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Wednesday, February 3, 2010: Bias in Politics, Religion, Science, and Relationships

           When R. and I have a political disagreement it is rarely over our political stance. Our viewpoints are quite similar. We disagree about the opposition.

           R. comes to the argument from a hard science background.  One critiques the credibility of experts, reviews the agreements and disagreements of peer review, compares the new model to previously accepted standards of practice, and then accepts the most logical working model. It becomes the basis of definitive truth until disproved or displaced by a new set of indisputable facts. After all that ‘rigorous intellectual analysis’, if anyone possibly remains who still prefers the older established models of understanding, or it they present inadequate (or emotion-based) reasons for a different option, well…let’s say R.'s opinion of these people is not kind.

         I come at these arguments from the soft science background. I believe humans live in a dualistic world where, by the very nature of human awareness, there are multiple viewpoints for any issue. The needs and desires that drive human action are divided not only between groups, but within the individual personality.

         It is human nature to want personal freedom while also wanting group security. It is human nature to want the comfort of the past and the familiar while also dreaming of a new and better future. It is human nature to want to protect our own well-being while also feeling a social obligation to help others.  These conflicting values are never balanced fifty-fifty. Being a human means being a polarized being, who will always lean more toward one value than another at any given time.

        How can we help but be polarized individuals when we view the world and new issues through a grid work of past experiences, choices and opinions, when we consciously or unconsciously match every new idea with old concepts already accepted as true and valid in our personal history?  As readily as we accept ideas that strengthen our own opinions, we downplay the validity of the opposition’s stance. All this is unconscious human nature.

          Where does this polarized system get us, as our social structures become larger and more complex? Conflicts or disagreements become the norm.  Let’s be practical. There will never be 100% agreement, in science, religion, politics or relationships. Even if every last person in the world agrees that humans need air and water to survive, there will be different standards for how clean that air and water absolutely must be to keep a person in reasonable health. Make everyone embrace one common belief system and I guarantee within a short time period that unity will begin to fragment into different interpretations and/or practices.

         Can I ever get this across to R.? Of course, he replies, he is in total agreement that humans are unconsciously bias. He recites scientific studies to demonstrate his up-to-date understanding of the problem.  Then R. starts back in explaining why his political opponents are still illogical, irrational and ignorant, and why he has overcome his bias to evaluate the subject clearly and objectively.

            I wish more people learned the art of listening to both sides. Maybe we can’t accept the facts presented by the opposition, but there is an obligation to listen to the emotional needs behind their argument, and to address their concerns with respect and consideration.  Either that, or admit you chose to stay mired in your own bias.

Posted on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 08:18AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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