What is bias? Part II: More of my biased BS.

My first comment! Thank you! (See original “what is bias” post and comment here.)

If we’re talking about the media then yes, I think, reporters should strive for unbiased reporting. And the distinction between opinion and facts should be emphasized in the public’s consideration of that reporting, more so than it is now. But I don’t mean “bias” in the sense of having a perspective, but I mean it in the negative sense… a perspective that is unfair towards other perspectives. Some dictionaries basically equate “bias” to prejudice. However, I think the connotation is slightly different.

You also bring up an interesting point… “a world where no one had opinions because they were afraid they would appear biased.”  There is a little ambiguity here. Are we talking about the negative or neutral bias? From here on out I will use the word “opinion” to express the neutral bias and “bias” to refer to bias that is unfair, because our use of the word “bias” is problematic and contributes to the confusion.

It’s not wrong to have an opinion (but it can be personally damaging), or even a negative opinion (I don’t like X). The bias, that which is unfair toward other perspectives, is the real issue and even then, it only seems to be problematic in certain situations, but I haven’t found the words to generalize it. Sometimes, an opinion is expressed, but the argument used to push that opinion is spurious or faulty, and so it’s not the bias per se that is at fault even though that’s the accusation that flies.

So, I do think some accusations of bias are unwarranted and that this may have unfairly given rise to a fear of appearing biased. It’s funny because accusations of bias are often used to silence others and therefore the accusation may itself be a form of bias. For example, I’ve heard people say “well, that article (or media outlet or writer or thinker) is biased, so it’s wrong and I don’t have to pay attention to it,” but really they mean “That article doesn’t support my point of view, so I will ignore it.” The fact that someone is expressing an opinion different from you does not automatically mean that the opinion is wrong or poorly supported. An argument ought to be judged on its merits. This kind of personal bias (like the hostile media effect) is not wrong in the same way that media bias is wrong, but I do think this is the danger that having opinions/bias/perspective/ideology present. I believe in freedom of speech and so I believe in the right to hold an opinion, but I also feel that having an opinion creates blind spots that prevent real learning and personal growth. And since democracy needs an informed populace, blind adherence to an opinion is a real problem.

“The world would stagnate!”

I think you are talking about a world where free speech is not possible, and that would definitely prohibit innovation and problem solving. If we eliminate opinions and especially opinions of ideas, then this would surely happen, but what about bias, especially against groups of people? I can’t help but think that if we eliminated bias towards people, it would make war far less common.

It’s funny because I feel the state of politics today is stagnate, and that this is due (at least partially) to society’s current stat of hyper-partisanship and ideological fundamentalism. How many times in the past year, have I heard congress people express the attitude that they’re purposely obstructing the process of democracy as a strategy to make Obama (or the other party) look bad. I also can’t help but wonder how much better voter turnout would be if we had real choices at the polls instead of tweedle dee and tweedle dum. Our bias keeps us divided and encourages us to point the finger at others.

Bias, the unfair kind, occurs when the (media or individual) purposefully discredits or silences valid alternatives to the opinion that the (media or individual) believes to be true. It does this in many ways, but one is through misuse or distortion of real information. I don’t back-check on every little detail or insinuation that makes its way into a news piece, but sometimes I do. After a while, it becomes obvious some media are biased. It’s not just the frequency either; it’s also the magnitude of the distortion from reality. Some media willingly perpetuate myths that are just the complete opposite of reality.

People can be biased too. We shut out that which doesn’t match our idea of the world, because it’s uncomfortable to consider it. But by protecting our ego, we create a barrier that blocks valid opinions and information, and therefore distort ones own reality. Reality is always changing, constantly, but to see it, you must have fresh eyes. You must be able to, once in a while, withhold your judgment and compassionately consider something that is different, or how else will you ever discover something new.


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