The Beam in One’s Eye
Objectivity is the subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him. Heinz von Forester
It is well known, and has been well-known for a long time, that people rarely believe they are biased. But they are quick to notice that others are biased. What is now called the “biased blindspot”, was described when the King James Bible asked: Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye but considerest not the beam that is in thy own eye? (Mathew 7.3). The mote and the beam in one’s eye, of course, is a little subjective bias or a big subjective bias. Over 70 such biases have been identified.
This illusion of objectivity exists today even in the highest court of the land. When the Supreme Court made its momentous decision about Gore vs. Bush in 2001, Clarence Thomas said that the decision was not in any way influenced by partisanship. Other conservative judges agreed. But why do we call them conservative judges? After this Supreme Court decision, and other decisions since, political pundits have taken sides in calling both the conservative and liberal judges biased. Have you ever heard a judge, a political pundit or a politician admit that they are biased? Actually have you ever heard a voter admit to being biased.
I am emphasizing the judicial and political lack of objectivity because these biased decisions are the most consequential for the most people. Consider the critical consequences of recent Supreme Court decisions which have caused serious economic problems and voting rights problems for Americans. And consider that the results of the coming election could be a threat to democracy in the United States.
Admitting to being biased isn’t the solution, but it is a first step. I think the next step is an awareness of the consequences of one’s biased beliefs and resultant behavior. We know a lot about the power of beliefs and how they are often distorted. But we don’t act like we know. Being able to see the mote in another’s eye should suggest to us a strategy for seeing the beam in our own eye. Get some feedback from others about the way you see things. Your subjective observations and perceptions of reality can be noticed by others in your behavior.
What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying. Ralph Waldo Emerson