Sunday, 26 April 2015

The problem today is one of ideological bias and identity

Who am I? What defines me? What do I stand for? How can I make a mark or difference in society? How can I feel important or special?

These are questions that most people tend to ask themselves at some point in their lives. Of course these questions are not all encompassing, or applicable to everyone because we are all different, but most of us tend to try and define ourselves by inadvertently stuffing ourselves into some type of ideological box at one point or another. That box eventually becomes part of who we are - it becomes a large part of our identity. To have those ideological beliefs or positions challenged in any way means we see our identity, who we are, as being challenged. We can no longer separate the ideology from ourselves and we tend to lose sight of the fact that criticism of an ideology is not criticism of us as individuals.

This, I feel, is the main problem with much of society today. People cannot take any criticism for anything without feeling personally attacked. People retreat into ideological groups for safety and reassurance. Our ideologies, in a way, become our safe spaces.

We are so determined to prove that our ideologies are the only ones that are rational or right that we become blinded to any other points of view that may contradict what we believe. We ignore any facts or opinions that may run contrary to our ideologies and we settle into a state of willful ignorance about anything that contradicts what we believe to be true.

Having our beliefs supported by others that share those same beliefs makes us feel safe. There is safety in numbers - in groups. Our identity remains safe as long as we surround ourselves with others like us, who become a constant source - feeding a narrative, so to speak - of affirmation and confirmation that what we believe is right. Ideologies becomes a sort of echo chamber where each person uses the next as a source for constant reassurance, and no one challenges or criticizes the other for fear of being ostracized from the group and thus loosing one's sense of self.

There tends to be an ideological purity test within most groups where those who fail are marginalized or kicked out. We see it all the time in political groups, but it exists in many other types of groups no matter how large or small. It may be in your face, or subtle, but the likelihood is that it is indeed there.

It is very hard to avoid becoming biased about an ideologically held point of view or belief. We all hold them, but we do not all know how to spot our biases, let alone admit we have them. To look inward and admit we are indeed biased means admitting to ourselves that we may be disregarding facts or acting willfully ignorant - we would have to admit our ideology, our identity, is somehow flawed. These are things that cause discomfort and internal conflict, so we tend to actively avoid them.

The tendency to avoid anything uncomfortable or conflicting is quite apparent in today's social climate. No one wants to be challenged, no one wants to feel uncomfortable, no one wants to be questioned. Everything has to be safe, non-confrontational, and accommodating. It is the equivalent to everyone getting a trophy in T-Ball - where everyone is a winner, because to lose would be 'uncomfortable'. We have gotten to the point now where we have somehow equated discomfort with emotional trauma. If anyone is made to feel uncomfortable in any way they are a victim who needs immediate intervention - immediate coddling to get them back to their safe space and comfort zone.

People like to believe that they are above criticism. They have developed a sense of entitlement, where no one is allowed to challenge their ideologies because that would be an assault on them as an individual. There are victims everywhere now.

So how can we try to avoid this? Intense adherence to any ideology can vegetate one’s mind, as Charlie Munger, an American business magnate, lawyer, investor, and philanthropist explains better than I could:

Say what you will about Munger, but this is indeed good advice. List what your ideological beliefs are, and why you hold those beliefs to be true. Look deep into why those 'truths' are indeed true, and look at things that do not necessarily conform to your ideological positions. Challenge yourself to be your own opponent, your own worst critic. If you can achieve that, then you are well on your way to avoiding as much ideological bias as possible.

And always be open to differing opinions, criticism, and advice. Being open to these things does not mean you readily accept them, but it does mean you can take them, look at them, and test them to see if they hold up under careful scrutiny. Dismissing things without taking the time to consider them can make you look extremely biased and ill-informed.

Ideological bias is pernicious. It has the ability to rot the brain and render it apathetic. Reminding yourself of your own ideological biases, and examining opposing opinions, facts, or views on a regular basis is one way of keeping yourself on your toes and out of a state of mental apathy. Keep yourself in a state of constant awareness when discussing issues that you feel make up your identity.

Above all, remember that you should not remain static, and that you should strive to always be learning and evolving as an individual. You should not be content to remain in the confines of a box, but strive to break out of it and challenge yourself, as well as others. Don't let an ideology or others define you, let you define you. Be confident in who you are without needing a group or an ideology to prop you up and define you. Do not become a victim of ideological biases that serve only to limit you as an individual, rather than define you as one.

Written by Kristina Hansen
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