Binary Thought Disorder

September 16, 2009 at 3:10 pm (Politics) (, , , , , )

So, once we accept that BTD is a problem… how do we fix it?

The first thing that has to be dealt with is frequently a matter of bias.  Consider the following story.

The ATF, under Bush, serves a weak warrant on a compound of fundamentalist Muslims.  Attempting to serve this warrant, they approach the building, opening fire on the dogs outside.  The people inside, hearing gunfire, some being struck by bullets from the outside, return fire.  This touches off a nearly 2 month siege that ends only when tanks are used to knock in the walls of the compound, teargas being fired into the building at over 10 times the normal rate.  During this confrontation, a fire begins, burning down the compound and killing those inside, at least those who hadn’t suffocated because of the tear gas (hard to tell which is which).  Women and children were among those killed.  During the investigation afterwards, it becomes clear that it’s possible incendiary grenades were fired in along with the tear gas, that the ATF passed up opportunities to arrest the leader of the group a week before the initial raid, and that methods used during the siege to try and break the people inside included sleep deprivation methods that would later be used at Gitmo.

Now, had this actually happened, I suspect we’d have practically had riots in the streets.  The trick is that several key words changed… namely, this happened under Clinton, and it happened to Christian fundamentalists rather than Muslim ones.  Maybe you remember the name of the city it happened in – Waco.  And there’s a lot more that happened there, sadly, that makes the story sound even worse for the government.  But this got brushed mostly under the table – Congress cheerfully whitewashed it, and the media accepted said whitewashing, despite obvious factual errors that anybody with a passing familiarity with the gear being used could have pointed out.

Everybody has biases.  Race, religion, politics – these things divide people quite efficiently.  These divisions have been used to justify horrors for centuries – Hitler slaughtered Jews by the million for practically no reason besides their faith.  Stalin slaughtered even more because they owned farms that he wanted turned over to the state.  Both of these people used inflammatory, division-based messages.  Why?  Because you don’t think of a travesty inflicted on somebody you’ve been taught not to like as a travesty.  Similarly, you’re a lot quicker to cry foul when something is done to your best friend than to your worst enemy.

I try to eliminate these types of biases, myself.  Admittedly, it can be difficult at times, but here’s the main thing I try – and something I recommend for pretty much anybody to try.

Before you let something pass, or get ticked off about it, reverse the buzzwords that you’ve heard.  Christian fundamentalists killed in a government raid under Clinton?  Would you accept the official story so readily if they were Islamic fundies killed in a raid under Bush?  Of course, it’s equally offensive to be ready to accept that raid, but be incensed by the actual facts that happened.  Reversals are the most blatant way to point these things out – consider the Ricci case, for example.

If they’d only had minority officers pass that test, and had thrown it out because it clearly had some sort of undetected bias that disadvantaged whites, what would have happend?  The liberals would have screamed that it was obvious racism, and been right at that.  Conservatives would have pointed out that it obviously did have that undetected bias, and possibly been right.

Try this out some time – you might be surprised how often it changes your results.  I was recently challenged on my being ticked off by a scene in Ghost Rider (at my other blog), with the question of “if it hadn’t been a black kid who was spared in that fight scene, would this be as big a deal for you?”  Well, yes, it would have been – my issues weren’t racial there, they were purely artistic.  And I had played my little reversal game, and been just as pissed off by the scene.

Other times, of course, it does come up.  I’ve found that I do tend to be more likely to blindly accept a claim that a woman was assaulted by a man than the other way around.  It’s difficult to accept it the other way quite as easily, but something that I need to watch out for.  Rather ironic, given that I have had issues with women (younger ones, at that) knocking me around in the past (long story.)

This is one of the easier ways to start trying to fight your own case of BTD.  Other ways to try and deal with it on a larger scale will come along later.

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2 Comments

  1. H. o'Dagg said,

    Ya’ know, that’s the kind of thinking that drives a lot of people crazy. Keep it up!

    • wolfemann said,

      I do my best – and don’t worry, as you’ve seen, there are several more posts along the way on this subject. Just wait, before I’m done, I’ll be typing to the tune of black helicopters. 😛

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