The issue with bias.

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

Editor's note: This post is an opinion piece. Some of the information is factual, but much of it stems from my own experiences and biases. Please use discretion. Thank you!

Introduction


During one of my typical Friday evenings as of late, I was chatting with some friends over FaceTime and enjoying a few drinks. We started talking politics and eventually got to the issue of bias in the media. We all agreed that everything is just so biased these days.

But then I raised a question: What is bias?

Sure, there's an easy answer to this question. You can find it just by typing the word bias into Google and reading the definition.

But my friends and I agreed that the formal definition of bias wasn’t the answer we were looking for. Especially not in our post-truth world, where the news lies to you and the current presidential administration is the poster-child for nepotism and alternative facts.

We agreed that bias is much more complicated than that.

This is getting out of hand. Now there are four definitions!

It’s more complicated than that because life is messy.

It’s more complicated than that because information arrives in all shapes and sizes: the internet, podcasts, books, coworkers, cable TV.

It's more complicated than that because we've been conditioned to distrust The Man.

We’ve been conditioned to distrust big corporations. To be skeptical of media sources. Of large government-run agencies. They’re out to get you. There’s an ulterior motive. They’re lying to you.


And there’s some truth to this.

Information can be presented with bias based on how you interpret the data. The political world is more partisan than ever. People have ulterior motives. Even if you try to be unbiased there’s going to be someone out there who claims you’re biased.

The Bias Issue

The Bias Issue is the concept that bias is not an ultimate truth. It is a relative truth, and the truth changes based on a number of factors: perception, data (both qualitative and quantitative), cultural norms, cultural systems, and moral baselines. Because of this, bias can be interpreted differently depending on the particular set of circumstances involved.

Basically, The Bias Issue is a big issue in today’s culture.

In order to address The Bias Issue we first need to learn how such an issue emerges.

I believe The Bias Issue emerges from three distinct, but co-dependent, reasons:

1) People aren’t very good at weighing the validity of information.

2) Everything is politicized.

3) Life has an inherent bias.

The Validity of Information

The first reason for The Bias Issue is that people just aren’t very good at weighing the validity of information.

This is part of the reason why people become conspiracy theorists. They’re skeptical of everything, but they’re also bad at deciding which sources are more trustworthy than others.

So, if someone receives information from two sources: the CDC and thetruthisoutthere.com, they may believe thetruthisoutthere.com over the recommendations of the CDC.

And here’s where this becomes part of The Bias Issue.

Think about the premise of the example above. How did thetruthisoutthere.com even become a rival of the CDC?

It’s because people pay attention to the loudest voices in the room.

There are many ways to become the loudest voice in the room: through professional authority (the CDC or World Trade Organization), through accuracy and research (nonprofits and think tanks), through a great marketing team (media sources and commercial businesses), by appealing to emotions (click-bait articles, opinion pieces like this one!), the list goes on. Sometimes it’s a combination of a few of these.

But here’s the issue: many people don’t care about this. So if you’re a company or organization, all you need to do is be loud. You don’t really need factual information.

And this is what sources like thetruthisoutthere.com rely on. They have a lot of viewers, and because they have a lot of viewers, people take them seriously.

So, what does this do?

It creates an illusion where a loud voice is measured against a valid source.


Let's illustrate this with an example.


This is the normal political spectrum of news outlets:

Side note: Remember, political orientation is different than partisanship. CNN, for example, is relatively moderate in their beliefs, but they attempt to divide the public in the way they present the news. Thus, they are both moderate and partisan.


Now let's see what the spectrum looks like when you throw some Far Right media sources into the mix:

Check out InfoWars on the far right over there. This is probably one of the best examples of a LOUD voice.


And remember, a LOUD voice has influence.


And LOUD voices have so much influence that they begin to pull the media spectrum to the right:

Conservative media sources become even more conservative because of LOUD voices like InfoWars.

So what does this do? Well, it changes the argument. The old Moderate is now considered Left Wing.

The loudest person in the room has shifted the reality of the situation. They’ve created an artificial political spectrum and an artificial sense of bias.


This explains why moderates these days are being labelled as liberal. It also explains why I’ve been getting feedback that my blog posts are too liberal. Because even if something is factual, and there is data to back it up, the general perception is that it’s biased.


All because the loudest person in the room has changed the argument.

Which brings me to my next point.

Everything Is Politicized!

It’s true! Everything is politicized.

Here are just a few examples: Football, Veganism, Equal Rights, The Oscars, Face Masks, New Balance Shoes, All-Natural Foods, Recycling, Pick-Up Trucks, Farming.

The list goes on. Some of these politicizations are justified, others are not.

But the point is: everything is either liberal or conservative. And it’s getting to the point where there’s no wiggle room.

For example, a few weeks ago I was scrolling through Facebook and saw this post:


And then I saw this comment:

I sat there for a minute and said to myself, “Just move on Eric. It’s not worth commenting on”.

So, naturally, I commented:


Then, in a since deleted comment, the guy responded calling me a Bernie Bro. A Bernie Bro.

By showing support for Biden I’ve become a Bernie Bro in their eyes. A liberal snowflake.

But it got me thinking about a sad truth these days. You can’t criticize either side of the aisle without being given a label: a liberal snowflake, a Trump supporter, a Bernie Bro, a racist.

It’s even gotten to the point where a conservative-minded person gets called a snowflake if they criticize the Republicans, and a liberal-minded person gets called a Trump-supporter if they criticize the Democrats.

Part of this is the fault of the media. They exploit and divide the population for financial gain. They run endless stories on Trump. They change the narrative when it suits their motives.



So, it boils down to a two-sided issue. Either you support the conservatives or you support the liberals. No middle ground.

Truth doesn’t matter. Facts don’t exist. The only thing that matters is the team you play for.

This allows ideas to exist and proliferate. Ideas that shouldn’t have even existed in the first place.

Consider Trump’s tariffs on China. They're ridiculous. The tariffs literally hurt the US economy more than they help it.


According to PBS and EconoFact, a nonpartisan economic organization, the tariffs cost the average US household about $500 annually due to the increased price of goods. And this amount is even expected to increase to $1,200 by the end of 2020.


Overall GDP has dropped as well as production of factories on American soil. The agriculture industry has been hit particularly hard, with bankruptcies in the sector increasing by 24% in a one-year period.


Sure, the tariffs have had an impact on China as well. But is it worth it? America has seen virtually no benefit from the tariffs and the uncertainty in the tariffs alone are hurting future global investments.

All the data says it’s a poor idea. There are literally hundreds of professional sources on the subject. Here are just a few: Congressional Budget Office, EconoFact, United Nations.


Look, I understand if you still support the policy, especially if you believe that in the long run America will recover and excel. But there are so many people out there who support the tariff policy without reading ANY of the data on it.


And if you question the tariff policy, you get dismissed as a Trump hater, and, in some cases, as a liberal snowflake. Hell, even if you're conservative and you question the policy, all of a sudden you're a RINO.

These arguments create a dichotomy between two unlike conclusions, no matter how much the data says otherwise. No matter how STUPID a policy might be.

Which brings me to my third point.

Life Is Biased

Sometimes the facts don’t matter. This may seem counterintuitive based on what we’ve discussed so far since we just got done talking about how people create false arguments and conclusions.


There is a very real need for people to separate information and data from the politics that surrounds it. People need to be better about judging policies and ideas through data and statistics.

BUT both points can exist. They’re not mutually exclusive.

Because sometimes the facts don’t matter. Because sometimes people just have very different outlooks on life.

Let me illustrate this point with an example.

Imagine two different people, side by side.


Person A values the rights of the individual. Person B values the good of the group.

Person A supports policies and people who value the rights of the individual.

Person A supports policies valuing the individual even if the policies lead to a less healthy group. Because at the end of the day, Person A thinks that individual freedom is a core tenet of being human. Without individual freedom, humans aren’t human.

Person B, on the other hand, supports policies and people who value the good of the group.

Person B believes that the good of the group is the most important thing in life and that a society is only as good as the least well-off. Person B believes that sometimes it is important to sacrifice individual rights in order to help the less fortunate. Even if a policy leads to a restriction of individual rights, at least the group is better off. Supporting the group is a core tenet of being human. Without the health of the group, humans aren’t human.

For Person A and Person B, it doesn’t matter what the data shows. The data is useless for someone who doesn’t even support the premise of argument.

And sure, we can get into an argument over whether or not Person A or Person B’s views are correct or not.


Perhaps my first two points of The Bias Issue created a false comparison between individual rights and the good of the group. Perhaps this wouldn’t even be an argument if people were more informed or if these views weren’t core tenets of the conservative and liberal movements.

And this leads me to my grand conclusion.

Bias is Relative

But is this “relativity” justified? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Let’s look at the three original reasons for The Bias Issue again:

1) People aren’t very good at weighing the validity of information.

2) Everything is politicized.

3) Life has an inherent bias.

For each of these points let’s address whether or not “relativity” is justified.

1) People aren’t very good at weighing the validity of information.

Personally, I understand why someone has trouble weighing the validity of information. I also understand how someone could be misinformed. But I don’t think it’s a good excuse. I think we need to do a better job as individuals and as a society to educate our people to think more creatively, more abstractly, and more independently. Right now, our education system promotes information overload (how much can we cram into our heads for the next big test?), and it emphasizes the what over the why (or how).

2) Everything is politicized.

I also understand why our world has become more politicized. And I understand that this politicization might lead to a misinformed population. But I also don’t think this is a good excuse. I think it’s important to have better government policy in place to restrain and control media corporations. There needs to be a better attempt at emphasizing facts and data in the news.


I also believe part of the problem exists in our political system, which enables and rewards partisanship. Somehow we’ve allowed gerrymandering that rigs elections from the ground up. An election process that only allows two people to win the primaries and move onto the general election. An electoral college that doesn’t accurately represent its people. A general election that’s winner-take-all instead of rank-voting. A checks-and-balances system that really isn’t checks-and-balances. The list goes on.

3) Life has an inherent bias.

Finally, I understand why people have different world views. And this time, I do think it’s justified. I think it’s important for people to have a core belief system. To have a plan for humanity’s future. I also think it’s important for people to have different world views. It breeds compromise and allows humans to keep each other in check. Do I think all world views are equal? Hell no. Some world views are a product of misinformation and politicization, and some world views are downright stupid. But I think the benefits of having a diversity of views far outweighs the negatives.

Conclusion


The Bias Issue is a difficult issue to solve.


The Bias Issue is embedded in our culture at a genetic level. It's the natural outcome of a species who is very competitive with one another. People naturally look for easy ways to influence a lot of people, which in turn creates The Bias Issue.


Another reason The Bias Issue is a difficult issue to solve is that people can’t read each other’s minds. Without mind-reading abilities, information will always be misinterpreted to some extent. This misinterpretation leads to differences in opinions, false conclusions, social bubbles, overly-emotional reasoning, and a general misunderstanding of social movements.


The final reason the Bias Issue is a difficult issue to solve is that human culture is like a DIY house project. Whenever a leak springs up, human culture tends to put duct-tape on the issue instead of addressing the problem at its core. For example, changing our education systems to promote more abstract and creative thinking would definitely help the issue. But in the eyes of many, making this change is just too much darn work!


I hope there are some changes we can make that doesn’t involve modifying our genetic code or resetting our culture. I hope that, over time, we can address The Bias Issue through the education of our younger generations.


Unfortunately, I think The Bias Issue will get worse before it gets better. Our culture doesn't appear to be close to addressing this issue. And based on our culture's history, it may even take a tragedy for us to acknowledge a new way of thinking.


But perhaps I'm just biased here. Perhaps I've seen far too much negative news in the media. Perhaps I ignore the good things that are happening in our society. Perhaps our society is already addressing The Bias Issue and I don't even know it.


If that's the case, I encourage you to reach out and help me to shift my biases. It's the least we can do for each other.


Thank you.

286 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All