Silence is bound to follow any accusation. That of bias is the prime example, as the single word shuts down any argument presented to an audience. And so, the presenter is left staring agape, wordlessly witnessing what he built come crumbling down with the invalidation of his premises at the foundation. After all, if it’s biased, it can’t be true right?
This thought process even seems to poison our education, leaving us uneasy about saying the word “I” in essays and adamant on sticking to proven facts as examples. Can’t personal experiences also be true? Some may even argue that it’s a small price to pay for the antidote, that is the elimination of bias in favour of a truly objective education, lest one teacher’s opinion influence the minds of the students.
However, bias is a mere symptom of subjectivity. While we can all agree on things like how the sky is blue, we can’t possibly consider it an objective fact; we see colour individually, as our eyes revealing different tones, hues, and variations to us. Even if we did, in fact, see the same blue in the sky, we perceive it differently since we don’t describe it the same way; you might call the blue in the sky “baby blue”, while I may perceive it as “grey-blue”.
Therefore, the antidote remains unattainable because we live in a subjective reality. Bias even seeps into our education, despite our best efforts against it, as our classes are often taught from a single perspective. Notice how most of our history classes are western centric? Must we always read Shakespeare in English class?
Try as you will to be neutral, but in an attempt to do so, you are still biased, for you are embodying what you alone believe is impartiality. So, why not accept the poison as it comes? In accepting the fact that objectivity is beyond our reach, you will inevitably accept bias.
Moreover, a bias can be shared by a large group, thereby mistaking it for an objective truth. This is a mistake, as bias is contingent on our current context, thus making it a universally subjective truth in a given moment. For instance, as we face a climate catastrophe, most are living life with that context in mind, which influences our reasoning and every day decisions in favour of environmental protection. We can call the deniers liars, ignorant, and biased in favour of their industries. But aren’t we biased too? Wasn’t the latter of the two perspectives more prevalent at one point?
Let’s also consider feminism. It is no surprise that not everyone identifies as a feminist. Resistors of the term might even accuse activists of imposing their opinion and forcing a homogenized stream of thought. Speaking on this issue, Maria Di Scala, a secondary school teacher at Villa Maria and a feminist activist, states, “Unfortunately, our society is still patriarchal. So, to say that my class is biased, is to assume that our society is neutral, which it’s not. So why not consider the other bias?” That is to say, we still live in a patriarchal context which, similarly to feminism, is a bias in of itself; that bias is simply under the disguise of objectivity.
Furthermore, according to philosopher and gender theorist Dr. Judith Butler, the feminist slogan “The personal is political” means that “subjective experience is not only structured by existing political arrangements, but effects and structures those arrangements in turn.”
In other words, politics manifests itself in our every day lives and, in the feminist context, can allow for systematic oppression, which we must rise up against. On the flip side, the slogan shows us that our individual, therefore biased, realities manifest themselves into a larger societal and political body. How then could that body, or reality, possibly be considered objective? Distinguishing the personal and the political is a mistake, as they are interdependent.
Becoming aware of this interdependence is crucial, not only to understand the prevalence of bias, but to use our own bias to effect change; hence, the idea of “speaking your truth”. As Di Scala states, “The point of my class was never to make students call themselves feminists. The goal was to introduce them to feminist principles, such as using their voice and to have the ability to explain why they identify themselves the way they do.”
Ultimately, in vocalizing your personal experience, a bias and an undeniable truth, you can find others with a similar experience so as to create a collective voice, similar to the climate change and feminist movements, in order to advocate for change. As Dr. Butler says, “The feminist impulse […] has often emerged with the recognition that my pain or my silence or my anger or my perception is finally not mine alone, and that delimits me in a shared cultural situation which in turn enables and empowers me in certain unemancipated ways.”
Considering the inherent bias in our society, and therefore in politics, this larger and louder collective voice is necessary in order to convince those in power to change their bias. Convincing people who are firm in their bias, which they falsely believe to be an objective truth, to at least entertain the alternative is the only difficult part, for if you consider the biases we hold as a pair of glasses, how hard is it then to change the lenses?
Article by: Mel Spiridigliozzi