All Things Brooklyn Podcast July 6 Understanding Biases

talking into mic

Written by Jose Franco July 6, 2019: 

Could it be – privately – Donald Trump is in pain; unable to value himself, battling an unnamed depression, furious with his choices and the course of his life, perhaps the reason why some think he's covertly torturing the American dream? It may seem odd to look at Trump's actions through this lens, not as the things the newspapers tell us he does, but – very often – as a species of mental illness. Could it be that despite putting up skyscrapers, writing bestselling books, appearing on television, or being a trust fund baby he may, in fact, be the unwell one?

Understanding Biases: 

I find Donald Trump evasive and manipulative, yet I also realize I can't make an impact in the world by standing on the sidelines. I often ask myself, “Is Donald Trump’s disregard for the law within his rights to accomplish a greater good I may not have the aptitude to understand or conceptualize? Both philosophy and democracy date back to Socrates time. Ancient Greece’s great achievements, Philosophy, was highly suspicious of its other achievement, Democracy. Should Trump have the same suspicions and take on the impossible task of insisting that only those who had thought about issues rationally and deeply should only be allowed to vote? Or should he continue to accept what opponents claim to be an infinite amount of money in order to keep people uninformed, misinformed and distracted? Or should Trump instead spend the money encouraging people to be more thoughtful and rational? Or should the President advocate for campaign finance reform since the cost of reform is a lot less than the latter two extremes?

I'm often in situations of wanting to help spread a message of universal love and realistic hope to all of us, like I tried to do by writing "The Stories I Tell Myself". I wrote it despite not knowing what every American might be in need of. I'd like to help all Americans, and yet I lack a real grasp of what I could plausibly offer; I'm hoping most of us haven't become jaded and our minds aren't impenetrable or opaque. I believe we all possess a superpower, a capacity to give people something we can be sure they fundamentally require, founded on a primordial and basic insight into human nature: that all of us are in deep need of reassurance. With that said, I find many comments against Donald Trump beset by a sense of insecurity and, beneath some excellent camouflage, to a greater or lesser extent, of sadness. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. On November 2016 disappointed by Trump’s election victory, I experienced 3 weeks of torturing myself with the most negative self talk imaginable. Soon after, I came to realize, we are the stories we tell ourselves. We must not become distracted or take the bait of any of Donald Trump's antics. With that said, no one has the right to force you into doing something you don’t want to. In Trump's defense, he may be confusing insincere flattery with reassurance. Know the difference between the two since we flatter in order to extract benefit, we reassure in order to help. 

Last summer, as an act of self assurance, I started collecting signatures in a bid to become President of the United States in 2020. The biggest challenge I face trying to become President is: most people don’t know my story, which some have dismissed as charming naiveté. Naive or not, how do we get better at something we don’t think we’re bad at or know exist? Self imposed biases have hampered many of us from understanding the value and validity of having an open mind. Our political lives would benefit if we all had a greater awareness of critical political and economic paradoxes that underpin our society along with the capacity to distinguish between them. In American politics, we often forget the distinction between an intellectual democracy and a democracy by birthright. We have given the vote to all without connecting it to that of wisdom. Most politicians and economists’ inability to be forthcoming and transparent isn’t a coincidence. One has to be selfless and egoless to give perfect guidance as to where to draw the line since it exposes your preferences and biases. On occasions lines are drawn, each of us would probably draw lines in different places. But as soon as you admit that the extreme is not possible, and that a line has to be drawn, you are, on your own argument, done for since you are trying to persuade us that as soon as one moves an inch in the planned direction you are necessarily launched on the slippery path which will lead you in due course over the economic cliff. 

I think the current President Of The United States is anti enlightenment and regularly contradicts himself with no clear philosophy or theology that can be easily used for both teaching and/or learning. By Enlightenment, I’m referring to the intellectual movement emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. A presumption among many thoughtful people who oppose Donald Trump is that the great enemy of a good life and a decent world is something called ‘bias’. By bias, people have come to understand a twisting of the facts towards dark and entirely nefarious ends. According to this interpretation, bias is invariably and necessarily bad. In some quarters, the word has simply grown synonymous with evil. In order to hate bias so much, one has to love the idea of something else with equal passion: ‘the facts’. People hate bias because they ultimately believe in the redemptive possibility of something completely objective, and scientifically verifiable. Loathing of bias is the flip side of faith in facts. Facts evidently exist in many areas of life. Science and many of the human sciences are beautifully based on evidence-based, fact-yielding work. 

The problem is that in many of the most important aspects of existence, there simply are no ‘facts’ available. The big questions that bedevil us, individually and collectively, have no facts to appeal to when we’re asked, how should we live? What is the right economic system to institute? What sort of relationships should we have? What choices should we make? Who are we and what do we want and need? In the face of such dilemmas, we may well long for facts – by which we really mean, answers we can be assured will be indisputably correct. But we invariably face ambiguity and, whatever answers we formulate, a degree of loss, and the risk of blindness and error. It is these elements which the haters of bias are, deep down, especially intolerant towards and upset about. Their hatred of bias reflects a longing for a world without a need for hard choices and the sacrifice these necessarily entail. We may well long to ‘stick to facts,’ but we eventually have to try to lead our lives according to values, which are inherently much more contentious and complicated structures. There is no merely fact-based road to a good and contented life.

The passion against bias often comes to a head in our thinking about news organizations. In certain circles, there is a particular loathing for what is termed biased news – and a belief in the option of decent news organizations which are going to always and inherently be unbiased. Unfortunately, there is simply no way of providing factual, ‘unbiased’ answers to the really big issues facing societies. News organizations that vaunt their neutrality forget that neutrality is simply impossible vis a vis the really urgent questions confronting our civilization. The word ‘bias’ ultimately simply alludes to the business of having a ‘take’ on existence. One may have a better or worse take, but one needs a take. One needs eventually to tackle the question of what is important, just, worth striving for. News, information and philosophy are held in low regards by the current administration. For philosophy, news and access to information to really matter, they have to be presented to us by organizations that have tried to think through the ends of human life, that have a vision of where we are trying to go as a species, and that have somewhere articulated their answers to their audiences. The issue is not – therefore – the illusory and timid one between bias and fact but between better and worse varieties of bias.

 If it were up to me, I’d want a lot more than the formation of “dyads” – one-on-one relationships between two people – who usually don’t question authority and have little communication beyond that. Immanuel Kant and Donald Trump’s philosophy exemplify this deficiency as many of Kant’s writings and Trump’s rhetoric promote a revolutionary enthusiasm that encourages a narrow paradigm and isolation. David Hume's “Method Of Moral Philosophy” showed that reason is properly a “slave to the passions unlike the experimental and empirical; which exposes mankind’s greatest weakness, our avoidance of self reflection. Unlike Hume, Kant unintentionally blinded himself by seeing the world for what he wanted it to be, instead of Hume’s emphasis on reason and empirical data, to perceive the world as it really is. Kant emphasized the superiority of good will over nature. His writings omitted vital events and information that make one question man’s behavior or their convictions. We find this behavior in most places where smart, successful people show up. Failure to confront our imperfections forces us to continually look for scapegoats to make up for when the story we’re telling ourselves doesn't add up. Scapegoating at a group level is made easier by the fact that some group members (all races) are individuals composed of their own weaknesses and flaws. 

Unlike philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, Donald Trump hasn’t put in the work of reading literature that encourage self reflection, shutting out new ideas easily accessible to him. We often ignore new ideas despite knowing a thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted by many. Yuval Noah Harari describes this phenomena in his book "21 Lessons For The 21st Century", “When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion, and we are admonished not to call it “fake news” in order not to hurt the feelings of the faithful (or incur their wrath).” 

Enabling all of us to experience an epiphany about communication that unites Americans around a core set of values is my goal. These values encourage dyads to become “triads” – groups of three people together with shared projects and common values. “Triads are the building blocks of Information that flows freely through networks and innovation enabling individuals to surrender. Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life. We should also enable Americans to form habitual ways to meet certain needs or solve day-to-day problems instead of a steady diet of distracting tweets.

Tell yourself, “greatness is the perception that virtue is enough”. Unfortunately, the common person often lacks virtue, instead we avoid looking within ourselves to make self-improvements. If this sounds like you, look back to the battle of Yorktown (a history lesson we all should fully comprehend ending October 19, 1781). It may have finished the conflict on US soil, but the wider war continued. In April 1782, the British fleet decisively defeated the French and Spanish in the West Indies, saving Jamaica from invasion. The Mediterranean garrison of Gibraltar, besieged from 1779, held out right to the end of the fighting, withstanding repeated attempts by the Spanish and French to take it. These triumphs strengthened the British hand in the peace negotiations, and meant that the outcome was not as disastrous as had looked probable immediately after Yorktown. One might even argue that the American aspect of the war was not the unmitigated British defeat that most accounts suggest. By the 1790s, the essential features of the old colonial relationship had been restored, at least in economic terms. The British sent more manufactured goods to the US than before independence, and received back a new American agricultural export, raw cotton, which supplied the textile mills of England. 

The conflict was more of a civil war than a conventional international contest. Estimates vary, but probably somewhere around a fifth of white colonists refused to accept a complete break with Britain. Many of them had supported resistance to the claims of the British parliament to tax the colonies, but they could not stomach a rejection of the link with the British crown. Some of these loyalists took up arms on the British side, and many of them migrated to Canada at the end of the war, providing the basis for its Anglophone population. The rhetoric of the revolution presented the Americans as staunch defenders of liberty and the British as a threat to that liberty. But for enslaved people in the colonies, it was the British who represented liberty, not the white Americans. As for people of color, in November 1775, Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia, offered freedom to enslaved people who helped him put down the rebellion. Thereafter, thousands of slaves flocked to the British lines throughout the war. Many were to be disappointed, but at least some secured their freedom. Dunmore’s actions may well have helped the revolutionary cause in the south, where many conservative plantation-owners reacted badly to his undermining the slave system. 

Today, far too many of us set ourselves up for defeat because we’re unwilling to acknowledge and accept this destructive side of ourselves; opting instead to utilize coping mechanisms instead of chasing the difficult task of objectively looking at our history. I think Donald Trump's narrative encourages a disregard for self reflection and appeals to millions of Americans seeking a story that helps them rationalize, ignore and put off surrender. Or will "Trump For President In 2020" advocate for self reflection for the well intended, mostly scared folks, who confuse surrender with resignation? It's also possible, (but highly unlikely) for Donald Trump to surrender and surprise a whole lot of people including me. Instead of building walls on our southern border, the President can choose to tear down his inner walls and take steps to create a different path. The concept of “motivation” is very important and challenges the assumption that acceptance will lead to equality or a lack of motivation. Who will provide voters with a campaign message that encourages opportunity for all, since equality is as undesirable as it is unrealizable in 2020? This is something many of us refuse to accept and Donald Trump may be correct to point out since Democrats in particular, have to do a better job of acknowledging and/or recognizing Americans have to proceed knowing to increase opportunities for all is likely to favor those better able to take advantage of them and may often first increase inequalities. The candidate who can defeat Trump in 2020 shouldn’t be confined to a campaign promoting a perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he/she can succeed where others have failed. He/she has to remind/ or convince the majority of Americans that our goal shouldn’t be perfection, we should strive to do the greatest good through the most pardonable inconveniences. What’s so naive about that?

© Stoop Juice 2012