You’re Biased— 1791
Nobody wants to think of themselves or their chosen pundit as biased. “No,” they object, “only those gullible Fox/CNN drones are beholden to that vice.” In some way, they think that they are excluded from this state of being. Though uncomfortable to realize, the fact of the matter is that we’re all biased. The problem only rears its head when we refuse to confront it. Ignorance of one’s bias only allows it to fester and metastasize, which leads you into becoming deeply embedded in an ideology without the slightest clue, thinking all the while that you’re just an impartial witness to reality. Some mistakenly construe this fact to mean that because we’re all biased, that truth itself is a relative experience. This, too, is wrong. There remains a baseline of facts that we all strive to orient ourselves toward. Through crowdsourcing the different perspectives on these facts, we hope to arrive at what you might call an ultimate truth. The conclusions we draw and the direction we head in as a society aren’t always obvious. This is why we have varying perspectives, to make sense of the array of information before us. Our different and distinct personality traits guide our behavior in every feature of life. Why would political preference be any different? Has it ever aroused your curiosity that you and those who agree with you are consistently right? What are the odds of any one person being so right so often? Zero.
The sooner this much is understood, the less eager we’ll be to leap for the worst possible motivation on the part of those we disagree with. To the person unknowingly drowning in bias, their view of the world is so self-evidently right that surely only someone with bad intentions would deny it. This is the chasm we find ourselves in today — as we are more polarized than any other time since the Civil War. At the heart of this divide lies a deep misunderstanding as to how we arrive at the conclusions we do and why. None of this should be surprising. Politics, fundamentally, is about values. Our temperaments guide us toward what we value most.
Using the Big Five Personality Metric, conservatives tend to be high in trait conscientiousness, which is associated with orderliness (think “big, beautiful” walls), high in industriousness, and low in openness. Liberals are the inverse of this: low in conscientiousness and high in openness. Disgust sensitivity is the most potent predictor of conservatism. Libertarians rank the lowest in disgust sensitivity. Though there is much more to be said of the differences in personality and how they inform our political beliefs, all of this is to demonstrate that they don’t stand independent of who we are and what we believe. In our present time of peaceful prosperity, there is no existential threat to bind the entire nation together.
For example, when soldiers are faced with an imminent threat, it is considerably easier to maintain order. Once settled down, with no obvious shared goal to strive toward, the fault lines begin to fracture. Our individual priorities diverge because the path laid before us isn’t nearly as clear. Therefore, we turn in on one another. With personality being extraordinarily instructive to our political beliefs, it’s only a natural consequence that ideological bubbles would take form. People overwhelmingly forge friendships with those of similar personality characteristics, socioeconomic status, etc. As a consequence of this endless clustering, we are left with two sides of people striving to impose their temperamental worldview on the political environment, laboring under the belief that their solution is the only one that rests on a factual foundation. And in some instances it is. But what must be understood is that no one way of approaching an issue will lead you to the right answer 100% of the time. This is often foolishly taken to mean that your innate “bias” prevents you from arriving at an objective truth. It doesn’t necessarily, but it can if you’re oblivious to the fact that you are under its spell.
Much of this explains why attacking a person’s political position is so often taken as a personal assault; in a sense, their politics are a part of their identity. This much can be seen when social justice advocates take any criticism as an attack on their very existence. Why is this? It makes perfect sense if you consider that you are, in essence, challenging the very lens through which they perceive reality. This is the problem with reflexively denying that you’re biased as opposed to reckoning with it. This is why the issue of bias in politics is so deceptive. The reality is that the political landscape is constantly changing, and if we have any hope of adapting to a continually changing set of circumstances, it is essential that we communicate those differences through dialogue. Bias isn’t the problem. The problem lies in bullheadedly clinging to the belief that you are in some way immune to this innate feature of the human experience.