Dealing With Bias

Our perception of reality is strongly influenced by the information filter known as bias, therefore, it is important to understand what bias is and how it works. All biases are not equal. I have somewhat arbitrarily lumped biases into three broad groupings: normal bias, strong bias, and extreme bias.

Normal bias is the essential experientially based filtering process which enables us to quickly evaluate information inputs as to reasonableness and validity. It is, in essence, bringing our life’s experiences to bear as to whether something is more-or-less consistent with reality as we perceive it, hence believable; or is inconsistent with reality as we perceive it, hence not believable. Normal bias distinguishes itself by being reasonably amenable to change. The appearance of significant information which contradicts the particular bias will likely result in a reevaluation of the bias and a shift in reality perception, hence, a new bias. Normal biases usually exist for more neutral things not involving a person’s core beliefs, relationships, employment, etc. The term "unbiased" refers to normal bias.

Strong bias is just that. An information/reality perception filter highly resistant to change. It usually involves core beliefs, relationships, etc, where a shift in perceptions/beliefs could significantly affect a person’s life: his/her relationship to friends, employment prospects, esteem, etc. Information and reality perception are closely tied to a person’s sense of well-being. For example, most people in the media intuitively sense that there are some things one just doesn’t say. To be successful, a certain ideological bias is essential, hence, there is a strong inclination to perceive reality in a career enhancing way. Certainly not to jeopardize one’s livelihood and family’s security through ideological insubordination. People ideologically dress for success. This process normally occurs subconsciously. Strong psychological defense mechanisms shield the person from acknowledging the compromising of their integrity. Challenges to their "objectivity" are met with self-serving, self-righteous indignation. Consequently, a strong bias is highly resistant to change as long as the bias is felt to be performing it’s career enhancing and/or relationship enhancing and/or ego enhancing function. A change in circumstances which alters the perceived serviceability of the bias may trigger a reevaluation. In any event, a strong bias is difficult to change regardless of the objective criteria. The person hears what he wants to hear, sees what he wants to see, etc.

Rigid bias is an extreme case of opinions/beliefs that are psychologically written in stone. These are the core beliefs which define a person’s sense of self and self-worth, and form the basis of critically important relationships with others. A prime example is Creationism. By and large, there is virtually nothing you could say to a creationist that would cause him to alter his creationist beliefs. For a creationist to accept the reality of evolution would be a traumatic experience wherein his whole world would collapse. His core beliefs shattered, his relationship to friends and family in doubt. It almost never happens. Likewise, can you imagine the Pope leaving the Catholic Church?

Virtually all individuals exhibit at least two and sometimes all three forms of bias. A creationist, for example, may be relatively unbiased concerning economic theory, whereas, an evolutionary biologist may have very strong political biases. A critically important point is the degree to which individual bias is influenced by systemic bias. We are not isolated individuals, rather, we function as members of various groups and associations each delineated by a distinctive ideology and mythology. As such, these groups have a built in bias which acts as an external information filter/amplifier. In other words, an individual is constantly exposed to a biased (sometimes highly biased) flow of information which then forms the basis for reality perception. That is, a relatively unbiased (normal bias) person is frequently exposed to strongly biased sources of information. In our society, most people accept the official myhology of America the good, the shining city on the hill. A nation which unselfishly shares its treasure and blood to protect the world from the evil other. The good guys. This is the elite created mythology which forms the basis of information and reality perception. In other words, even normal individual bias will result in a highly biased outlook under the influence of pervasive societal misinformation. Hence, the success of the media and public relations industries in molding public opinion.

An important consideration is the degree to which organizational bias either conflicts with or supports the biases of other organizations, social institutions, and generally accepted social mythology. When various significant groups are in conflict, there exists more leeway for competing points of view. The opposition of peace and justice groups and organized labor to the WTO permitted effective opposition to corporate globalization. On the other hand, where opposition is coopted or muted, as in the destruction of Yugoslavia for "humanitarian" reasons, elite propaganda is amplified by the various interest groups. Since most people/groups find it easier and more rewarding to align with power, the net effect is a sort of ideological consensus on key issues. What this means is that on most issues of social significance, the average person of normal bias is practically overwhelmed by systemic bias, their personal bias based upon a distorted perception of reality. They say that not to learn the lessons of history will result in repeating the mistakes of the past. Yet, history repeats itself again and again because social mythology and elite misrepresentation are designed to distort reality and facilitate elite control. Basically, most public intellectuals (including media pundits) earn their living misrepresenting reality in service to power. Under these conditions, it is very difficult to identify actual history from social mythology. On important social issues, most people are more or less out of touch with objective reality most of the time.

In exposing elite deception, it is necessary to deal with the reality of bias. In this regard, the best course would seem to be appealing to people who have a normal individual bias, but whose opinion is conditioned by the pervasive institutional and social biases. Attempting to change the minds of people who are strongly biased in favor of elite rule is a waste of time and resources. This is why attempts at media reform are ill advised at best, and probably counter- productive. Not only are the institutional factors of media bias virtually insurmountable, but the people who run the mass media are very strongly biased. Most honestly believe that they are doing a good job. Fair and balanced. Trying hard to be fair to conservatives and big business in a media notorious for liberal bias. In other words, true believers and propagandists for the corporate elite.

It should be obvious that when the elites achieve consensus on policy they possess the resources necessary to manufacture consent. For non-elites to oppose the elite agenda is difficult at best. Engaging in alternative propaganda is not an option due to the lack of resources. It would also be counter-productive to progressive change for reasons beyond the scope of this paper. The only way to counter official mythology and propaganda is by skillfully and creatively exposing the lies. This can only be done with highly condensed, focused imagery, which, in turn, must be communicated directly to the people. The nature of the media is such that they more or less work for the dominant elites, skillfully distorting reality in support of the elite objectives of their advertisers. The corporate oligarches are their customers and they will never, ever bite the hand that feeds them. The primary emphasis must necessarily be outside the mass media. The focus needs to be on succinctly exposing the lies and shattering the mythology which distort reality perception, and which underpin voluntary support for elite objectives. We must be creative or fail, it’s that simple.

See also "Keith's NO EMPIRE Blog" at    http://saskck.blogspot.com

Leave a comment