased and Proud of It

One of the reflective assignments I submitted in class. Upon re-reading it, I find it an excellent writing sample and a good expression of the way I feel about biases.

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Due to my social upbringing and environment, I had quite a few confirming biases ingrained in my identity, which I have had the good fortune of coming to terms with in the last few years. Having worked on political campaigns, I have certainly seen a lot of these biases in myself and among colleagues. Sometimes we defend policies or statements that are poorly constructed or contrary to our own principles. I suppose we do this because we believe that the party is the “lesser of two evils” or, in my case at least, a party that still represents my principles at its core despite the human errors of its members. With politics, it is so easy to manipulate confirming biases in other people who are not as informed as you are, simply because they don’t have the time to follow politics. I also see confirming bias at work in my religious practice.

When I was a child, I accepted Catholic doctrine without interrogating its importance or relevance to my life. I defended its flaws to my non-practising friends with fervour and could not understand why they didn’t see things my way. Eventually I experienced a certain ennui with it and it was only later in life when I returned to it with a more intellectual understanding that it seemed to be infused with new meaning for me. In all these instances of confirming bias in religion and politics, I tend to find that the ignorant are the ones most content with the status quo and reject the notion of progress in normative values. However, does it mean that such institutions are flawed and corrupt since they produce masses of people with comfortable confirming biases? I think it’s a two-way street: individuals are equally responsible for not taking the time to question what they think and believe. Breaking down confirming biases permits either a more enlightened understanding of the subject or a complete rejection of it as the veil of ignorance is removed.

On a side note, I would like to elaborate on the idea itself of a confirming bias if that is permissible. As I was saying to my colleagues, it is important to distinguish between bias and principle. Both are equally submitted to challenge and critique, but I do think that after a certain amount of exhaustive criticism, a confirming bias ceases to be a bias and becomes a principled truth. Here, I would like to take a page from the brilliant John Stuart Mill: The expression of an idea or opinion can either be true, false, or a portion of the truth. If the opinion is true, criticism will prove and strengthen its verity. If false, criticism will break it down and bring to light the truth. If partly true, then it will encourage others to find the whole of it. Similar to what my colleague Scott said the other day, if no one had any confirming biases, the world would be quite a dull and monotonous place. The formation of knowledge exists in the Socratic questioning and challenging of each social construction built into our identity, such that the awareness of possessing confirming biases should only spur us further to interrogating them.

One thought on “Biased and Proud of It

  1. What a delightful reflection. I’m not Catholic, but Baptist. And I started out believing just because that’s what I was raised with, but after a period of unbelief, I returned to faith with a new hobby of Christian Apologetics.

    I think myself better for this because I replaced an inferior second-hand faith of my mother’s with something my own grounded in reason–at least grounded in a few more reasons than beforehand. Since you seem to have done something similar, of course, you are not only correct, but praiseworthy.

    Thank you for not identifying your politics as either left or right. I think you’re political reflection is stronger for being meaningful to both sides.

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