Blog entry by Alan Chapman
Bias and denialism - in systems, leadership, and cycles of collapse and renewal
Bias is typically unconscious, a very definite sort of unconscious incompetence.
Denialism is by definition largely unconscious and unknown to those in denial. All of us are in denial about some things; and most denialism is relatively harmless, although unhelpful for personal growth, relationships, parenting, etc. It's an unavoidable consequence of life experience and the conditioning that happens to us all. Some denialism is infinitely more threatening, and I use the word infinitely to reflect the existential degree of certain threats to humanity/life on earth.
Bias is basically a distortion of truth and fact. A stone dropped to the ground does not fall vertically. Its 'vertical' fall is affected to imperceptible but small degree by the turn of the earth during its fall, and also by whatever breeze or airflow exists around it. Certain types of bowls (in the rolling ball game of bowls - not fruit bowls) are biased with a weight so that they roll in a curving path.
A human male grows up to adulthood with the conditioned bias that tends to happen in the education and parenting and societal and media 'conditioning' of males (which still today is hugely biased against females). Many females are conditioned to accept and support such bias, in many and various ways, across different cultures.
Modern day leaders, and the way that populations use their votes, reflect the societal conditioning and biases that are weighted to give advantage to people of economic and media power, or a perceived academic or elitist 'authority' and 'intelligence'. (Just because somebody dresses like a businessman, and talks like a solicitor or academic, certainly does not make him/her actually intelligent, or wise, or possessing genuinely helpful leadership qualities, such as integrity, honesty, humility, and deep understanding of life and death, etc).
A uniform is a sign of authority. It is not necessarily real authority. Try stopping motorway traffic without the perceived authority of a hi-visibility yellow vest or jacket. Think about this. Jesus and the Buddha together with Nelson Mandela in their normal work-clothes or Sunday best would be at much greater risk of being run over than a scarecrow in a hi-viz vest.
Consider also if we'd respect judges and barristers as much if they wore cloth caps and had a woodbine hanging out of their mouth. And so it is for satisfying and feeding bias when graduates wear gowns and throw their new caps into the air.
Soldiers wore bright colours, often red, and sparkly decorations - to intimidate the enemy, until it was realised that camouflage might be less risky. On parade, out come the showy uniforms and tall hats.
Other writings here will explore semiotics: the signs and symbols which move our feelings and reactions and actions infinitely more than we realise. Again I use the word infinitely very deliberately.
Bias is a distortion of truth. The problem then becomes that the distortion is made real, because people treat it as such.
It is a confidence trick of global proportions.
These are examples of obvious and transparent bias. The infinitely more dangerous biases are much more hidden, and in many cases kept determinedly secret by those who benefit from them, for example the algorithms that run Google's and Facebook's search results, and increasingly the artificial intelligence systems that design the algorithms. These same principles and real technical methods are embedded into the biggest corporations, financial and economic systems, and politics at every level of global society and industry, affecting education, health, energy, defence and military, science, research, business, environment, and every aspect of how we live and work, globally.
Highly sensitive people, greatly traumatised people, especially suicidal people, or people living with a life-threatening diagnosis or condition, and many people who live/work very close to death, tend to be less in denial about most things.
Acceptance of one's own mortality is often a big enabler of avoiding denial about most things in life. If you think about this it makes sense, because denialism is rooted in fear.
A much more accessible example is that people who smoke tobacco or eat too much unhealthy food are unable to engage with the fact that these often very enjoyable small daily little-by-little activities/pleasures will almost certainly result in serious illness, and a premature and unhealthy death. With deep engagement, and no denial, this outcome can be avoided (by ceasing the harmful activity). Maintaining the daily denial, builds the mind/body systemic resistance, until eventually there is a collapse, which for many is terminal.
The same can be said - similar denial - in matters such as gambling, other addictions, lack of exercise, toxic relationships, unhealthy work, etc.
It's important to know also that wider bias and denial in societies and media 'validates' and supports denial at an individual level. Most humans do not like to be different, because this can be stressful, or cause threatening situations/conflict, etc. Again we tend to make choices of lifestyle and beliefs according to our fears and insecurities.
Another simple example of denial, rooted firmly in bias, is all areas of discrimination, for example discrimination according to gender, race, ethnicity, 'disability', appearance, and 'difference', for example people who are or display some aspect of non-conformity or a perceived 'mental impairment'. Even grief and bereavement is a huge and actually deeply significant area of bias and denial. People who are bereaved can only be understood by people who've experienced bereavement, directly, or by working/living very closely with bereavement.
A man cannot understand what it's like to have a baby. It's impossible. A child cannot understand what it's like to be a parent. A parent of 2020, who was a child decades earlier cannot understand what it is like to be a child in 2020. These are all at the roots of bias, and where we are unaware of these biases, we are in denial.
The common reaction towards people in denial by those who can understand the denial issue more deeply (because he/she has lived through it), is that the denialists are wilfully denying, or intentionally being ignorant, but commonly this is not so. We can only truly empathise when we have lived through the experience concerned, and/or developed the properly mature personality to be able to empathise, and even then a man can never know what it's like to have a baby (along with very many other areas of bias that we must accept can at best be mitigated and understood via education and other methods to convey the feelings associated).
Empathy cannot be taught. It can only be gained by experience, plus the ability/help to process the experience in a self-aware way.
The opposite of empathy is denialism, is a way to see it all. If we have not benefited from the deep personal growth that comes from experiencing the difficulties of life, then we remain in denial about the actual existence and nature of these difficulties, and their effects.
For these reasons, a homeless or suicidal person, or a refugee from war, or a domestic abuse survivor, or a person who was raped as a child, finds it much easier to engage with the possibilities and realities, and is generally less worried about, human extinction (societal collapse and death basically) than a corporate or institutional leader or politician who has never really known hardship.
Note that Positive Disintegration Theory helps to explain that some leaders (very many actually), and some other people develop a maladjusted resilience from being deconstructed/disintegrated as a child (it can happen to abuse victims, and disaffected people who are open to being radicalised, too) so that they re-form with some sort of personality disorder (for example psychopathic or narcissistic, manipulative, homicidal, abusive, terrorist, white-supremacist, etc). Military training is designed to 'break' young people (men usually) and then re-form them into people who will kill and die for their comrades/regiment/queen/king/president/country, etc. This is a similar sort of designed conditioned maladjusted resilience as happens to many children (especially boys) sent away to boarding schools and educated to be 'leaders'. Nick Duffell's work in this area is very powerful, along with his other teachings, for example his book 'Wounded Leaders', which is a study in a particularly prevalent and dangerous form of bias that's helped create our precarious world, and preserved and protected our unsustainable globalised economics.
Denialism is particularly threatening (to humanity/life on earth/extinction) when it acts with bias globally, nationally, systemically, economically, educationally and societally, because it prevents the vital radical awakenings, awareness, education, support, preparedness, contingencies, etc., and also the vast cooperative actions necessary to halt, avert, reverse exponential disintegration, especially in later 'end-game' stages, as humankind now finds itself.
Effects of bias and denilaism and what do we do about it?
The effects of bias and denialism are felt and seen in massive and often ultimately terminally destructive ways, although observers/victims tend to remain ignorant and oblivious that the causes of the disintegration or implosive/explosive collapse are bias and denialism. This additional hidden aspect - that bias, denialism and obliviousness persist even as effects are unfolding towards terminal climax - makes the potential effects of bias and denialism even more powerful.
An analogy would be that somebody dies of an undetected highly contagious disease, and the post mortem/inquest determines mistakenly that the cause of death was a traffic accident. And then multiply that analogy as if it were happening every day to a few thousand people globally, and that this were being reported my mainstream/social media, and being absorbed into global societal education, stories, beliefs, lifestyle advertising/marketing and economics, in all languages and cultures of the world, for decades and generations. Our world is presented to us with this degree of distortion.
Bias and denialism operate independently but also interactively, extremely powerfully, more so with the size of systems, extending to unimaginable scale, such as global human population, and groups within, such as Facebook, Google users, nations and international organisations.
Systemic effects of bias and denialism are infinitely fractal too. Fractals, which I'll explain and explore more in a separate article, are and describe the structures repeating patterns (so that extremes of tiniest replica to largest replica patterns are the same or highly similar) for example snowflakes, plants and trees, lightening, and wider natural universal and mathematical systems. Humans and brains and thinking are fractal in nature too. Fractals were first 'officially' identified/described by Benoit Mandelbroit in 1967 during a study of the British coastline. (Wikipedia says of Mendelbroit, 22 Aug 2019: "Polish-born , French and American mathematician and polymath with broad interests in the practical sciences, especially regarding what he labeled as 'the art of roughness' of physical phenomena and 'the uncontrolled element in life'.")
And another brilliant short animation film about rethinking economics, (if we can overcome resistant bias and denialism): (short-link bit.ly/econ-new)
These final links suggest what we might do about it.
We do not generally succeed in confronting denialism and bias (especially of the scale threatening humanity now) with aggressive force.
Forgiveness and love are crucial. Otherwise we fight, and we keep fighting while the fires rage, the sea-levels rise, the ice melts, the corporate leaders and investors leverage it all for more profit, and the politicians continue to be clueless and powerless to save anyone, including themselves (which is another aspect of denial of course, that politicians and corporate leaders/investors really do believe they'd somehow be safe in a world that can no longer sustain any life apart from bacteria).
The only answer is working together. Everyone, everywhere.
At the root of bias and denialism is ignorance and a lack of empathy/experience, or in some cases a maladjusted resilience (typified by but not exclusive to the old British colonial attitude and education, protected and persisting very powerfully via the 'Etonian/OxBridge' and similar childhood conditioning and most 'Westminster' and big corporate/institutional leaders - please note that there are variations of this culturally all around the world, and a similar misplaced respect for and entirely false dependence on it among societies - that's all of us).
Denialists can't help it. It's really not their fault. They are victims. It's not our fault either.
Bias and denialism is about all of us. And it's in our hands to look at it, to understand it, to think for ourselves, and to take action to help others do the same, and to start fixing this crazy world.
We get the leaders we vote for and tolerate. We get the newspapers and media that we (and our biases) buy and support. We get Google and Facebook and artificial intelligence because we keep buying it and selling our souls to it all, because we are all biased too, in ways that support these big systems that are taking us to oblivion permanently, unless we change our thinking and acting globally.
Those final links are examples of how we 'nudge' people much more gently and happily – all of us – to greater awareness, and to a level of conscious incompetence that is necessary, generally (because life is fractal, remember, so it's happening in waves and spirals everywhere), before we can then start collaborating globally to fix the big problems that will otherwise end very unhappily for us all.
There are infinite solutions.
We are nearly 8 billion brains and bodies and souls. We can do miracles. So let's start making miracles happen.