Facts, feelings, and futility

In a recent CNN panel discussion on (wait for it) racism, Dan Bongino and New York Time columnist Charles Blow got into a heated exchange that went nowhere, as so often happens on these programs.

As proof that police officers had malicious intent based on racist attitudes, Blow referenced studies that show that people harbor unconscious deep-seated bias – in this case, presumably against black people. He repeatedly talked about “the social science on implicit bias in America,” saying “there is a mountain of evidence that backs up that there is implicit and explicit bias in American society.”

Anderson Cooper, the host of the program, backed up Blow’s assertion regarding studies that show bias of all types, particularly toward those who are perceived as different from yourself.

OK. Fine. Let’s assume these studies exist, are respectable, and show that people hold various kinds of bias – for or against – certain other types of people, things, ideas, etc. It doesn’t sound outlandish or unreasonable.

However, it is highly suspect for a person to assert the idea of bias in order to explain a particular outcome in life without actual proof. If we trot out the fact that bias exists whenever it’s convenient to do so, then we would have no need for a criminal justice system. We could just throw our hands up in the air; scream “Bias!” and case closed. But of course we don’t do that (yet). We actually search for facts (we still do, don’t we?) to prove or disprove an assertion.

Essentially Blow insisted that since studies show that bias exists, we must assume, for example, that some (most?) police are biased and that they act on deep unconscious feelings that they can’t control and, voila, blacks are victimized by racist cops.

That argument might work in Psychology 101 at Liberal University, but it’s “ridiculous” (to quote Bongino) to apply to a situation as serious as accusing police officers of racism and malice.

Additionally, Blow didn’t acknowledge other human traits (assuming the tendency toward bias is one) that enable humans to rise to occasions to overcome bias. Humans do this all the time. We have brains. We think. (We still think, don’t we?) We maintain professional standards at work. We are aware of our blind spots and make efforts to overcome them. We reason. In sum, we’re not animals behaving on instinct. We’re not creatures merely acting on primitive unconscious forces. (Though recent riots make me wonder.)

At its core, Blow’s argument embraced victimization. If one were to explain his failures in life as the result of bias, he would absolve himself of personal responsibility. I didn’t get that job because I’m ________ (fill in the blank with a victim class).

Conversely, if one were to apply the bias rationale to everything, then achievements in life must also be pinned on bias rather than hard work, talent, and so forth. Isn’t this, in fact, very much at the heart of affirmative action?

So here’s the deal: There’s either evidence of racism, or there’s not. The fact that human beings harbor all manner of bias for or against all manner of things does not rise to the level of proof about anything. And if people (police officers, for example) are to be damned based on this and this alone as evidence, then we must all be forever damned.

On a side note, celebrity stylist Michaela Angela Davis was also on the CNN panel. Don’t ask me why. I suppose being part black was her credential, but not sure. In any case, her retort to Bongino’s attempt to bring some semblance of sanity to the panel was that it’s all about feeling, rather than facts, culminating in the following statement: “We’re in so much pain we can’t even recover.”

No further comment.

Hat tip: The Right Scoop