You’re Totally Biased

Written by The Dad

 

You’re totally biased.italian-landmark-italy-architecture

So am I. So is everybody.

For some reason that bothers people. We want objectivity.  Apparently we still think objectivity is a thing.

There’s no such thing as true objectivity among humans. We all have different backgrounds and stories. We all have unique circumstances. No two people are identical, so no two people have the exact same input the create their opinions and choices.

“Biased” is a loaded term. It implies that there is an inherent standard of objectivity of which to fall short; to have a slight tendency or leaning  which was imperfect. This used to be enough, but then people discovered cognitive biases and the idea became weaponized.

The quickest, most decisive way to win an argument is to declare the arguments against us a certain type of “biased”, while declaring our own arguments not only “unbiased” but backed by “objective” sources or research. This serves two handy purposes: 1) It awards us a victorious and unchallengeable position, and 2) since our position is unchallengeable we’re relieved of the hassle of thinking.  After all, why think when you already know?

More and more, cognitive biases are being used as explanations for why people make poor decisions or are just “wrong”. This is a misunderstanding which comes from an idea that cognitive biases are diagnoses for poor decision making or character flaws.

Cognitive biases are treated as qualities that are unique to those who are “wrong”. I disagree.  Cognitive biases are nearly universal. They’re part of our mental programming, and while they’re valuable in explaining decision-making, it’s a mistake to try to use them to diagnose the wrongness of ideas. We’re all unique, so some of us will be susceptible to some biases more than others but we all have tendencies toward all of them.  I encourage anyone reading this to learn more about them to help you make better decisions for a happier life, but I discourage you from thinking an understanding of cognitive biases is a weapon against the ignorance of others. We’re all human.

So, if nobody, regardless of perceived objectivity, is truly unbiased then what is the problem with biases? Maybe instead we should learn from others’ perceived biases.

We should accept that there may be no “objective” viewpoint.  Rather than searching for a mythical objective third party to diagnose or declare what is good and acceptable, why not learn more about what makes different people unique? Why not use different viewpoints to expand and fill out our proverbial “field of view”? Why not seek out bias and learn from it?  When we see someone leaning in a different direction than our own, why not be open to the idea that the foundation of their idea is different and their bias may suit that foundation better than ours?

I don’t intend to imply that there is no “right” or “wrong” in the world.  Clearly there is.  I only intend to make the case that the quickest, easiest approach isn’t inherently the best.  There may be value in what we don’t understand.

Humans don’t take well to this and I think I know why we don’t.  Besides the obvious threat to our own pride there’s just an innate lack of acceptance of nuance.  I think I know where this comes from.

School teaches that the right answer comes from a text book and is taught by a teacher. The right answer is the right answer, and if we come up with a different answer we have failed. If we fail in knowing or discovering the right answer then it is understood that we are wrong, likely because we didn’t think properly. In other words we are biased and need to be corrected.

Real life is more complex.

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