The “Default” Bias

We are taught that when analyzing any study or argument we are to look for any biases.  For example, if BP released a study today saying that oil is good for ocean life, we’d be suspicious.  We would question if there wasn’t an ulterior motive behind BP’s actions.  We’d look for an independent source, someone unconnected to the issue at hand, to confirm those results.

Generally, this is a good trait to have. The danger is when you get confused about who actually is an independent source or if there one can even be independent.  Too often, we make the assumption that whatever we associate as our “default” will be unbiased.  Need an example?  Take a look at the recent US Supreme Court nominations.

When Judge Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court, her opponents sought to stop her confirmation because she would be too biased a judge.  Their reasoning for this? She was Hispanic.  And as a Hispanic woman, she would be more inclined to support Hispanic interests, leading her to be biased against other races.

What race would then be acceptable? Why Caucasian of course.  How do I know this? Because none of Sotomayor’s opponents accused Judge John Roberts or Steven Alito of being biased toward Caucasians when they were nominated. White is the default assumption of most people, and thus white is acceptable as an “unbiased” point of view.

Gender, sexual orientation and religion are similar issues.  Sotomayor was also criticized as being biased toward women.  Current nominee Elena Kagan is facing similar gender attacks.  She is also “accused” of being a lesbian, and thus biased toward LGBT interests as well.  Should an atheist be nominated to the high court, you would see an equally aggressive argument that ze would rule unfairly toward religion.

The cultural assumption is that the only independent point of view is that of a white, straight, male Christian.  Anything else would be too biased toward their minority interests.  Thus we should continue to fill our courts (and governments and businesses) with white men to protect us from this crisis.  Because whites can never be racist, right?

The idea that our cultural default values are free from biases is itself a bias. We can not let that assumption color our perception of the world and drive our decision making.  There are biases related to race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.  But they are true of ALL races, ALL genders, ALL sexual orientations, and ALL religions.  We all carry with us these personal points of view.  Those no one certain point of view should cause anyone to ever be simply dismissed out of hand.

-That is all.