Monday, June 2, 2014

June 2 2014: Books, bias—and absolute nonsense—or not?

"It is however always important to remember that the ability to see things in their correct perspective may be, and often is, divorced from the ability to reason correctly and vice versa. That is why a man may be a very good theorist and yet talk absolute nonsense..."

Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1975, p. 76, footnote 3)

10363590_838077572887563_7533034193896641071_nCAUTIONARY NOTE. I put the above quote in as a cautionary note to myself. I do a great deal of research on an ongoing basis as part of a policy of keeping myself well informed—but it is always a good idea to question your own conclusions, and, particularly, to factor in your biases. That is not that easy to do because—all too often—you aren’t even aware of them. They become just part of the way you think. Yet, more than a few people delude themselves into thinking they are unbiased—which is crazy—then, again, lots of people are crazy. How else can one explain the world?

But, I digress.

BIASES AND DECISIONS. Lack of awareness of one’s biases is not all bad, because biases, often based upon experience, are a necessary aid to reaching conclusions. In fact, there are so many variables in life, that if you tried to assess them all consciously, you’d never reach a conclusion. That state would be  madly and deeply unhelpful where writing is concerned—because writing is all decision-making—particularly where fiction is concerned. You can write about anything in any way. It’s all up to you to decide. In fact, you can disregard all the rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling (if you think you can get away with it).

If you are going to ignore the conventions, it helps greatly if your name is James Joyce, and you are dead.

So, how do you counter your biases? ‘Deliberately’ is one answer. In fact, I think there is a good case for writing them out, and displaying the end result as a reminder. Have I done this up to now?  No, I haven’t—but it’s never too late to learn.

MY BIASES. What are my biases? If I put them all in, it would be a very long list—so let me just give number of examples:

  • ORGANIZATIONS. I am skeptical of large organizations—whether government, corporate, religious, academic, or military. That bias almost certainly stems from my early experiences at boarding school. Subsequent life hasn’t done much to change my mind. We need large organizations, but they have a tendency to encourage a mindset depressingly lacking in a moral code—so they do bad things.
  • REACH AND GRASP. I tend to underestimate how difficult it is to do things—so my reach has a tendency to exceed my grasp. That said, I have accomplished many things in my life which for a while—sometimes a long while—seemed near impossible.
  • WOMEN. I am very supportive of women. I just like the way women think—apart from their/your other attributes.
  • PEOPLE POTENTIAL. I tend to think that people are more capable than perhaps they are (based upon the evidence of history). Strangely enough, I still think that (though looking at our political gridlock, you would wonder).
  • STATUS QUO. I am biased against accepting the status quo—of just about anything (except words, women, and wine).
  • BOOKS AND WRITING. I am totally biased in favor of books and writing.
  • POWER OF THE MIND. I am biased in favor of the power of the mind—arguably to the point of over-thinking some issues. I hold to the view that most of our problems are solvable—and that the answers are out there. But, we seem strangely reluctant to look.

Given the above (which are but a subset of the total), do I reason correctly? Or do I talk and write absolute nonsense?

I’d answer—but, as you will appreciate—I’m absolutely biased.

By the way, the photo—which is of lampshades and has nothing to do with this piece (except that it adds color) —is yet another of my sister, Lucy’s, striking works. The kid (she is the mother of five children) has the eye.





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