Monday, January 9, 2012

Xenophobia, Confirmation Bias & Reason

Confirmation Bias
Xenophobia and confirmation bias are the soil in which politicians plant their panders. These twin vestiges of our evolutionary history served their purposes for pre-civilization Homo sapiens. Innate fear of strangers is a warranted survival trait in the absence government, laws, and the other trappings of civilization. Likewise, drawing conclusions based on incomplete information consistent with prior biases, can make the difference between life and death when protection from predators requires swift action.

Both xenophobia and confirmation bias are counterproductive in a modern society. Xenophobia is the root of racism, bigotry, homophobia, suspicion of immigrants, and religious intolerance. Confirmation bias makes us susceptible to the spurious arguments of those who seek dominion over us by pandering to these fundamentally conservative traits. Many of the persistent social ills and divisiveness in our society derive directly from these inherent, yet anachronistic, human traits.

What can we do? Well, first we have to understand the origins of xenophobia and confirmation bias and recognize the social ills that flow from them. For some, self-awareness of their own fears and biases is sufficient to render them immune from most political pandering, particularly on social issues.

However, the ultimate coup de grĂ¢ce to the pandering class can only come from a love of truth stronger than our personal biases. We must subject all claims to fact-based logical reasoning. Listening to a single cable news network, reading one newspaper, or frequenting websites and blogs of a single socio-political orientation, even Liar! Liar!, is inadequate to the task.

Ad Hominem Attack
We must adopt a mercenary attitude toward ideas and claims of fact, especially those we find emotionally appealing. Question the facts again and again. Draw conclusions only when in possession of the full story. Avoid logical fallacies in reasoning. Freely discard opinions found wanting. Find out which politicians are telling the truth and vote for them. Only when most Americans follow these tenets will this country be free of the harmful effects of pandering of all stripes.

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