Recognizing Bias

When I write, whether fiction or essay or poetry or memoir, my intent is to write honestly. The challenge to writing honestly is two-fold. First, writing honestly requires the writer to both know truth and how to tell it and, second, the process exposes the writer to attacks for precisely the reason that he is who he is. If a writer wants to protect himself from withering attacks for his beliefs, he best not share them. If a writer wants to avoid giving readers the opportunity to use shame, guilt, and blame as tools against the writer (or as as excuses for the reader’s misfortunes), the writer either must not write or must not share what he has written. I choose to write, share what I’ve written (but not force anyone to read it), and express my opinions honestly. When I recognize them, I acknowledge my biases; even when I’m not sure bias helps shape my opinions, I try to examine my thoughts, with an eye toward finding hidden biases.

Bias, though, is not intrinsically evil. Bias offers a protective shield against a world gone awry. Bias alerts us to dangers that we may not even understand. We ought to listen to our biased reactions to the world in which we live, because those reactions can express truth we’d rather not know. So, what does that mean? Bias is good? No. Only that bias is a filter that offers us a warning. The warning may, indeed, be one directed outward to ugliness in our environment. Or, it may be directed inward, warning us against ourselves, against the imperfections within us that threaten our humanity.

The real threat of bias is that it tends to push us toward the fringes of belief. Bias pressures us to take an “all or nothing” stance on matters that, in the final analysis, don’t matter. Bias pushes us to take positions when we’re perfectly satisfied with ambiguity or undecided. Or when we’re too afraid to speak out on matters that, in our judgement, don’t warrant the risk that speaking out entails.

I think I may have crossed the threshold of being unwilling to put up with any of this anymore. If so, I will slink away without bravery or cowardice; I will just slip away. I’m tired of hatred and fury and suspicion and distrust. My principles won’t allow me to cave in to the times; they require me to slide away with a rage that no one hears. There’s no good reason that we’ve become what we’ve become; the only reasonable explanation is that humans are unworthy of their place on the planet. That is a position I can embrace with what little passion is left.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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