How do you know you're right?

by Ben Albahari 24. November 2009 16:10

It's beyond doubt that unconscious biases mean that you're wrong about a lot of stuff.

Even worse, you're likely to be wrong about the most important stuff to you. Think of the suicide bomber who believes they'll get 72 virgins when they die. You think they're insane? While none of your views may be so visually spectacular, some will be no more logical. To avoid being wrong you need to consider alternatives. You are incapable of fairly considering alternatives until you become aware of your biases.

Becoming aware of a bias can be next to impossible because a bias is self-reinforcing. All your judgments are made through the lens of the bias. A bias actually affects your judgment of the bias itself. One reason a depressed person stays depressed is that the depression removes the person's motivation to get out of the depression. The deepest biases work the same way. They remove your ability to see objectively, and it is that objectivity that you need to see your bias.

Why remove a bias?

Because you care. Slavery is wrong, right? At the time though, the people who were benefiting from slavery loved it. They even had justifications for why it was in the slaves' interest to be a slave. Had they removed their biases, they couldn't have possibly justified such beliefs. Bias breeds pigs. You're not a racist pig; you're just a different breed of pig. And a pig who not only doesn't know it's a pig but who's proud not to be a pig. To escape this hypocrisy, you can ditch others and proudly declare personal hedonism your God, but that makes you a Dog. No morals, no hypocrisy, and at some level worse than a suicide bomber who at least attempts morality, albeit with the pavlovian sophistication of a psycho-virgin promised a virgin-brothel. Your remaining option is to just sheepishly confess that you're just a sheep. You go with the flow. It's not so much that you don't care, it's just that caring about a problem requires thinking about a problem, and you don't think. In this case, there's another reason to remove your biases. Because right now, the slave might be you.

Without being aware of biases, you are a prime target for manipulation. You're essentially outsourcing your soul and delegating the decisions in your life to others who are eager to exploit you. Do you think that the interests of companies, governments, churches, collegues, and even friends and family, are perfectly aligned with yours? Whenever there is a conflict of interest, they'll try do what's in their interests. And one of the most effective ways for them to get their way is to exploit your biases.

Having said all this, relax. You share the same views as your good friends and people who are wrong don't have good friends. So avoid friction. You share the same views as some pretty convincing experts, and experts, especially the convincing ones, are never biased. So avoid questions. Think whatever you're already thinking. Believe what you already believe. I like the steady target of a dull sheep. I'm not naive enough to think that I can change your mind. I'm happy to exploit you. I think that you're a slave and even though I'm telling this to you, you're helpless to do anything about it, because you don't think that you are one.


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