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When I was a kid I rooted for my home team. If the referee made a close call against the other team, I agreed with him. If he made a close call against my team I was sure he was wrong. Was it really possible that all the bad calls went against my team? Why did I see it that way?
I expect that someone rooting for the other team had the exact opposite reactions. He felt good when the call was against us, and got upset when the call was against him. It seemed neither one of us seemed to see it in the middle ground sort of way that the referee saw it. We just wanted to win. We felt better when the advantage went to ourselves. This probably wasn’t fair, but it felt better. Somewhere in our pre-teen and teen age psyche we wanted to win and that felt better. I learned to be biased from an early age. I just didn’t know it.
Now that I am an adult I see the same thing. When I am watching sports with people and they are rooting for a team I rarely see them admit when they get a bad call in their favor. They might justify and write it off by saying something like, “Well that makes up for earlier call against us.” But if they watch the replay and can justify it, they will be outraged about the injustice of the refs against them.
I think the opinions on referees range from the victim version of, “They screwed us over” to the middle ground of, “they called it bad for both sides.” I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say, “well, the refs handed us the game on that one.” That would be like admitting that you got a win that you didn’t deserve. We like to believe that we earn everything we get. The other side claims they got ripped off, but the winning side doesn’t see the same thing. If we really saw it fairly you would hear an equal amount of both. I think it is safe to say that there is bias in how we see our sports teams.
It is hard to see our own bias. It is hard to see how our mind has filtered our interpretations and our reactions into certain funnels of responses. But maybe this bias in our perception is only difficult to see because we don’t look for it. Yes, we look for bias in other people, but how often and how hard do we look inward for our own belief bias on issues? Are we afraid of what we might find? Or, do we just assume our perspective is right and so we don’t have to check it for calibration? If you agree with either of these answers, you have already discovered the beginning of your belief system bias.
Our biased beliefs filter our interpretation of a referee’s call. They filter how we see our players and how we see and interpret what an opposing player did. We want our side to win. We are invested emotionally in an outcome of winning and losing. If we win, we feel good, and if we lose we feel bad. We don’t want to feel bad. Our mind biases us to see the game in a way that would make us feel good. If the refs see it differently, then the refs call the game unfairly against us.
Definition of Bias and Prejudice
Bias: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
Prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
Bias causes us to distort our perception. This causes us to dismiss facts and reality. The result is that we take a position that is unfair and harmful, either to someone else, to our self, or both.
How We Identify Ourselves shifts our Perception.
Our emotional responses to beliefs and identity cause our mind to favor one interpretation over another in an effort to feel better.
In high school I played basketball and we were the Wolves. When you fouled my team mate I could feel it. I was a part of that team. Unconsciously I interpreted it as a foul against me. If you fouled or took a cheap shot at someone on my team, I emotionally personalized it to my identity. I could feel my nervous system respond as if you hit me. If I was watching another one of our teams play, and they won, I felt like WE won. I felt like I won. I identified with the team and I identified with the school. If it happened to the team or the school then it happened to me.
Over many years my mind was trained to identify and personalize with groups. This is good for building community, connecting and caring for people. It’s bad when you feel personally attacked even when you aren’t.
Notice what this unconscious act of identifying does to our behavior and emotions. In a way my consciousness is projected to this other person’s experience and I respond from that frame. I’m no longer a person in the stands watching the game. I’m emotionally experiencing the ups and downs of the game including winning and losing from the perspective of the player. In the same way I projected my consciousness into they idea of a team, we can also project or imagine our selves into a politician, political party, or principle. These are all just concepts the same way our school mascot was. In our imagination we can do both.
Why the Emotional and Visceral Reactions in Politics?
What if I am identified with beliefs or principles of a political party? What if the ideas and ideology are what I support? What if the principles I believe in are like my team. The politicians are my team captains. I support them, I uphold them and I defend them. If you so something in opposition to my principles and team mates I will feel personally attacked. You didn’t attack me, but I would respond emotionally as if you did. I could feel threatened, or hurt. In feeling threatened I’m inclined to defend my opinions as if I was defending myself. If my party wins the election, then I feel like I win. If my politician loses the election, then I feel like I lost. If it is the Presidential Election, then it is like playing for the championship. These are the dynamics of escalation from a political discussion or debate to an argument. If you take sides with a party or policy then your feeling of winning can be threatened by a political opponent. It will be difficult to see the media, which act as referees calling the game, as being fair. If you take the debate in this emotionally invested way to your family relationships you may end up not talking to them very much.
At its worst we can become more closely identified with our ideas and concepts of principles than with ourselves as human beings. We feel we represent and connect with ideas and political policy concepts instead of connect with other human beings. We ignore our human identity and connection with one another and attack others in defense of our ideas, policies, and “principles”. This is what happens when we lose our consciousness to the mental state of ideas. Our beliefs bias us against humans through attack and defend conversations, arguments and Facebook posts of opposition.
Identity and investment in beliefs.
If you join the team of Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, Labor, or Conservative party etc, you are giving up some of your personal identity. You are transferring your consciousness into a collective organism made of other ideas, emotions, beliefs, and group identity.
What happens if someone protests, or disagrees with your party platform of ideas? If you identify with those policies it will have the same effect at a belief system level as them disagreeing with you. It might even feel as if they are attacking you. An act of building a wall will feel like an attack for some and not building a wall will feel like an attack against others. Banning immigration from Muslim countries will feel like an attack on a group of people, even if they are not from that country or Muslim. For others, it will feel like a win. It is unlikely that you will notice the role of your identity and beliefs in your reaction. It happens very fast. We typically don’t notice our emotions, and our unconscious beliefs in these situations. We just feel offended or feel and impulse/need to act before knowing what created that impulse. Yet, if we are going to change how we interact with each other it is the mechanics of what happens in these micro-moments that will have to change.
If someone disagrees with an issue of your party, you might feel inclined to defend it as if someone fouled a member of your team. The impulse response happens before we can ask to look at the replay. There is no process to objectively evaluate whether a referee made a good call. You have to create one in your consciousness.
You will have to take a time out to review the play in slow motion from multiple angles and make an informed call. You may not have had this technology available to you in the past, but it can be learned.
If you don’t take a time out to review the way your mind jumped to a conclusion you will likely end up in an attack and defend state of mind. You will have the sense of being under victimized by people that believe differently as you, and tempted to attack them with words and emotions in response. Based on how things look around the political landscape, it is a pretty unhappy way to live.
If you are unaware you fall into defending an idea, and an idea isn’t a legitimate member of your team. In an extreme case you will challenge a person for challenging your team’s idea. This is a case of making something personal that isn’t. An attack or a disparaging of an idea, is not an attack on you. But it might feel that way if you have sacrificed your own sense of identity for a group of beliefs, but feeling that way isn’t always a measure of truth. It can also be a measure of a lie. Believing that you have to defend an idea when the idea is questioned, is a measure of how we have lied about our identity being attached to that idea, party, or politician.
Further Escalation of Belief Bias
Once you advocate for a position there is a psychological tendency to reinforce that position. We don’t want to be seen going in one direction and then stop and walk the way we came. So the human tendency is to double down on our position, even if we weren’t that strongly committed to it originally. Once someone challenges our position on a political issue, we are likely to continue defending it. We push back against their side and as a result we are more attached to that positional belief. The end result is that we are more divided against the other person and see them as an adversary. Are you becoming more divided with some of the people on Facebook, or another group of human beings like as you express your political opinions?
Challenge Beliefs and Build Human Connections
How do you evaluate if you are biased in your beliefs
You might be biased if you dismiss every gripe against your party or candidate. You might be biased if when you read someone’s opinion that diagrees with you your mind counters with an objection of the other party policy or candidate. If his happens, and it can quickly, your mind is defending and attacking opposing beliefs before you can measure the validity of their point.
I find it unlikely that someone’s political beliefs would agree across the board with their party. How likely is it that you would agree with another person on every issue? Not likely, not even if it were a friend. It is statistically unlikely that you would agree with another person on taxation policy, trade, supreme court selections, human rights, gay marriage, education, alternative energy development, global warming, women’s reproductive choices, the NASA budget, public radio financing, and 10 other things. It’s just not likely. So, in a sane way, you should disagree with your party on some issues. If you don’t, then consider that you are abdicating some honest critical thinking and just “going along” with the group consciousness. In short, your mind has been biased not to think, but just to go along with the group/team bias. The group/team/political party “identity” have replaced your own. This might feel good as being part of a community and connection, but it also means you could be in a fog and not thinking clearly for your self.
I thought my team should win and the other team should lose, even though I never got to meet and know people from the other school. I wonder if I went there that maybe I would have made friends and even liked them. I at least wouldn’t have been rooting for them to lose. This is the same as I did in high school. If you get to know some people in the opposition, and their viewpoints and reasoning you have a chance to open your mind and challenge the fog of your own beliefs.
If you are always on the side of your political party or canditate it is likely that your belief system has biased you and you can no longer see the game clearly. If you believe every decision President Obama made was bad, then you are in a bubble of bias. If you believe everything President Trump does will be for the worse, then you are lost in a bias of beliefs. If you feel under attack from either direction then you will find attachments to policies and concepts that aren’t human. You will feel the refs (news media) calling the game are biased and are against your side on most days. These are clues that your imagination has carried your identity into the concept of a policy decision or a politician. You are likely interpreting disagreements and decisions of policy as attacks on your self and through the group you are identified with. Your reactions are likely to be to “need to jump in” or “straighten someone out” will own you and have you escalate the debate before you can question your side. A victim mindset or a perception that the other side is attacking you is a clue to a fog of false beliefs on your part.
If you find them consider that your opinions and attention are controlled by beliefs. You might think of it this way. It is no longer a matter of you having opinions, but rather your opinions have you.
I think we should have vigorous debate over the issues. But when we lose identity and consciousness to the issues, we see our fellow human beings as adversaries. We stop looking for the best policy and decisions and oversimplify our mindset into looking for who is for us, and who is against us. This is the fog to avoid.
If you want to know what group I belong to, I am first and foremost a human being.2