Monday, December 12, 2011

Man is not a Robot

Yesterday my wife asked me whether I did not trust the government with the information they provide.  I did not answer simply, because my skepticism of all things government is not a simple yes or no response.  I also did not bother to highlight cases where I believed government was right.  In other words, I did not go on the defensive.

Instead, I proceeded to explain why I do not trust the government anymore than I trust most other strangers with information.  The fact of the matter is, everyone has their own preferences, biases, and beliefs.  While you may be able to categorize people depending on certain limitations, by and large we are individuals with our own desires.

A government bureaucrat is not immune to his own prejudices.  He will make reports based on his or her own preferences or the preferences of his or her superiors.  Even if it was a truthful action or statement, it still is based on the preferences of the individual.

A journalist still injects his or her personal opinion when reporting the news.  And it is not just in the words they use, but the way in which they report.  For example, I watched CNN while the whole Bush-Gore debacle was going on.  I noticed that when they reported favorable news about Bush, there were no reporters on the ground with the Bush supporters (but you could hear them in the background), however, they always had a person on the ground with Gore’s supporters.  This may seem irrelevant, but consider that this was an intentional decision by the higher ups in CNN so they could not show the number of Bush supporters but at the same time show the number of Gore supporters, all in an attempt to influence their audience.

I am not condemning any actions of bias really.  It is human nature to express that preference for Coke or Pepsi and it is part of what makes us unique.  What I do condemn is when people lie about it and claim some moral high ground by claiming to be purely objective.  The fact is, human beings are not objective and will always interject their biases, to varying degrees, into whatever they do.

One cannot look at a government, in any form, as a benevolent entity able to meet the appropriate needs of the people it governments.  You need to look at the government as a collection of selfish individuals with the authority to use legal force in order to implement their programs.  By legal force, I mean that they will kill you if you do not comply with their rules and regulations, however minor, because they are allowed to do so by the people the rule over.

As such, I always take a skeptical look at government studies because I know they are designed to make them look good.  Propaganda is always the name of the game when it comes to the government.  Why do you think they have several different standards of measurement for various economic indicators such as unemployment and inflation?  It is because government officials will seek to report the one indicator that is most favorable to them.

I do not limit this skepticism to government or mainstream media outlets either.  Talk radio show hosts, though a little more honest with their audience, tend to mask their biases as well.  Rush Limbaugh is not a conservative first and a Republican second, he is a Republican first and a conservative second.  Such abandonment of principle is one of the main reasons why I no longer listen to him.

Ultimately, I believe that we are entitled to our opinions, ideas, beliefs, and biases.  However, I have little tolerance for people who claim to not have any bias at all, especially when they are in the position to influence people or enforce a policy.  Clearly, we all need to take what we are told with a grain of salt.  And then throw it up in order to more thoroughly analyze it….