On Bias

September 10, 2008 at 9:27 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , )

Bias.  Always a bad thing, isn’t it?  After all, a biased jury convicts poor innocent people of crimes that they couldn’t have committed, just because a biased media spent the last six months of the trial blasting the public with one-sided commentary on the trial.  Even worse is when ‘bias’ becomes an ‘-ism.’  Racism, ageism, elitism, sexism – all bad things.

Or are they?

After all – a bias is merely preferring one thing over another.  I have a bias towards vanilla ice cream and pineapple-coconut cakes.  I have a bias towards Final Fantasy 6 and Resident Evil 4, and against God of War and Final Fantasy 7.  These aren’t bad things… so we call them ‘preferences’ or ‘likes’ instead of ‘biases.’

My point in all of this is that bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just a bad name for something neutral that we often see in a negative light (see also: ‘cliches’ versus ‘traditional plots’ or ‘stereotypes’ versus ‘archetypes’).

Bias becomes a bad thing when it colors your opinions and you don’t acknowledge it.  Well, since I can’t help it coloring my opinions here (as you’ll see soon), I figure it’s best to just come out and admit to them.  Look at it this way – after this, you’ll know to take it with a grain of salt when I come out swinging against the latest comments from the Religious Right.

Bias #1:  Like most people who consistently (and, some would say, Quixotically) vote Libertarian, I support small government.

It means that I think the government should keep its nose out of my business.

The government has the right to stop me from taking actions that pose an immediate threat to the people around me – like driving down the I-Road at 80 mph (though, ironically, it seems increasingly reluctant to exercise that right, to judge by my morning commutes.)

It does not have the right to tell me that I can’t eat butter, because that’ll make me fat and turn me into a drain on society.

It does not have the right to tell me I can’t get married to whoever I want, so long as they are a legally-consenting human adult within that jurisdiction.

You’ll notice that the government, State or Federal, has done (or is doing) both of these things in some places.

Similarly, it’s not the Government’s place to save the world.  They can feel free to say ‘we would prefer that you do this,’ or ‘please don’t do that.’  I’m even willing to let them encourage those steps – place a tax on the vices, or offer substantial tax credits for the use of ‘green’ practices.  But I do not feel it is the government’s place to force the people to behave the way they feel is ‘right.’

Why not?  Because right is ultimately a very subjective thing in a lot of fields.  After all – there was a time when it was ‘right’ to feel that the mentally disabled should be sterilized so they can’t contribute to the ‘genetic weakening’ of the people.  There was a time when it was ‘right’ to consider homosexuality a mental disorder.  There was a time when it was ‘right’ to do a lot of things we consider abhorrent now… and that is precisely why the government shouldn’t have the power to force people to live by the standards it considers ‘right’.

Bias #2:  I support the Constitution.

The Constitution is a wonderful, wonderful document.  It lays out all of these rules for what the government can do with its not-inconsiderable power.  Brilliantly, it also lays out all of these rules for what the government can’t do with its not-inconsiderable power.  If only it would follow those rules reliably, we’d all be a lot better off.

It also has these amazing things called amendments.  A large number of these grant what we call civil rights.  For example, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of (in this order):

  1. Religion
  2. Speech
  3. The Press
  4. Assembly
  5. Petition

All of which means that the government can’t require people to follow – or not follow – the religion of their choice.  It can’t say that the public can’t say or write bad things about it – it also can’t say that the public can’t say or write bad things about other people.  Basically, when they wrote the Constitution, they said very specifically that it’s a good thing that we can disagree, and that Congress (or other branches of the government, it has later been determined) can’t say that we don’t have the right to disagree, publically, and to express our opinions, no matter how vile.  I can say or write whatever I want, so long as I am not committing slander or libel, and so long as I’m not encouraging people to commit criminal acts.

And you have every right to be offended by it, and to argue with me, and to tell me that what I said is offensive.  But you don’t have the right to force me not to say it because you find it offensive (if we did have that right, we’d be an awfully quiet country).

Of course, not all of the amendments were such brilliant ideas – I give you the 18th amendment – but we’ve managed to weed out the rotten ones over the years.

Bias #3:  I support personal freedoms.

In my opinion, the government has rarely, if ever, accomplished something good by banning something.  Prohibition is probably the best example of this – while it sounded like a good idea to ban alcohol, doing so gave us a sustained and powerful organized crime base, which has survived ever since on continued vice laws.  Ironically, considering my preference for small government, I tend to support the idea of the government allowing pretty much everything, and then regulating it so that responsible usage is preferable to abusive usage.  It works for pretty much everything, but that’s a topic for another post.

Similarly, I don’t support banning abortion.  While I don’t particularly approve of it, history has shown that banning it simply drives it underground, with some excessively gruesome results.

Bias #4:  I believe that people of any gender, race, faith, gender identity, philosophy, or body shape have equal rights.

Now, that’s a pretty common one, and one that most people won’t disagree with.  But it includes some things that members of both ends of the political spectrum don’t usually agree with.  For example, I believe that we all have the right to marry one or more people with whom we are in love.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think that the government has any place in regulating marriage – it should be a strictly religious matter, with a secular union available that grants the legal priviliges currently restricted to married couples (that whole ‘separation of church and state’ thing).  But, so long as the government handles marriages, it should offer the option up to anybody.

Similarly, I believe that racists and other people with objectionable views have as much right to speak their minds as you or I.  As I said before, neither the First Amendment nor the Fourteenth grant you the right to not be offended.  If I have the right to say that people of all races are equal, then the KKK has the right to say they aren’t.

I also have the right to go there and heckle the living daylights out of them, but that’s the beauty of the First Amendment.

That’s probably enough for just now.  If I come across others later on, I’ll try to point out where I find something offensive (though frankly, you’ll probably have an easy enough time of picking it up yourselves….)

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