On Biases

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

On the USA as a Christian Nation: Part 4 of 4 – My Conclusion

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The purpose of this series is obvious: To examine the notion that the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation, or at least on Christian values and principles. The focus of the previous three posts were the following:

This post (Part 4) focuses on my conclusions and thoughts based on my research. Unlike the previous posts in this series, my thoughts are debatable and subject to agreement and disagreement. Keep in mind that each paragraph stands alone as part of a list – not as flowing text. I numbered the points for easy identification.

Concluding Statements

1) Most of the Framers were either born in a portion of the current United Kingdom (UK) or born of parents from the UK – a place holding a connection between God and Liberty – and a place that was predominantly Christian. The same would be the same for those from the Colonies. The God and Liberty concept is based on the inalienable rights of equality coming from God, so liberty is a God-given right (yet some of these Framers had slaves).  From there, it is up to the people in their life and government to use their goodness and virtue to act for the common good of all.

2) Using their Christian-Judeo background, experiences, knowledge of European democracy, and cognitive reasoning, the Framers established a new paradigm known as the US Constitution to differentiate itself from England.

3) The Framers recognized religious influence on English Common Law and in daily life. After all, Blue Laws keeping businesses closed on Sundays were common place for nearly 200 years. The Christian notion of marriage is well established, only to be recently redefined by the Supreme Court.

4) Although the list could go on, the USA being founded on Christian principles/values should not be denied. Then again, there are numerous principles/values that Christians share with multiple religions as well as various non-believer groups as atheists and agnostics. Many principles/values could be considered as secular or simply common to humanity. Therefore, although they may be rooted in Christianity, the founding documents do not promote uniquely Christian principles/values.

5) The relationship between God and Liberty in the US Constitution is clear to me – but not in the same way as others may see it. The Framers saw “unalienable rights” as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness coming from a higher power than human government – not necessarily the Christian God – but rather the god of one’s choosing if they have one.

6) Whereas the Puritans foresaw a strict religious state, other religious leaders during Colonial times (as William Penn and Roger Williams) envisioned religious tolerance as something good – and through their actions and the First Amendment, America became a place for numerous religious minorities.

10) The Framers used generic language to be inclusive. As America grew into a melting pot of diversity, those unalienable right were for Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Secularists, Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, Christians, and whoever I unintentionally left out.

11) The union between religion and politics is not new because their relationship in America is older than the country itself. During the foundation period of this new country, religious groups influenced the process. Just because some groups desired a Christian nation then and that some groups desire the same today does not mean the United States was established as a Christian nation.

12) The people established the United States of America with a government that is neutral on religion while leaving religious decisions to individuals – not to the federal government, not to any state, not to any political party, and not to any religious organization. Again – the right is to individuals.

When the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or not at all.Justice John Paul Stevens in Lee v. Weisman (1992)

13) The notion of a “Christian America” is a myth. The United States of America was not founded as a Christian nation – it never has been a Christian nation – and is not now! If the framers intended to create a Christian nation, would wouldn’t documents say so? Wouldn’t the intent be overtly obvious?

14) Some of the Framers were outward men of faith – others simply men of private prayer and reflection – and others with no religious belief . Nonetheless, these men sought who intentionally sought religion neutrality. Just as enthusiastic theists can extrapolate references and phrases involving words as God, Creator, and more; others can easily apply the same words in a generic context with an understanding of the god they worship – and without endorsing a particular religion.

The Bottom Line

Today, leaders within the Christian Right continue to perpetuate the myth by cherry-picking data, stretching correlations, and disregarding inconvenient details. No matter the eloquence in their words, anyone stretching the words of our founding documents into Biblical reference is attempting to impose their belief system onto others through politics. Sadly, opinions on the USA as a Christian nation can be aligned with political parties.

Yes – I am Christian – but in no way do I subscribe that branch of Christian thought. As a matter of fact, I am confident the “Christian America” myth is a minority view within American Christianity. There probably also a strong correlation between those promoting the myth and their selfish view of religious liberty.  Perhaps this myth is similar to that of biological evolution – that is, people think they know, but they actually don’t.

On the USA as a Christian Nation: Part 3 of 4 – The No

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Question 2: Was the United States of America founded as a Christian nation?

The idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation has been around since the country’s inception. Whereas the previous post listed the reasons supporting the claim, the purpose of this post is not to debate the issue, but to provide reasons for saying NO – the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. I welcome discussion and comments, but ask commenters to stay on topic. I numbered the reasons for easy identification. The next post will provide my concluding statements about this topic that are debatable.

Reasons Why the USA was Not founded as a Christian Nation

1) The Framers had the benefit of hundreds of years of history to develop a government – a history with the state persecuting religion – a history including the church controlling the state

2) Although six colonies were founded with official religions, no states have official religions

3) Just because some of the Framers were Christian is a fact about the framers, and nothing to do with the USA being a Christian nation

4) Other than personal writings, there is no definitive evidence of the Framers’ intent to establish a Christian nation

5) Examining individual writings does not provide Framer’s intent – but rather provides insight into the individual’s belief system

6) The Revolutionary War was not a religious event – although freedom of religion movement did piggyback the freedom for liberty movement

7) The Declaration of Independence uses “Creator” – but that is a term accepted by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Deists, Secularists, and others

8) Implying the three branches of Federal government established in the US Constitution directly correlates with Isaiah 33:22 is one example (of many) that are disparate attempts to establish the USA as a Christian nation (The Lord is judge, the Lord is our ruler, and the Lord is our king; he will save us.)

9) Although some states included religious preferences for elected officials, Article VI clearly states, “ … but no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trusts under the United States” – which the US Supreme Court has upheld.

10) The Bible does not include any covenant between God and the United States

11) The US Constitution does not mention “God”, “Christ”, “Jesus”, or “Jesus Christ”

12) The Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, and any of the Federalist Papers lack Biblical references, direct references to the Ten Commandments, Christianity, Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ being Savior

13) Although elected presidents may include “So help me God” to conclude their oath into office, those four words are not a Constitutional requirement (Article 2, Section 1)

14) Even if the Framers established the US Constitution on Christian values and principles, this does not imply the USA is a Christian nation

15) Demographics of the country at any point in time is meaningless to the discussion because the documents matter

16) Placing “In God We Trust” on money started in 1861 with roots in the Civil War – not the country’s founding

17) Including “One nation under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance occurred in 1954 as a response to Soviet Communism – not the country’s founding

18) One should not confuse cultural heritage with Biblical Christianity

19) After the Constitution became established, some religious groups called it “blasphemous” while urging formal recognition of Christianity into the Constitution. Organizations as the National Reform Association sought a Constitutional Amendment in 1864 to officially establish America as a Christian nation. Additional sizable movements also occurred in the 1950s and 1960s – and these beliefs still exist today.

20) Treaty of Tripoli (1797), which the Senate ratified and President Adams signed, clearly states, “ The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Next post: My personal concluding statements