Monday, February 8, 2010

"Natural" bias

What happens when you "naturally" and instinctively harbour a bias or a prejudice? I think for most of us, we have some sort of unexplainable bias and prejudice in us, which instinctively kicks in when we encounter certain people and behaviours.

Perhaps, most biases in us are informed by some degree of social conditioning and how we culturally oriented by the norms and standards of behaviour and aesthetics. But what about those kind of biases that cannot easily or directly be linked to socialisation?

For instance, for some inexplicable reasons, you feel an increasingly strong sense of discomfort when you are in the presence of someone who may be of a darker skin colour, speaks with an accent you are unfamiliar with, has a face and dress sense you personally do not identify with, has more wrinkles on his face than you can irrationally accept, or you see an inter-racial couple and somehow cannot feel anything but disgust and you can’t help it, etc.

Hey, it may even be bias against common people like those who are overweight, bigger foreheads, people with body odour, people with a certain look on their faces, the kind of impressions that will make us like them a little less and give them a little less credit for.

It is the kind of bias that involves repulsion and irrational dislike (not hate). No tinge of jealousy or fear, no urge to belittle, and no sense of a threat at all; you just dislike the person/trait and would want to distance yourself from him or her.

Is this bias? And should you be ashamed of harbouring this bias?

To what extent should we self-regulate our feelings and use the power of reason and rationlisation to overcome these seemingly natural biases?

Is it still “wrong” to have these biases even if it does not manifest in discriminatory treatment or a sour face?

Who decides it is “wrong” to feel this way?

Sometimes, I feel that biased people are often criticised as individuals, and their affiliations, associations and circles aren’t spared either. In the process, attention is taken away from how society censors itself and orders itself in a way to upkeep what is “right” and what is “accept” or you might say, “politically correct”.

What does society do here when seemingly natural instinctive feelings of discomfort surface? In my opinion, we are socialised with the skills to suppress or negate these potentially prejudicial feelings. We learn to keep ourselves in check, watch our words and do something which is culturally recognised by most human beings – apologise.

When one corrects one’s (uninformed) prejudices and apologises, there is an attempt to reintegrate oneself into the circles one desires to be in. Apology is social, and it’s a ritual to a large extent. We self-regulate our prejudices and discipline ourselves so we can fit in, but the thing that is the natural irrational prejudice does not ever get addressed, but is suppressed.

Not everyone has the time, resources and aptitude to be totally reflexive, evaluate their own beliefs, use reason to overcome some natural impulses and feelings. So what do we do now?

So how do we live in a world of irrational and non-rationalisable biases? If tolerance is the way, isn't it mere rational suppression? Tolerance/suppression is further rationalised with incentives, given by the state, society and the economy. So in light of this, are we suppressing our natural biases, just to be tolerant, so that we can achieve something or gain something as an ends through the means of peace, harmony and non-conflict? Is peace not valorised by personal gain? Are we not just suppressing ourselves just to get along, just to gain something?

So, is a society of harmony founded on the rationalisation and introduction of guilt to accompany specific biases, but cleaned up with the tag "political correctness"? You feel bad for being biased, and that becomes a means to a society of tolerance.

If diversity is the (harmonious, hopefully) coexistence of differences, why is there a need for or a push towards homogeneous self-regulation and rationalisation of individual and internal biases?

Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree, but how do we deal with biases that appear to be "natural"? And what are the implications of a rationalised approach for a solution? (of course, some people will re-rationalise the rationalised approaches as "normal" or "natural" themselves)