Saturday, August 27, 2011

Brody's Scribbles... Bias

By Bart Vogelzang | VANCOUVER ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA -- A recent revelation that Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh is actually in arrears on his child support payments makes a mockery of his own statements about what constitutes a good family. Not only is he in arrears, but he’s obviously also not living with his wife or there wouldn't be child support payments, right? However, this situation makes me wonder just how the very people in the legal and political systems inject bias into them.
A number of years ago, the then Premier of our province was found driving impaired, and there was quite the outcry because of the hypocrisy of his professing that we need tougher ‘drinking & driving’ laws while at the same time committing that very breach. It immediately called into question just how much those laws were really likely to change. (Note: significant changes were not implemented until after this premier was replaced). We often see politicians caught up in hypocrisy when it comes to what is good for ‘you’ as opposed to what is good for ‘them’ and laws they support are much more likely to benefit them and not you. Judges are not immune to bias and double standards either, nor are the police or prosecutors. Drinking judges appear to be much more lenient on drinking drivers, and biased police and prosecutors are often found to be much harsher in their handling of people of minorities, no matter what the circumstances.
Of course personal bias is sometimes a good thing, and recognizing a good bias from a bad one is critically important come election time, or protest time if you don’t feel you can wait that long. A personal drive to ensure a safe environment for ‘at risk’ animal and plant species is generally recognized as a good one, and should be supported for the most part, but if it is carried further, and starts to have serious and possibly immediately detrimental affects on the politician’s constituents then personal bias may not be the best. Protecting habitat seems okay, but at the expense of removing 50% of our agriculture, which feeds us, may be a bit too much.
Bias in itself is not always the problem, but refusing to see the other side of things is. When counter arguments are presented, bias needs to be put aside and thoughtful ‘listening ears’ need to be put on. Bias could be the motivation for a drive towards something, but should never become the drive. The passion to achieve something is essential for change to occur, but ignoring everyone else’s concerns, needs and passions is simply going too far. In a true democracy the rights of minorities are respected, if not treasured, equally as much as the rights of the majority. In a nation of equality, none are treated better or worse than any other. Whatever biases our politicians and legal custodians have should always recognize that they need to be working within an equal and democratic framework.
Sadly, extremist politicians have lost this awareness, and their goals are no longer simple motivations for improvement, but instead are now heedless reckless charges towards the destruction of anything not in tune with their personal bias. Unfortunately, those who will suffer first, and most, will be those who don’t agree with them, but make no mistake, ultimately all will suffer consequences.
Bias in the legal system is just as dangerous, since confidence is eroded daily when biased charges, testimony, verdicts, and sentencing run rampant. Eventually people will just take ‘justice’ into their own hands, knowing that the legal system is not going to provide it.
Actually, when you think about it, bias in research can be dangerous as well. If it motivates someone to research a particular disease that’s okay, but if it motivates them to ‘fix’ the disease by any means, by ignoring, or regardless of, the damage it does in other ways, that’s a bad thing.
Of course I’ve been talking about blatant bias with definitive actions, but there is a more subtle kind; one in which your perception of a situation is distorted by your bias, so that you see things that may well not be real, and only a construct. This can result in actions, or inactions, which are detrimental to others, and even yourself.
What we really need to watch out for though, is opposing a bias with another bias, rather than removing it from the equation. Understanding that it is there, but ignoring it, will work better for us than countering the bias with what may well become an ever escalating war of biases, turning rapidly to hatred and intolerance even greater or more widely cast than previously expressed. An example might be the bias and intolerance of the right wing religious zealots being countered by hatred of all religious people, something that is sure to create even more angst. Recognizing the original bias, but dealing with only the reality and not the bias itself will allow one to see that it is only a few individuals with personal issues that are the real problem.