Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Prejudices vs Your Prejudices

The difference between my prejudices and your prejudices is that my prejudices (convictions and values so obvious they don’t need explaining) don’t really count as prejudices. They are just the way reasonable, intelligent, faithful [insert whatever self-congratulatory designation suits you] people know things to be. Thus, those who don’t see it that way must be operating out of sin, ignorance, or blind prejudice. And it is, therefore, not mean when we refer to you as ignorant, stupid, afraid, or nefarious. We are merely stating the truth.

This is how most contemporary political rhetoric sounds to me.

It is how a fair amount of Facebook status updates sound to me - whether the prejudices reflected are conservative or liberal/progressive.

Even more sadly, it is also how too much of the 'conversation' on church blogs and listserves sounds to me.

Turns out none of us is a smart as we think we are. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton has spent decades studying how the brain - and our reasoning with it - actually works. The results are unsettling. Some of those results were described in a recent article in the New Yorker, Why Smart People Are Stupid:
Perhaps our most dangerous bias is that we naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors, a tendency known as the “bias blind spot.” This “meta-bias” is rooted in our ability to spot systematic mistakes in the decisions of others—we excel at noticing the flaws of friends—and inability to spot those same mistakes in ourselves. Although the bias blind spot itself isn’t a new concept, West’s latest paper demonstrates that it applies to every single bias under consideration, from anchoring to so-called “framing effects.” In each instance, we readily forgive our own minds but look harshly upon the minds of other people.

And here’s the upsetting punch line: intelligence seems to make things worse. The scientists gave the students four measures of “cognitive sophistication.” As they report in the paper, all four of the measures showed positive correlations, “indicating that more cognitively sophisticated participants showed larger bias blind spots.” This trend held for many of the specific biases, indicating that smarter people (at least as measured by S.A.T. scores) and those more likely to engage in deliberation were slightly more vulnerable to common mental mistakes. Education also isn’t a savior; as Kahneman and Shane Frederick first noted many years ago, more than fifty per cent of students at Harvard, Princeton, and M.I.T. gave the incorrect answer to the bat-and-ball question.



I am reminded of St. Paul's assertion, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)
 
 
Given that we are all fallible and sinful, we will probably never, this side of the kingdom of God, be free of blind spots in our reasoning. But, I think we can begin to take them into account and soften their effects.
Cultivating humility is one way. Again from St. Paul,
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-3)

It is good for us all to remember continually that each of us is blind, and thus we should be very slow to judge others. For judging others is a fearful thing. Jesus said,
Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." He also told them a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. (Luke 6:37-42)

Related post: Reason and It's Discontents

1 comment:

aredstatemystic said...

Thanks for this. I need reminded frequently and often.