October 2017
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conversation with Sam -- bias in science, how best to respect people, arguments


Yesterday my partner and I picked up zir sibling Sam from the airport, and along the way to drop zir off we began talking about global warming -- my partner was asking questions of Sam, who is studying environmental science. They did most of the talking on that, and I listened. That was an interesting conversation in itself, but it got more interesting when it diverged into a discussion of bias in science (which was mainly Sam and I talking).

I expressed my view that since scientific studies are done by humans, they are affected by the dominant culture of the scientists. Sam pointed out that there is a peer review system in place to remove bias, and that there are scientists who live to debunk others, so scientists have to be cautious in writing up their studies. I responded that the system might be great, but it was still built of humans and still susceptible to human subjectivity. After all, the system of government in America is a fantastic system, built to minimize the damage of those who seek only to serve themselves -- however, no system can truly eliminate bias / selfishness / prejudice. (that's something that has to be dealt with on an individual level) And a person of one culture is not going to notice the bias inherent in their own culture. The only way to really combat bias would be to have a group of scientists of equal proportions of every race, culture, sex, sexual preference, age, economic status, size, ableness, health, class, etc. And since that isn't really feasible, one has to look at scientific studies with a careful eye and not take them for gospel as most seem to do. People can and often do agree on ideas that are completely erroneous, especially when the idea keeps them in a position of power or maintains the status quo.

This led to a discussion of sexism/equalism/anti-exclusionism -- what an explosive topic. We must have discussed it for at least an hour. I believe that the only way to truly respect people is to treat everyone the same (until you get to know them, then obviously tailor your behavior to who they are). Sam feels that it is not necessary to treat everyone the same in order to respect them; ze feels that it is okay to have different default treatments for different people, such as opening the door only for women. I feel that it is best to examine one's motives. If I open the door only for one sex, why am I doing this? is it because I am blindly following a path laid out for me by my culture? is it perhaps a habit which enforces beliefs that society holds about the relationships between the sexes? is it because I have carefully thought it over and found a good reason to give this respect only to one sex? I think the latter is theoretically possible but I cannot think of a good reason to behave more (or less) kindly to a person because of their body shape. Especially considering that I may be mistaken as to what their body shape is -- not everyone fits neatly into one category or another.

Then we branched off into exclusionism as it relates to race. Sam believes it is only wrong to assume negatives about a person -- to assume positives is okay. I think that assumptions about a person based on outward appearance lead to setting up boundaries between people. For instance, if I assume that all people who are elderly are enlightened because they have seen so much, this is a flattering assumption but it creates a boundary. To assume is to create a generic picture of someone; when you see that generic picture, you have a much harder time seeing them as they truly are than you would if you left the canvas blank and allowed them to paint from scratch rather than editing what you have made. I believe that in order to respect a person, one has to see them as they truly are. Love needs respect which needs understanding -- assumptions hinder understanding.

At the very end I made sure to explain that I spoke forcefully because I believed in what I had to say, not out of trying to force agreement. Sam admitted that ze was trying to change MY mind which I found hilarious. :D (my partner told zir that I do change my mind, but only when given new ideas/information/interpretations. Ze described how I react to that, and imitated my facial expressions, heh.) And I realized that I used to try to change people's minds when arguing opinion, and now that is hardly ever my goal (I would say never but I don't check my arguing-motives often enough to say). Instead, I want to explain my point of view in such a way that the other person can understand why I believe the way I do, and then they can agree or disagree. I think that a person never gains truth by having it forced on them, so all I do is share my truth and invite a person to explore for themselves. I don't see truth as some objective thing that can be found -- I think that in order to have the whole truth one would have to fully understand every person and every creature and every thing at once (I believe that after we die we will know fully, even as we are fully known). All we can do is find a facet of the truth that resonates with us, and then share it to inspire others to find their own.

It was SUCH a fun conversation! I love speaking to someone who respectfully disagrees because it gives me the opportunity to hone my own views to a shining point. Few things annoy me more than feeling that the other person isn't listening when arguing with me, but I felt that Sam listened and responded in a curious way, attempting to understand, and never summarily dismissed anything I said. (unlike M, who I argued with the other day, heh -- when I made a really good point ze dropped the topic and said "well we just disagree." PAH. fuck that shit.) I think eventually and slowly Sam and I might become good friends.

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Comments
ladywind ══╣Raven╠══
YES. YES. Elegantly stated, the lot of it.
(and that's the outer edge of how coherent I can be in agreeing, at the moment; my relief at finding another human who sees humans as humans is too visceral a thing just now.)

Have I told you lately how glad I am our virtual paths crossed?
belenen ══╣voltaic╠══
oh yay!!! I know exactly what you mean about the relief :D

*hugs* I'm so glad to have found you! ;-)
wolfmare ══╣╠══
I've encountered far too many arguments about different beliefs to think for even a moment I can change someone's outlook or opinion on much of anything... So I usually try to lead by example. If someone sees that I'm happy and seem to be enlightened about something they don't understand, then it's their job to do the asking.

I have to agree with you on this though. I refuse to judge people either way before, though I am guilty of keeping a basic 'survival instinct' suspicion of people who dress or act certain ways. If my intuition says someone's up to no good, I trust that rather then taking risks. Believing good things about someone based on looks is usually as bad an idea as believing negatives though, so I do try to refrain from either.
belenen ══╣incitement╠══
Believing good things about someone based on looks is usually as bad an idea as believing negatives though, so I do try to refrain from either.

exactly! ;-)
wolfmare ══╣╠══
Well, at best you end up disappointed... And cause them the stress of having those expectations hanging over their head.
tralfamadore ══╣Green Hat╠══
What an absolutely wonderful conversation that sounds like! Unfortunately I have quite a tendency to debate with the intent to change a person's mind, and the shared negativity in this mode often leads to such misunderstanding that it interferes with the joy of getting to know another person's point of view. I deeply respect the fact that you have come to discuss without this as your ultimate goal, and I truly hope that it's something I can achieve one day as I know it will make me a truly more open person.
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
Oh, I definitely think you will achieve it, because I think it grows on its own. For me, it came from realizing that sometimes the best thing 'objectively' is NOT the best thing for a certain person at a certain moment -- sometimes we actually need the second or third best thing, you know? I dunno if that makes sense, I can't explain it very well. :-p

and thank you ;-)
febrile_lune ══╣╠══
I haven't gotten to read this whole thing yet, I'll come back later. I just wanted to say that I agree with you so far and I definitely see a lot of reasons why assuming things about a person based on outward appearance is harmful. For one thing I agree that to truly respect a person you can't set boundaries for them, or hold double standards, and I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt. But while some might think giving the benefit of the doubt means assuming good qualities, I consider it assuming as little as possible and trusting that person to be what they are, hopefully shown in time.

Another reason I think it is harmful is because it creates a halo effect and it is unfair to other people who might actually have the good qualities but look different. People might think "generically attractive" or attractive by societal standards means a person is more intelligent or ...whatever other good quality one might assume, but then that means that those who are not "attractive" in the same way have to work twice as hard to prove they are intelligent. Same goes for stereotypes and things about race. It sets boundaries not only for the person having things assumed about him or her, but for everyone else as well. Not to mention that assuming positive traits doesn't mean being neutral and while one may not think one is judgemental about potential negative traits, it's hard not to be when you're not neutral.

belenen ══╣feminist╠══
It sets boundaries not only for the person having things assumed about him or her, but for everyone else as well

Exactly! that 'halo effect' is something I didn't consider but it is so true.
febrile_lune ══╣╠══
OH, and also. I know that I feel more honored and respected when people appreciate my positive qualities based on things I've actually shown to have, not when they just assume I have it. When we judge people even "positively" based on appearance, it becomes less motivating to grow as a person instead of acquiring material or physical things and attributes in order to be judged well. But if this stunts growth, one is less likely to be able to develop truly deep relationships and friendships and earn unconditional respect.
belenen ══╣veneration╠══
When we judge people even "positively" based on appearance, it becomes less motivating to grow as a person instead of acquiring material or physical things and attributes in order to be judged well

WOW. YEAH!!! such a good point!
de_course ══╣╠══
Disclaimer: I'm a scientist.

I understand what you mean about bias in science, I think that it highly depends on the field.

It's very hard to see, for example, how sexism, heterocentrism and racism could be an issue in particle physics, botany or meteorology. It's much easier to see how it could play a role in sociology, psychology and medicine.

But even in a field such as abstract mathematics, there is a certain human bias which selects what we choose to study, because we only choose to open lines of enquiry that we find interesting. The results aren't human-coloured, but the topics that we choose to study are.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
mmm, yes! I do quite agree.
sidheblessed ══╣╠══
I really agree with what you're saying about respect. To truly respect, you do need to treat others the same and to try your best to not make any assumptions about who they may be based on something like their physical appearance, including things like clothes.

Also, you've madea good point about science.

I think I've got more to say but I'm going to digest this entry a bit first.
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
Yeah! I think clothes are a little more of a grey area, as they are actually a method of expressing oneself (things you can't change don't really say anything about you, things that you choose DO), but one has to keep in mind that a person's ability to express themselves with clothes depends on how much money they have and how much free time they have to shop around! So clothes don't tell you much unless you ask about a person's style, really.

If you have more to say, I'd like to read it! ;-)
phydeau ══╣╠══
Oh! Joy!

This is one of the things I like to call people on (respectfully, of course). A "positive" bias is still a bias. Assuming the best for a particular type is just as warped as assuming the worst in another type. Both are examples of profiling.

Profiling, itself, is not bad. It's instinct. It's how you behave on that instinct that's important.

I hold doors open for both genders. I also ignore both genders behind me, on occasion. We're all in the ride, together. I play nice. When I have a minute, it's yours. When I need a minute, I can only humbly ask for your generosity. That's how the game should be played.

Since nobody else has said it, I might as well. To "assume" is to make an "ass" out of "u" and "me". Yeah, it's a catch-phrase, but it's one of the few that fits.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
I hold doors open for both genders. I also ignore both genders behind me, on occasion.

me too! ;-) I agree that that is how the game should be played.
febrile_lune ══╣╠══
Yess... I finally reaad the whole post and I don't have much more to say at this moment (though I would if I had time and energy!!) but I wanted to apologize for forgetting to use "zir". I know you don't pressure people to do so, I just try as hard as I can when talking to you to remember. For one thing I want to respect your beliefs, and I don't feel like I'm disrespecting my own in doing so since I'm simply still uncertain on where I stand on the issue of gender-free terminology. For another, it's an interesting thought experiment for me on my quest to figure this out!

so yeah, just wanted to say that :)
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.