Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reality and Bias

 A new book purports to find evidence of widespread liberal "bias" in the media.
"In at least one important way journalists are very different from the rest of us—they are more liberal. For instance, according to surveys, in a typical presidential election, Washington correspondents vote about 93-7 for the Democrat, while the rest of us vote about 50-50 for the two candidates.
What happens when our view of the world is filtered through the eyes, ears, and minds of such a liberal group?
As I demonstrate—using objective, social-scientific methods—the filtering prevents us from seeing the world as it really is. Instead, we only see a distorted version of it. It is as if we see the world through a glass—a glass that magnifies the facts that liberals want us to see and shrinks the facts that conservatives want us to see."

A longstanding critique from the right, the left's snarky rejoinder: “reality has a liberal bias”.  Yet this is often demonstrably true, not only in terms of whether liberal claims can be substantiated, but in the very way in which the left traditionally approaches truth questions.  Liberalism is biased towards expertise, towards scientific inquiry, critical deconstruction of cultural norms and dominant paradigms.

The extent to which any of these are the paths to truth, then truth can be said to have a liberal bias. Although that’s not really accurate. Better said, liberalism has a bias towards truth. So, for instance, when a journalist points out that a business is polluting a river, is it liberal bias? When most illegal aliens are found to be exploited when all they wanted was a chance at a better life, is it liberal bias? When global warming is found to likely have devastating effects, is it liberal bias? When evolution is found to be absolutely true, is it liberal bias? When gays are – newsflash! – found to be normal, healthy people, is that liberal bias?

Conservatism is ultimately about common sense. And sometimes common sense is right; even a broken clock is right twice a day. But to the extent that conservatism is biased against expertise, or critical analysis, or relativism, or the deconstruction of tradition – in other words the machinery of free thought – then conservatism is biased against truth. As Buckley put it, to “stand athwart history and yell stop”, even alas, when that history is truth.

In the end, there is no such thing as a bias towards truth, only away from it. To be biased is to be operating outside the parameters of truth-finding. To the extent that conservatism rejects the very process of truth-finding, preferring instead to rely on such subjective and non-rational epistemologies as tradition or common-sense, it is biased against truth. And to the extent that the media is concerned with truth, then conservatism is often biased against the media itself.

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