Thursday, September 4, 2008

An "Unbiased" Statement on Bias

A few minutes ago, while watching TV, I saw a rather remarkable ad. The wonderful people at Time-Life were marketing a video series about the "untold" story of the Vietnam War. One of the carrots they employed to try to get viewers to order the series was that this documentary offers an unbiased appraisal of said conflict.

Really? No bias?

There's one problem with this claim. It's hogwash!! Pure unadulterated hogwash!

Every one of us views the world around us through a subjective lens. We don't merely see things with our eyes, we interpret what we see we our brains. Further, our emotions color how our rational faculties transcribe this data. Consequently, every second of every day is affected by our biases.

In relation to any video, our biases determine what, when, where and how we film the matter at hand. In a scene with a lot going on, the determination of what elements to focus on reveals a bias. Deciding to film in one location and not another reveals a bias. Who gets interviewed and who doesn't reveals a bias.

Our biases even extend beyond the initial phase of any film project. How a project is framed or the music chosen as background (or deciding to use no background music at all) or what gets left on the cutting room floor are yet more examples of someone's bias.

The same is true for almost every aspect of our lives. Whether we're talking about books, magazine articles, blog entries, TV shows or what we tell our family members about our day, our personal biases determine what information is shared and how it is shared.

We couldn't remove our biases even if we wanted to. It's one of the characteristics that makes each of us unique.

So, anytime someone tells me that they will present an unbiased account of something, I laugh almost as hard as when someone says their presentation will be objective.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cake & The End of All Things

I know of few people who don't like cake. It just happens to be one of those culinary concoctions that appeals to people based on texture, taste, appearance or varying combinations of the three. Cake has been loved by kings and queens as well as most of us commoners. In essence, it happens to be a great joy for the majority of people.

Imagine you're sitting down at the table and someone brings you the most humongous and delectable cake of your favorite flavor[s] that you've ever laid eyes on. The aroma alone is enough to bring armies to their knees! You're told that this cake is for you and you alone -- you don't have to share it with anyone.

One group of people would tear right into it with great abandon. They would engage in an orgy of pleasure -- eating as much as quickly as possible. Chances are that they would soon make themselves sick as a dog!

Another group of people would address the cake in a more contemplative way. They would savor each bite, reveling in the taste sensations. They would eat slowly so as to a) not make themselves sick and b) get to enjoy the cake over a long period of time.

A third group would eat the cake in a most peculiar way. Like the previous group, these people would eat the cake slowly. However, unlike the previous group, these people wouldn't delight in the taste sensations at all. In fact, their whole focus wouldn't be on eating the cake itself; no, their focus is on being finished with the cake altogether.

In my mind, the first group is hedonists. The second group is [non-hedonistic] Taoists, Deists or atheists. And the third group is adherents to religious beliefs.

Hedonists care solely for the now -- there is no interest in what has been or will be. Their overriding goal in life is to obtain as much sensual pleasure as the present moment will allow. Consequently, the hedonist has a tendency to burn all bridges to the past and to suffer all kind of negative future consequences for unplanned present actions.

As this blog is about Taoism, I'll skip my analysis of the second group because the reader gets enough of that anyway!

As Christopher Hitchens points out in "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything", the interesting thing about religious people is that their focus is more on the hereafter than the present. In fact, in most every major religion, there are a host of taboos against enjoying the many facets of human life (i.e., sins of the flesh) and, instead, all the focus is on the "paradise" of the after days.

Consequently, as with the cake, religion pushes its adherents not to enjoy and savor each moment of life. Rather than revel in the amazing taste sensations laid before us, we're urged to repress our taste buds in the hope that we'll taste the cake and more somewhere down the road.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Question of Pigmentation

Over the course of the next two months, the mainstream media is going to try to convince the voting public that we have a bona fide race for the presidency on our hands. The polls will tip one way, then the other. We'll be told again and again that this is a race to the wire.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it!! I personally think that, unless something politically catastrophic occurs, there's only one fellow who has a real shot at this...and his skin is lily white.

While many in this country would like to THINK we've moved beyond the day when the color of a person's skin matters, it, unfortunately, STILL MATTERS to far too many people. We still live in predominantly segregated neighborhoods. People of color typically earn less in similar occupations than their white counterparts and aren't offered the same kinds of home loans.

Black men are still locked up in prison at alarming rates and no white person I know has to fear "driving while white".

I simply do not believe there are sufficient numbers of white voters who would willingly cast their vote for a black man. (And no, I'm not an Obama supporter. I plan to cast my vote for two black women: Cynthia McKinney & Rosa Clemente, the Green Party ticket.)

I realize that some may agrue that the polls show otherwise. I will agree that several polls have indicated that a majority of white respondents have indicated they would vote for a black candidate for president. But what do you think these people are going to say?

Most white people don't want to be looked at as bigots, so they certainly aren't going to say to the pollster, "I ain't voting for no negro." No, they'll say, "I don't look at a person's skin color".

But there's a wide chasm between telling a pollster what you want them to believe and stepping inside the voting booth (or filling out a ballot at your kitchen table) in private. When you're all by your lonesome, there's no need to put on aires. And that, my friends, is where I believe far too many Americans will place an X next to the names McCain/Palin.

Maybe I'll wake up on a November morning to find that I'm wrong. I think it's far more likely that McCain is going to win in a landslide and all the pundits are going to be scratching their heads asking, "Duh, how'd that happen?'