I often start my postings with a joke, and I’ve come to see that the reason is that jokes that stay with me are ones that teach a lesson, and that the lessons are often relevant to the issues we discuss here. Here’s
Hal, this is a joke that always struck me more as if it were a kind of riddle, and though there's a silliness in the set-up, this discussion made me realise a deeper truth. We're always engaged in both the personal and political, and if men think 'extrinsically', i.e. they formulate their thoughts outwards, and project their dilemmas onto the Big Picture, then it's because they are, on some level at least, aware of the inherently parallel relationship of their private struggles and their political ones. We can talk about Marx and Capital, or the founding father's libertarian ideals, because we're engaged in the process of knowing ourselves and our world, and because we're always seeking to achieve balance. I don't think it's a posturing thing; it's actually necessary; as you've demonstrated.
"the existence, or lack thereof, of an afterlife will not change no matter how much we think about it"
This, I disagree with. Consciousness is primary. What we conceive of in this life affects the future. Causality applies, even when obscured by death.
Questions about what distant, powerful people should do can affect aspects of one's own life.
People like to discuss what characters in stories and films should do; news stories serve a similar role, with the benefit of meaty realism.
For instance, discussing terrorists yields ideas about the value of appeasement and the nature of rationality. Forming opinions about the current Polonium poisoning crisis between the UK and Russia might tell us things about the flexibility of laws, or how much to trust governments, or appeasement, again, or whether it's always right to stand on principle - or any other philosophical point that might happen to spin off from it.
Then there are the discussions which really are just empty pomposity. I'm glad to say I don't encounter them often. Usually anything important-sounding really is important, not just in its material effects but philosophically.
The woman in the joke's small issues ought really to lead her into a dialogue with her husband's big issues. If his position is that the West is devious and meddling and the Soviets aren't so bad, for instance, perhaps they should be buying starkly functional furniture that reflects the struggle of the workers - certainly nothing showy with gold knobs on; and perhaps they should be sending their children on educational trips to a commune.
The joke suggests to me that the husband and wife are actually working in opposition, and the wife has the upper hand while the husband's opinions are ignored.
Rob, I agree that discussing and thinking about big issues makes sense if you are trying to seek information that may actually affect your life. You may want to try to figure out if climate change is a real threat in order to judge how it will impact your local area, for example.
The bias I see relates to discussions aimed at deciding what the right large-scale policies are for these various challenges. Most discussions of climate change tend to focus on what should be done about it. That's why it is so intense, skeptics seem motivated by dislike of the collectivist and invasive policies which the threat would seem to call for.
The problem is that most people can't do anything significant about it, so arguments over policies expend time and effort without direct benefit. The benefits and motivations must be indirect, related to the process of argumentation itself. If people generally admitted this, that they argue just for the love of argumentation, or to show how well they fit into their social subculture, then I wouldn't call it a bias. But I see a disconnect between what seems to motivate people in these debates and what must be their actual motivation. Persistently failing to recognize the truth about one's own motivations is an error and a bias.
Hal, I am not sure that most people analyze themselves enough to consider their motives for obsessing about politics, any more than sex or food or football or general fun. Is it a bias to not think about something at all?
I'd guess that the instinctual motive is to know enough about what is happening in the wider world that you may enable your wife and children to "escape from the oppressors scourge", or invest in it or whatever. Less important in these relatively peaceful times, perhaps, but it seems to me that even today, people in the US who strongly identify with the Democrats or Republicans promise to leave the country when the bad guys gain power.
gives us a chance to show off, to test and demonstrate our mental skills. It lets us display our commitment to the common values of our social group. It gives us an excuse to denigrate those who disagree and so boost our own self-esteem.
What if we accept this claim, but choose only the goal of showing off our mental skills, and reject the goals of showing group loyalty or denigrating outsiders. Can we create social contexts in which discovering the truth is the best way to show off our mental skills? Can those contexts displace other contexts when contexts compete?
Rob and Lee, this is what I wrote about why I see it as a bias:
"There's nothing necessarily wrong with doing things for these reasons, but the problem is that for most of us, our own motivations are obscured. Most of us don't realize that is why we are arguing about the war in Iraq or international trade. We are deceiving ourselves, and if we are going to overcome this bias, we need to recognize the truth."
What do you think most people perceive as their motivation for spending so much time on big issues?
I will second what Rob Spear said. I was going to post a similar comment. I don't see the bias in the sense that is usually meant on this blog.
It was still an enjoyable read, though.
While it is true that we cannot directly influence the course of current events, we can exert an indirect influence by contributing to the ideological subtext upon which governments and other powerful organisations base their decisions. Good ideas have a way of spreading themselves, and can change the minds that guide the collective hand. How do you think the environmental movement got started? Or women's rights? Or modern capitalism?
So I think your defeatism is misplaced, Hal. If you think that your ideas are good you should share them, because other people might agree with you.
I happen to be one of those people who has confidence that people other than myself can better guide our nation. I do not advocate this view, as pluralistic ignorance will destroy our government. However, I think certain people are better than others at certain things… if everyone went into politics, who will have the skills needed to fix a broken toilet?
I agree many people use politics to sound informed and intelligent, but I don't think those who discuss these issues out of true concern are spending excessive time/energy on issues they have no real control over. For example: the existence, or lack thereof, of an afterlife will not change no matter how much we think about it and try and figure it out. But does this mean we shouldn’t even think about it? Our conclusions, while not changing whether or not an afterlife exists, have a ripple effect on all our decisions. And so it is with certain people and politics, I think.
What is the difference between truth and power?What is the difference between bias and truth?
"My impression of Overcoming Bias is that these are generally academic types who are admirably committed to the truth, but I doubt that it will "sell in Peoria"."
Based on my opinion, at certain times, truth needs to be a beneficial advantage whether it sells or not.
Thank you for answering.I was quick to judge, my apology.
Barkley Rosser wrote: Women will have some power, possibly great power.
What creates a woman's will to have power? I have no need for power, so I am rather curious as to know what your leaning towards?
Anna, I think that bias is: "the persisting tendency of an individual to wrongly judge some defined set of declarations about the world".
I apologize if that is clumsily phrased: I am not much of a writer.
For instance, a racist may be biased because they falsely judge negative statements about individuals of a particular race to be true.
My impression of Overcoming Bias is that these are generally academic types who are admirably committed to the truth, but I doubt that it will "sell in Peoria".
Thankyou for asking.
You wrote:"This posting seems to be criticizing the spending of time trying to understand one facet of the world rather than another, which is more of an individual choice I would think." (Or maybe)
And what do you think bias is?What's your impression of Overcoming Bias?
Is this really a "bias" in the terms of this blog? I was assuming that bias here meant something like "the persisting tendency of an individual to wrongly judge some defined set of declarations about the world". This posting seems to be criticizing the spending of time trying to understand one facet of the world rather than another, which is more of an individual choice I would think.