Until a few years ago, national administration in my country was held by a party called rodoendrism. Vast sectors of the population loathed the government and seeked for critical voices wherever they could find them. One of the strongest critics of the rodoendrism was Lester Mustapick, a journalist who became very popular by way of giving strong editorial speeches against the administration. While this situation went on, his words were revered and his opinion was held in the highest respect. Once elections came over, rodoendrism was defeated and a new administration, diametrically opposed to the previous one, came to be. Mr. Mustapick started critizising the new government, but this time, popularity escaped him, his words were scorned and his opinion, dismissed. As it turned out, the public niche he had carved for himself was one filled with voters of the new administration, who didn´t appreciate what they perceived as attacks on their candidate.
My late great-uncle Augustus was a man whose counsel I seeked more than once in my youth. There wasn´t a thing that he didn´t seem to know about and my varied questions were honored with a thoughful answer every single time. But I do remember a few occasions, specially in my late teens, when his answer didn´t quite satisfy me and I dismissed it by saying to myself “he doesn´t understand the world of people my age”.
And one last.
While I, personally, hate football -soccer, a few of my friends enjoy the sport and indulge in long heated arguments about its smallest details (alas, often in my presence). A few days ago, during one of this exchanges, Peter expressed an opinion regarding a certain team and, for the first time, Ivan, who had always rejected Peter´s ideas on the basis of supporting a rival team, agreed. “Ha! So, he finally came to his senses!” said triumphantly Ivan, as if Peter had been blind and now was able to see the light.
Situations like the ones above exemplify cases where opinions are capitalized or wasted depending on superficial judgements and personal biases that don´t necessarily favor the issue at hand.
One could argue that it´s a simple issue of “I agree with you on certain subjects and disagree on thers” because, obviously, no one is infallible and everyone can be right or wrong. But you can differ with an argument and still value it.
In lack of a proper definition for this ubiquitous shortcoming, I will call it Subjective Objectivity Bias and define it as the inability to accept and benefit from an opinion unless it corresponds with ours.
This tendency to reject an argument unless it fits within our ideas prevents us from profiting of it. While there are many situations where one can analyze an argument without being biased, a completely dispassionate analysis of every single scenario is impossible because of our very own human condition. Confirmation bias (the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories) also pushes us hard in that direction. Listening to both sides often involves oneself standing on one of those sides. But we should strive for a point of view as neutral as possible, if only, to benefit from the different perspectives.
Cognitive biases, like the Subjective Objectivity Bias, are situations were our brain tricks us into believing something that maybe it isn´t so. But once we acknowledge them, we can identify each situation and -at least- try not go for it.