Something that Natalie Reed touched on, is the fact that straight, white, cis men are seen as the “default“. This cultural message leads some male skeptics, who should really know better, to have internalized an idea that minorities have biases (because, obviously, they’re different!) and they do not. I think this is the biggest factor leading to what’s come to be called “mansplaining“. (When you think about it, “mansplaining” is not much different from what many skeptics and atheists do all the time when talk to theists, climate change deniers, creationists, anti-vaxers, etc. The difference here is that they aren’t really talkinmg facts, they’re often talking feelings – filtered through bias.) As a student of history I’ve learned the lesson all historians have to get really quick: Everyone is biased.

It’s fashionable in atheist and especially skeptic circles to aspire to eliminate or suppress our biases, but is that something we should or are even capable of doing? Would a better approach be to acknowledge our own biases and try to work out what’s happening when we interact with people from different backgrounds through listening and friendly discussion?

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2 Comments

DeerangedMarch 2, 2012 9:22 am

I thunk the first step should always be to recognize and acknowledge biases. Then, you can try and minimize them – but I don’t think you can abscond them. As a teacher, I am aware of a myriad of biases when it comes to grading pupils, but that doesn’t mean my grades are unbiased. Sometimes, all it means is I am aware of possible biases without even knowing whether they apply.

Mark HallMarch 2, 2012 9:30 am

I tend to agree with Deeranged; eliminating biases tends to be an unattainable goal. Instead, acknowledge the biases you’re aware of at the outset (i.e. “I am a video gamer who finds most combat sequences fun, so that may be coloring my responses”), and try to minimize them (“I don’t like this kid, so I am going to grade straight by the numbers and give him a little slack on the minor points, because I know I do others”).

More importantly, however, is to acknowledge when someone is correct that you may be biased. Your bias doesn’t give them a free pass… just because I believe my niece is awesome doesn’t mean you can say whatever you like; I’m biased, not stupid… but it does reduce the likelihood that you’ll violate Wheaton’s Law.

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