Where You Stand Versus Sit

While this blog is called “Overcoming Bias”, I don’t recall explicitly addressing biases in a while. So let me revisit a bias which, though it is pretty clearly visible, most people don’t even bother to hide: where they stand depends on where they sit.

For example, their position on feminism and gender relations is predictable from their gender. Their position on redistribution is predictable from their generation. Their position on math vs words is predictable from their math vs word ability. Their position on a dispute between marketing and engineering depends on which division they sit in. And so on. If you give it some thought, you will notice that a lot of views are predictable, at least on average, from where people sit.

Yes, this is less of a problem for views on what is good for people like them, or what things look like to people like them. But most of us have a great many views on what is good in general, and what things are in general, views that are also predictable from who we are.

Yes, most of us can quickly point out exceptions, where our views go against that predicted by where we sit. But this is less about particular views and more about an overall pattern. (And it would be great if someone would set up a poll to show people just how well their views are predicted by where they sit.)

Yes, you choose some of where you sit. So you might claim that correlations between where you stand and sit are caused by your first choosing your view, and then choosing your place in the world. But this only works for a small number of views per place, as only a small number can plausibly have had strong influence on this choice. Thus such correlations become more or a problem the more different unrelated views are implied by your place.

We tend to be more tolerant of partisan views by experts and elites. That is, when experts disagree with non experts, or elites disagree with non-elites, we tend to take the side of the experts and elites. And thus are more okay with self-favoring views of experts and elites. But only because we are even less okay with those who disagree with experts and elite; be especially wary of your views being predictable by those features.

One reason we tend to tolerate this bias in ourselves is that we don’t mind showing allegiance to our associates, who tend to reward such loyalty. But ask yourself how biased you really want to be in favoring your associates.

This bias seems to me so pervasive that someone who had successfully rid themselves of it would likely also have rid themselves of a great many other biases. So this one seems well worth working on for that reason alone.

Added 1Jan: A Twitter poll asking people for their rank re this bias finds a pretty well-calibrated distribution. Thus people tend to accept and embrace this bias; they aren’t embarrassed enough by it to try to deny it.

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