The Objective Bias
The Age of Enlightenment began in 17th century Europe. Inspired by Philosophers such as Rene Descartes, and Scientists like Sir Isaac Newton, the Enlightenment promoted ideas such as reason, evidence, scientific knowledge, constitutional government, and ideals such as liberty, toleration, objective thought, and human rights. This age came on the heels of the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century. Prior to the printing press, approximately 40 handwritten pages could be produced per day by a scribe. The masses were trapped by their limited knowledge of the world. Their lack of exposure to new and diverse thoughts and ideas, and their inability to see different perspectives created an environment where superstition and bias were allowed to fester and grow, ensnaring them in a physical and intellectual poverty.
By the 17th century, a single printing press could produce thousands of pages per day. There was an information explosion. Not only were the great thinkers able to communicate much easier with each other, but their words and thoughts could be read by the masses. This dissemination of information to a wider range of people increased knowledge and expanded the perspectives of societies. This broke the monopoly of education by the elite and wealthy which in turn helped to create the middle class, and moved society forward.
Walls were being knocked down, biases were being exposed, prejudices were being eradicated. Bias and prejudice were off-shoots of the fear and ignorance that the masses had been trapped in. Since the Enlightenment, and mainly within the last 200 years, prejudices like racism and sexism have been slowly, but surely weeded out of advanced societies. The practice of prejudging someone, making assumptions about a person’s intelligence, character and abilities based on certain outward characteristics like their skin color and gender have been shown to be, not only wrong and limiting, but evil. This cultural advancement can be traced back to the printing press, a technology that made dissemination of information easier and more prevalent, giving people the ability to see and understand the “other” which made the “other” more familiar, and prejudice less palatable.
Almost 400 years since the Enlightenment, it seems we have come full-circle. Standing on the cutting edge of technological advancements that allow billions of pieces of information to be transmitted every second, we have become more and more controlled by our biases. This easy access to a multitude of information on a variety of subjects should have expanded our knowledge and broadened our perspectives, yet it is doing the exact opposite. It is narrowing our opinions and viewpoints, as if our brains do not have the bandwidth to process all of that information, so it shuts down; our screens remain frozen on one perspective. Processing all this information becomes too hard and scary, so we find refuge in our preconceived notions and beliefs. We refuse to consider the other perspectives, causing us to embrace rather than reject our prejudices. Our biases become magnified. We learn very little new because it is too uncomfortable to challenge our own belief systems.
Consequently, racism is rearing its ugly head again, but in a slightly different form. Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, which promotes judging people based on their skin color are being taught in major Universities, and throughout our government agencies. Racist concepts like “white privilege” and “white fragility” have infiltrated academia without much pushback from teachers. We have United States Senators stating that they will not vote to approve cabinet officials if they do not have a certain skin color, and no Senator stood in opposition to this. We are not taking small steps forward, we taking making giant leaps backwards. And those who object to all this racism, have false charges of racism levied against them as a means to further stifle debate which merely amplifies the bias even more.
This current strain of bias is taking hold of formerly impartial disciplines, such as science. When discussing issues like Covid-19 or Climate Change, claims that the “science is settled” are constantly asserted, and anyone who questions the “settled science” is called “anti-science”. No debate is allowed. And scientists are not defending the discipline of science. Demanding that we believe all science with no questions is a form of bias; it is prejudging the conclusion without knowing all the facts, or seeing all the evidence. Don’t the conclusions of science continually change as we learn more and more? Is it prudent to follow the prevailing science? Yes. But it is equally prudent to question the prevailing science because the science is never settled, and those who claim it is are either misinformed or lying? Doesn’t asking questions about science serve science the best? Isn’t that the point of science? Science is not supposed to make claims that we are forced to blindly follow. Science is expected to prove their conclusions, and stand up to rigorous debate which will cause us to follow the science.
After the sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were made, we were told that we must “believe all women”. We were to prejudge the case before a fact was produced. And legal scholars remained silent. We were not allowed to ask questions, and anyone who did, was called a “misogynist”. Isn’t making the statement “believe all women” just as biased as saying “never believe a woman”? Should we take every charge of sexual assault seriously? Yes. Should we throw out the Constitution and due process in sexual assault cases by prejudging the case? Of course not. The burden of proof is still on the accuser.
Journalists used to aspire for objectivity, now they fully embrace subjectivity. Wanton media bias has destroyed modern journalism. Spin and slant have replaced evidence and facts. Journalists espouse their biased opinions, not the impartial truth. Like the devil, they mix the truth with their lies as a ploy to get the viewer to believe their mendacity. Journalist prejudge every story based on who the players are, and their reporting reflects it. Is there even one legitimate news outlet remaining that presents the news in an unbiased, objective manner?
Social media bias controlled this recent election cycle, and our current political discourse. Twitter and Facebook censored accounts of people with political opinions they disagreed with. The factual New York Post-Hunter Biden email story that exposed the Biden family corruption was censored, while unverified accusations of wrongdoing levied against Donald Trump spread through their social media sites like wild fire. Most of what is posted on social media is factually or contextually untrue. It’s spin. It’s opinion. Facts shown from only one side, and presented in a way to intentionally mislead the reader. Yet, only certain accounts and posts are censored based on the biases of the censurer.
These elements of our society have become so dogmatic in their thinking that they end up holding contradictory beliefs to prop up their biases. They make claims like, ‘censorship is free speech’, ‘racial segregation is anti-racist’, ‘cancelling is tolerance.’ Society is regressing not from the promulgation of disinformation but from the limiting of all information. Diversity of thought is one of the most progressive paths we can take. It requires courage, it demands strength to listen to and actually consider thoughts and opinions different from our own, to challenge our own beliefs systems, to consider the possibility that we may actually be wrong, that we may need to change.
Yet, we have become the Hatfields and the McCoys, hunkered down in our positions, holding animus toward other people simply because they are the “other”, they are different. We dislike people that we have never met because of an image we saw of them on Facebook, or a quote attributed to them on Twitter. Wearing a MAGA hat or a Pro-Choice button triggers a laundry list of pre-judgements. We change our opinion on someone we used to like because we found out who they voted for. Is that really who we are? Is that what we do? Our society is so quick to hate. People are judged based on the worst 5 minutes of their lives, by people who posture themselves as faultless and blameless. You can only do that if the worst moments of your life are stored away securely or are only held in your memory.
Human beings are far more complex, far more nuanced than the little boxes and preconceived judgements we want to wedge each other into. The return to bias is the offshoot of modern 21st century life, where everything we want is a click away, and the “information” magically appears on our screens, or the food shows up at our door, or the products are sitting on our mat. Everything is too easy, so that which isn’t hard becomes hard. Prejudice is easy. Bias takes no work. The trigger of our bias, whatever the exterior characteristic is like the click of the mouse. Hit it, and all the judgements we need magically appear without any effort. But looking beyond the exterior picture we have of another human being and seeing into their heart and their soul takes real work, real effort. But the payoff for ourselves, the other person and society is abundant.
We should be slow to hate, and quick to forgive. Yet, we are the exact opposite; quick to hate, slow to forgive. That is not virtue. That is not magnanimity. It’s small hearted, small minded, virtue-less. Remember, no one goes to Heaven off the sins of others. You cannot cleanse yourself with other people’s dirty bath water. One of the most virtuous statement we can say is, “I accept your apology,” because there but for the grace of God, goes I.
Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He is a frequent contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.