I'm not really proud of this fact, but it still intrudes into everyday life. And I've heard many times that the first part of getting over any kind of bias is admitting you have one. So, here it is:
I'm screamingly biased against people who drive late-model BMW, Mercedes and Lexus cars.
I don't know what it is, but whenever I'm out on the road and some doofus cuts me off in traffic, slaloms between lanes like it's the Auto Olympics, passes everyone at 30 miles over the posted limit in the slow lane, swerves in front of me only to romp on the brakes, and other random stupid human tricks, the offender is almost always driving a car from the Top Three Suspects List mentioned above. (As I have muttered to my honey more than once, "There's a reason why BMW stands for Break My Windshield.")
I have a pet theory why the operators of these particular makes of cars are so -- shall we say problematic? No, let's just call them total jerks -- and it's related to the cost of the cars. Specifically, mid-range luxury vehicles appeal to a certain kind of douchebag. There are plenty of bad drivers in junker cars, but there's a performance limit to the damage they can do. Likewise, the drivers of very fast, very high-end sports cars aren't likely to be foolhardy with precision machines that cost more than some people's houses. Which leaves the mid-range luxury cars -- just fancy and fast enough to be expensive, but not so pricey that they're beyond the reach of some entitled jackweed looking to show off to total strangers by driving slightly worse than a trained circus monkey.
|"Rich kids toys" by Alan Farrow.|
Public domain image as of 1 June 2020. Original image here.
Sorry if you drive one of these cars and my bias annoys you. But, y'know, if the shoe fits. Fight me.
* * *
All right, perhaps I write with tongue a little bit in cheek (but only a little bit). Still, I'm like a lot of other human beings; as a species, we're remarkably subject to biases. That might be because biased thinking -- that is, reasoning from very small data sets to determine our beliefs -- is hardwired into our brains. And while that causes all kinds of problems in a modern social context, historically speaking, bias might have been what kept our species alive.
Imagine Cave Dad, basking in the glow of a late evening fire pit, watching over his mate and small children. Suddenly, a wild saber-toothed cat appears! Cave Dad has never seen such a beast before, and he has little time to react when the animal seizes his smallest daughter and drags her away, never to be seen again. Cave Dad doesn't need to observe many saber-toothed cats, nor does he need to lose any other family members to predation, to develop a set of beliefs about these predators: that they are dangerous, that they will kill and eat humans, that they must be killed or driven away for the safety of the tribe. The ability to reason from small data sets gave early humans the evolutionary advantage of identifying and responding quickly to dangers in their environment, helping them avoid or destroy predators. In the context of simple survival, bias in human thinking was a feature.
Fast-forward to the modern era. There aren't many saber-toothed cats around these days, but bias can still be a useful tool in the modern world. (Raise your hands, technical support folk who have ever asked a customer, "Have you tried turning it off and back on again?" Works 90% of the time!) However, while bias may still have its uses, it functions far more often as a kind of mental computing bug -- a persistent, dysfunctional mental structure that keeps human beings from thinking as clearly or acting as compassionately as they might without the bias in place.
A common problem associated with human bias is a particular kind of failure of the imagination. It's not failure to imagine the future you hope for, nor even the future you fear. It's failure to get inside someone else's skin -- the inability or unwillingness to imagine the life experience of someone who is markedly different from you, the first step toward feeling empathy. Let's consider a handful of common examples:
- why white people can't understand black people's widespread fear of the police (though, hey, this is starting to change)
- why men don't understand women leaving social media because they're sick of death/rape threats, doxxing, online stalking, being repeatedly called a slut/whore/cunt by complete strangers, etc.
- why left-wingers and right-wingers mutually distrust one another
- why trans women and trans-exclusionary feminists mutually distrust one another
- why people of faith and atheists mutually distrust one another
- why American Christians who have never met a Muslim are convinced Muslims are intent on destroying America (this bias isn't just about misunderstanding unfamiliar religious beliefs; some American Christians harbor the same fear about their co-religionists from Latin American countries)
- why city dwellers don't understand why country dwellers don't give up their cars/trucks and just take public transit (hint: there aren't any buses or light rail systems in Back of Beyond, Montana)
- why country dwellers don't understand why city dwellers can't move out of their cramped, expensive apartments and crime-ridden neighborhoods and just move to a cheaper place (hint: most of those cheaper places don't have the kinds of jobs city dwellers have skill sets for)
- why young gay men wince when older gay men use words like "tranny," "dyke" and "faggot," and why older gay men think young gay men have no right to police their language choices unless they too survive a horror like the AIDS crisis
- why my uncle, bless his heart, reflexively hates "blacks, Mexicans and people from Ohio" (yes, this is a direct quote) even though he knows very few people from any of these groups
- why some people want to "make America great again" without deeply considering what that phrase really means, what makes America great, how the people who popularized that phrase intend to make America different from the way it is now, and how varied implementation of this idea might change their country -- and its people -- for better or for worse
- why some people will absolutely not wear face masks, even though doing so greatly reduces the spread of COVID-19, protecting the people most at risk of dying from it
- why folks who say they would never have tolerated Nazi concentration camps or the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII stolidly look the other way as generations of Native Americans languish in poverty and squalor on reservations, and refugees from Mexico and Latin America are separated and caged under horrific conditions at our southern border. (And why are there no similar detention centers at our northern border? Could it be that most folks who cross the border illegally from that direction are white English speakers who can blend into American society without being detected? They're still here illegally, though, so if you say you don't want ANY "illegal aliens" flouting U.S. immigration laws, better get busy building that northern border wall and cobbling together detention cages in Wisconsin and North Dakota, eh? Just a thought.)
Otherwise, you might just be letting your biases drive you out of control.