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Perception, bias, division and expression  

By|Joe DeVoogd

Hippy.  Redneck.  Sheltered.  Blow-hard.  Egg-headed.  Bat-shit.  One word can say it all:  Perception: how one views itself in relation to the other.  Labels inform our reality and that fact all too often goes unconsidered in our day to day.  It’s about time we revisited the whole subject in a time of such political inhospitality.  

I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t leave my front door thinking everything I know is wrong.  I like to think that my assertions are adequately rationalized.  Yet, presented with information that stands to challenge those assertions, it becomes far easier to dismiss than to discuss.  Perhaps this because we never want to be wrong, or maybe it’s the product of our binary sense of morality.  Let’s try not to get wrapped up in an epistemological quandary.  What we believe informs greatly our identity, how we express ourselves, how we present ourselves, and more importantly who we place our confidence in.

We humans are creatures of curiosity.  When we don’t understand something, we seek to understand.  Man’s need to root out the truth, whatever the cost; to build upon a body of knowledge passed down for generations is how humanity moved out of the Dark Ages and into enlightenment.  There are those, however, who merely seek validation and not truth.  The types of people who will defend a demonstrably wrong idea just because it aligns with their philosophy. One will come up with a hypothesis, and run with it without testing it because the conclusion feels good.  This is called bias, and of this crime we’re all guilty.

While we dispense arguments that don’t fit our world view, we can also discount the people that pose such arguments based on how they present themselves.  Is it just a coincidence that people in cliques tend to dress similarly?  You may see a die-hard conservative wearing Birkenstocks, but would that align with his identity?  Probably not.  In fact such a choice would likely estrange him from those who think like him, and lump him in with the “incorrect” thinking people.

We all work from the bias of our perceptions.  It doesn’t matter what political stance you may take.  Prejudice can be applied socially as well as racially.  It’s happens when we stop perceiving others as complex sentient beings and start thinking of them as manifest attitudes, expressions and practices that run contrary to our personal point of view.

We do it with our media as well. At least 35 percent of adult Americans say they get their news feed from social media. And Facebook and Twitter are perfectly designed for the cherry-picker in everyone.  The algorithm behind these sites learns what you pages you should subscribe to for the “news” you like, the people you will want to follow, and dismiss everything else.  This positive feedback effect, a by-product of our comfortability within our info-spheres, is further galvanizing the political ideologies further apart from each other, narrowing our perceptions.

You may say that distancing yourself from people and news outlet that don’t fit your view is a win win.  The problem is that while this improves our ability to defend the ideas we agree with, it appears to dull the human instinct of healthy skepticism, and this has led to fanaticism on both sides of the aisle.  Find me a moderate politician that people can get excited enough about to win the White House today.  I’ll wait.

The perfect storm hits when our perceptions of one another and our biases lead us to express our division from each other.  I don’t think I need to tell you that freedom of expression is increasingly becoming a touchy subject.  With violent protest breaking out between the far-right, and the far-left, snafus like the XL pipeline, Republican lawmakers are drafting anti-protesting legislation in 18 different states; abridging the liberty to express oneself freely and peacefully.  Our own president, has condemned protesters and equated news outlets like CNN and the Washington Post to tabloids.  You may argue that they’re trying to enact those laws to limit general disruption and destruction of property.  I get that.  Here’s the rub.  After these states enact these laws, what will happen when the political pendulum swings the other direction?  The right will want to express themselves peacefully, and they won’t be able to.  It’s not leveling the playing field, it’s repressing dissent, and that is an exercise in thought control.

Ultimately we need reach out to one another, and indulge in other points of view occasionally.  Where we cannot reconcile our differences we must still seek to respect one another as people.  It benefits nobody to berate and lambaste people for the way they identify or how they express themselves.  If you ever catch yourself saying ‘Liberals are ____’ or ‘Conservatives are ____’ remind yourself that these are biased perspectives .  (Besides you haven’t met them all, have you?)

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