Yes I’m biased, but aren’t we all?

Oscar To



With three weeks to go until the general election, it is inevitable that people engage in politics slightly more often than they normally do. For many, this will be to make comments on Facebook in regards to rather bland disagreement with everything written. Recently, I underwent an accusation of being ‘brainwashed by Labour’. Now, considering that I find myself in disagreement with many of Labour’s policies, it was far easier to lump in in the ‘leftwing’ box and throw a simple ad hominem insult to disparage my legitimacy. But the point stands, am I brainwashed by Labour?

Brainwashing implies that I have a warped view of the world crafted by some malicious force that is completely against the general consensus of society. Arguably, doing a medical degree could also have this effect, but it is probably best not dwell too much on this point. We are all people with our own separate experiences, indeed, our perception of things will all vary to an extent because it is clouded by the way we have developed.

We have a shared concept in our language in the colours we see, so that the majority of us know what ‘red’ is. However, due to slight genetic variations in the production of our visual receptors in our eyes, we actually all perceive slightly different shades, so that no two people ever see the same shade.

Now, have you ever considered that anything you read has been carefully crafted by someone else? You are seeing the world from their eyes. You did not perceive the event yourself, and are relying on their lens to view the world. However, you did not actually view the event yourself with your own senses, you are relying on theirs. There will inevitably be a loss of information along the way that could have changed how you perceived the event. Just as humans rely on a very limited light spectrum to ‘see’ world, and lose a whole mass of information in infra-red or ultraviolet light. Each time you read an article, information has been selected and omitted.

In effect, the avoidance of bias is impossible. Two humans cannot have the same experience and hence therefore, there will always be a difference in how things are perceived. While they may initially be tiny, these variations stack up. Until one person can throw a word such as brainwashing at someone else and think it is justified.

Indeed, even language itself paints a bias. For example, other languages which place gender on words produce a model of sexism where certain values are seen as masculine and some are feminine. For example, in French, ideas are feminine and sharks are masculine. Even the words that produce our thoughts are actually influencing our thoughts themselves.

Now let’s have a look at the media that we are exposed to everyday. Any event you read or hear is only a limited screenshot of something that has happened. The person writing it will have made their own unique perceptions followed by the editorial team. In effect, you are losing information and gaining more bias each time someone tampers with the information.

But are there methods we can use to reduce bias if we accept it is completely unavoidable? It requires us first to ask, ‘How can we spot bias?’ And in order to do so, we obviously need at least two points of reference with which to compare. However, these two points of reference, in fact, act as limitations for what we can perceive. We choose to take them as limits that we can see no further.

Of course, not everyone has the time to look at multiple sources of information, so there is an easy cheat to use. We look at our own personal narrative and decide if the view we are presented seems reasonable. Our egos represent the ultimate judge. With our whole lifetime’s information used to fact check. This forms a huge array of reference points that our minds use to assess.

However, there is one issue here: what if we’re wrong? This is a possibility that eludes the minds of many of us. Because if we are wrong, it means the way we live, the way we have committed our entire lives is wrong. It is a core reason why many of us would rather choose to ignore information that conflicts with our worldview no matter how strong it is, and label it as rubbish. This is fundamentally why politics in this country devolves into two sides throwing jeers at each other. The two sides are so invested in themselves that the opposition must be lying.

But let’s also look at the wealth of information we have adapted in our narratives. The majority of that will be from the media. The more often you are exposed to something, the more you will treat it as ‘normal’, to the point where you can’t even notice it. Things such as women being nothing more than objects for male gratification or people only have value if they ‘work’ or that all non-white people are the same so that having one ethnic minority friend means you cannot be a racist.

This is our society. But thinking these things is a problem somehow makes you a radical brainwashed lunatic. Where wanting society to be just a little more fair for people who have not had the best circumstances in life deserve a bit more help. Where people can have equal opportunities to get the best jobs even though they couldn’t afford Eton or because they’re being judged on their gender, race, sexuality or religion. Is this too much to ask?

Perhaps I have overanalysed this, and this person was simply too ignorant and/or ineloquent to actually conduct an argument, but I have thus provided a discussion on the concept of bias, something people discussing politics never do. A narrative with developed points rather than continuously throwing 200 character soundbites at people is how we become engaged. So please don’t mistake my bias for your ignorance.

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