On Biases

 

Over the past few years in the USA, hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear cries and screams of “fake news” in a variety of ways. Although that phrase is primary associated to a shameful bloviator, it’s merely a substitute for another term that has been around not only my entire life of 66+ years, but long before. After all, it’s entomological roots are in the 16th century – and that word is bias.

During today’s tribalism, hyper-partisanship, and strong outward expressions of opinions, the biased person watching a biased news broadcast, reading a biased article/book, or listening to a biased radio pundit does not negate bias – but rather enhances it.

Often grounded in assumptions based on one’s culture, parents, peers, education, religion, geography, and personal experiences, biases are that filter leading one to predetermined outcomes. Biases are the neme, slant, lean, and tendency leading one to change what one observes into what they want. That is, the biased person makes the information fit for themselves. Biases unquestionably lead to misinformation and misconceptions; plus stronger biases enhance prejudice and bigotry.

Misconceptions are incorrect ideas grounded in a personal belief system serving as the foundation of incorrect knowledge. Misconceptions get in the way of learning by blocking new information. In order to justify their position, the learner will do whatever is necessary to fight against accepting the new information.

Here’s a simple example. All human blood is red, but the shade varies depending on the amount of oxygen present. Blood rich in oxygen is bright red, but blood low in oxygen is very dark red. In short, there is no blue blood.

A person believing the existence of blue blood will do whatever necessary to keep their belief. They point to the blue veins below the skin – drawings in textbooks showing showing red and blue blood vessels. They explain the skin turns blue after one dies because blood is not moving and getting oxygen. They believe in the immediacy (faster than eyes can detect) of blood changing from blue to red when bleeding from a cut vein. Years ago, an eighth grade classmate of mine even brought paper tissues (with blue food coloring) to class showing she had a nosebleed the night before. She went out of her way to argue her bias with the teacher.

Now expand this simple idea into more complex topics as evolution, vaccines, climate change – let alone complicated issues as health care, foreign policy, and the economy. The more complex the topic, a basic understanding requires more information than obtained from the first click on a single Google search. Now cloud the issue/topic with politically-driven partisan ideas that people blindly accept through a party-driven mantra.

Fighting bias challenges what one believes, so overcoming biases requires a conscious effort and can be personally humbling – even for those thinking they are unbiased. No matter how simple or complex the topic or issue, and no matter the age of the person involved, not only does everyone have misconceptions, only that person (the one holding the misconception) can remove that misconception and replace it with new information. In order to replace the misinformation, that person must either accept the new information from a person they recognize as knowledgeable or they must experience a learning event that alters their view.

Besides preventing learning and becoming knowledgeable and informed, misconceptions can humiliate a person. After all, nobody likes being wrong. Some bring it upon themselves by boasting incorrectly about a topic as if they know. After all, it’s the speed and conviction of the statement that validates the statement. Speak with confidence so others think you know.

On the other hand, misconceptions about a person can humiliate them – but in a different way because they are fightly personal misconceptions about their character, knowledge, and/or abilities. I keep thinking about a manager who told me that what others think of me is more important than who I actually am.

I’ve stated this before and here it comes again – The news media is biased by its very nature.

1) Media people are human, therefore have a filter (whether personal, corporate, or both).

2) Secondly, reports reduce the news event to an abstract. For instance, the media may reduce a one-hour speech into a 90-second report. This condensation is a natural bias; plus, generalizations are naturally less accurate and are not the complete story. Generalizations lead one away from the truth and generalizing generalizations can lead to falsehoods – therefore, misconceptions.

3) Thirdly, the selection of the soundbyte is an natural bias, as are the follow-up questions – but the media must do these actions. That’s part of reporting.

The listener’s bias also plays into the situation. Whether informed or not, the one holding deep convictions about a topic is not only biased against those with an opposing view, they are also vulnerable to getting sucked into generalizations based on misinformation and overgeneralizations that lacks details.

However, if the listener does not agree with the selected edits, abstract report, or the question asked does not mean the reporter or news organization was blatantly biased to favor a point of view – but it could.

On the listener’s side is the fact that if they work traditional morning-afternoon hours, they have limited opportunity to view national evening news by a major network. After that point in time, the 24/7 news channels offer shows featuring and promoting a particular point of view – for instance, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, and others. However, television isn’t the only news source.

Technology has made more information is available to everyone than ever before. Unfortunately, that also means more misinformation is available today more than any other time in history.

Social media complicates and exacerbates personal bias by increasing misinformation, justifying false claims/conclusion, and promoting conspiracy theories. Social media, biased reporting, and talk show echo chambers disengage citizens from the truth while promoting a political agenda.

There is no question that bias plays an important role in the news – and there is plenty of blame to go around. People also carry their share of the blame – actually, in my opinion, people may be the greater problem. People must take responsibility for themselves to challenge and verify the information they receive. However, instead of being proactive citizens, too many people favor reinforcing their bias over being accurately informed.

Valuing factual information is an important aspect of being human – as is the ability to learn – as is the ability to communicate. Too bad there isn’t an anti-bias vaccine. Then again, self-imposed biases would prevent someone from taking that vaccine.

 

PS: This classic scene fits.

On a Book Review – Fascism: A Warning

I recall seeing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on various talk shows promoting this book. Once I decided to use the public library during my stay in Alabama, this book was at the top of my list – especially after reading Prague Winter a few months earlier.

Fascism: A Warning was not available on my first trip to the library, so that’s when I read Albright’s The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs. Not long thereafter, I reserved the book I wanted.

Published by Harper-Collins in 2018, Fascism: A Warning contains 254 pages within 17 chapters, plus acknowledgments, endnotes, bibliography, and an index.

Throughout the book, she shares her personal experiences with Fascism that started as a child during WWII in her native Czechoslovakia – a country for who her father served as a diplomat – a country with a proud democracy – a country later controlled by Nazis – a country that would become part of the Communist bloc – a country that would regain democracy as part of the Velvet Revolution in late 1989.

Her personal history involves being born in Czechoslovakia, living in Serbia, living in exile in England during WWII, returning to Czechoslovakia, and fleeing to the United States. Reading Prague Winter helped me understand life during the 1930s and 1940s – as well as the loss of family members in the Holocaust.

To introduce the topic (Fascism), Albright shares discussions with and thoughts by students in her classes at Georgetown University. Because of my past-life as a teacher, I know the importance of this by dealing with prior knowledge and misconceptions very early in the learning process. Her definition of a Fascist is the following:

Fascist: Someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, someone who is utterly unconcerned with the Rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have.

After the introduction, the next four chapters center around Adolf Hitler (Germany) and Benito Mussolini (Italy) – their rise to power, their styles, their relationship, and their demise. General Francisco Franco (Spain) is embedded. If you recall this post past I did as a Final Jeopardy question (about Fascism), I based the list primarily on the first five chapters of this book.

The Chapters 6-14 focuses on past leaders as Joseph Stalin (USSR) and Slobodan Milosevic (former Yugoslavia); plus modern leaders as Hugo Chavez & Nicolas Maduro (Venezuela) with past leaders Juan & Eva Peron (Argentina) and Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines) are integrated into the chapter. Vladimir Putin (Russia), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey), Viktor Orban (Hungary), and the three generations of Kims in North Korea (DPRK) have dedicated chapters. Jaroslav Kaczynski (Poland) is integrated in the chapter about Hungary.

While a separate chapter focuses on President Trump, different US Presidents (starting with FDR) appear throughout the book. Madeleine Albright is perfectly clear that she is not a fan of President Trump, his agenda, and his tactics. She continues to believe in the strong light of liberty and democracy along with having a strong faith in the United States. (For the record, President Trump has praised at least four of the leaders listed in the previous paragraph.)

Chapter 16 examines if Fascism could become dominant in the US. After all, aspects of US history have events paralleling Europe. For instance, a Nazi movement in the US existed in the 1930s and 1940s.

In Chapter 17 (the final chapter), Albright focuses on connecting the dots by looking at the present world through the lens of the past and her experiences as a diplomat and a human. She unquestionably sees the growth in modern-day Fascism as a threat to international peace.

This is the third book I’ve read by Madeleine Albright, and like the others, it’s an easy read and meant for the general public. As with her other books, the reader’s political view will impact her words and their conclusions. Bill Woodward co-authors all three books with Albright.

For me, this book has a scary side – but I also see a hope. Then again, humanity as a way of not learning from its mistakes. Thumbs up to Fascism: A Warning.

On a Book Review: The Mighty and The Almighty

One afternoon while in Alabama, we went to the public library. I knew the book I wanted wasn’t available, so I browsed. When I saw this one, I knew this was for me – The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs by Madeleine Albright.

This book by the former US Secretary of State focuses on the success and failures of US foreign policy in the Middle East after the horrific events of 9-11 – but with a definite eye on religion. We know presidents intertwine politics, religion, and policy, but what about if they proclaim a special relationship with God that is derived from God? What are the religious forces acting on the political?

The Middle East is the home to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Three faiths descending from the same genealogical tree – three faiths claiming the importance of obedience – three faiths with a religious fundamentalism driving the narrative while not representing the majority in that faith.

Published by Harper-Collins in 2006, The Mighty and the Almighty divides its 352 pages into three sections (plus endnotes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index):

  • Part I (seven chapters) examines “America’s position in the world and the role played by religion and morality in shaping US foreign policy.”
  • Part II (ten chapters) focuses “On relationships between Islamic communities and the West” with dedicated chapters on Iraq, Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, Jihads, Israel & Palestine, and more.
  • Part III (two chapters) are “Personal thoughts about how US foreign policy and religion can intersect.”

Two particular chapters caught my attention because they can stand alone as important reading for anyone. Chapter 4 focuses on Madeleine Albright’s personal belief system. It’s very personal, edgy, and sprinkled with quotes from leading authorities supporting her point. There were times I even laughed. One doesn’t have to agree with her on every aspect, but this chapter helps readers understand her.

The second, Chapter 8, should be required reading for every non-Muslim because it provides a condensed view of Islam – a religion that most people know very little about, therefore hold many misconceptions that reside at the core of decisiveness.

The 2006 publishing date was during the George W Bush presidency, The Mighty and the Almighty offers readers a chance to look back at the early years of the post 9-11 world through the lens of what we know today. Throughout the text, Albright offers personal insights from a diplomatic perspective, as well as supportive quotes by prominent people.

There are times when she is critical of the Bush administration – so I’m confident this bothers certain partisan readers who also won’t notice the times when she praises President Bush. Christian conservatives won’t like this book because it does not reinforce their worldview and Middle East perspective.

While well-written, absorbing, and easy to read, The Mighty and the Almighty is insightful about the complexities of foreign policy. After all, foreign policy diplomats have a toolbox of available tools to use such as diplomacy, economic incentives or sanctions, law enforcement, military action or support, and using intelligence to gain more information about the situation.

Anyone looking for excruciating detail will be disappointed because Albright wrote this book for the general public – not experienced, well-informed diplomats. How much detail can a 14-15 page chapter about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deliver? However, for most of us, there is enough information woven together that explains the situation’s complexity.

Perhaps her dedication says it all: “Dedicated to those in every nation and faith who defend liberty, build peace, dispel ignorance, fight poverty, and seek justice.”

To Madeleine Albright and her book – Thumbs up to The Mighty and the Almighty.

On aFa Final Jeopardy

 

Welcome to aFa Final Jeopardy. I’m your host, aFrank Angle.

For those who don’t know how to play, here is a refresher. The answer will appear below, and you submit your response in the form of a question. Let’s play aFa Final Jeopardy!!! 30 seconds on the clock, please. Click to get started.

Category: Leadership

 

 

Answer

Nationalism
Protectionism
Vilifying immigrants
Anti-Semitic
Ethnic identity
Controlling the press
Threatening, jailing, or killing political rivals
Autocrats praising other autocrats
Authoritarian
Aggressive
Anti-Socialism
Condemnation of independent media
Promoting lies
Hateful
Fighting the establishment
Championing for the oppressed and disenfranchised
Distaste for democracy
Denying themselves
Promoting fear and anger

Scroll down below the image to see the correct response.

 

Question: What are the qualities of Fascist Leaders?

How did you do?

On a Snit about a Fear

Breaking News Alert

I interrupt my regularly scheduled post for a timely message. Some may say a bit of a snit. Allow me to scream first.

 

Although I am far from the Democratic Left, President Trump’s frequent cry of “Socialism” and Republicans yelling “Socialism” as a response to the Progressive message of the Green New Deal has gotten under my skin more than the agenda itself.

My response is an important question to the GOP and their minions: When are you going to campaign against government-run taxpayer-funded Socialstic programs?

Eliminating (not reforming) Social Security
Eliminating unemployment benefits
Eliminating food stamps
Eliminate government housing
Stop housing assistance
Stop funding public roads & schools
Eliminate disability payments
Eliminate benefits for government employees
Eliminate Medicare
Eliminate Medicaid
Eliminate financial assistance for foster care, adoption child care & development
Eliminate food and health programs for children through schools
Eliminate health insurance assistance
Eliminate assisting communities with local services
Eliminate educational loans & grants for schools & students
Eliminate funding for museums & libraries
Eliminate subsidies for business
Eliminate public-funded transportation
Eliminate farm subsidies
Abolish the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA)
Abolish the Small Business Administration (SBA)
Abolish the Veterans’ Administration (VA)

… and I’m sure there are many more examples.

I know you won’t answer the question, so I’ll answer it for you. You won’t because you are gutless hypocrites who can’t practice want they preach for you are the party of fear and anger who preys on ignorance. No wonder I left the party.