Subtle bias

Every forum of expression and every medium of expression as is found today (and was found yesterday as well) brim with content mixed with bias. A bias may be completely individual or may be institutionalized. Since views, opinions, assessments etc. are bound to contain a subjective element in almost all the cases, bias in general, is not something uncalled for. What’s uncalled for is something else.

Expressions in forms of speeches, articles, blogs, reviews etc. are meant to impress upon the readers (and not just to enlighten them), hence the bias inherent in them acts as a catalyst to sway their viewpoint in the direction of that of the speaker or the writer (as the case may be). It’s not at all wrong to take sides according to one’s own line of thinking, nor is it wrong to influence others’ minds in a bid to bring them to own side. The ethical issue (as I feel) comes into picture when the bias is not loud, it’s subtle.

When a bias is loud, the listener or the reader can judge it as per his / her wisdom and decide whether to accept the viewpoint of the speaker / writer and if yes, then to which extent. He / she can follow a Hindi maxim – Suno Sab Ki Karo Mann Ki (listen to all but do only what your heart tells you to do) for framing his / her own opinion about the subject-matter concerned. But the cunning (so-called) thinkers, activists, lobbyists and paid-reviewers know very well that loud bias works with those only who are already in favour of (or against) the issue or the person or the product they are propagating or maligning. To be more effective, therefore, they use subtle bias.

I had read about this kind of bias in my chapter of communication when I was studying Psychology as my optional paper for my Civil Services attempt. Cunning propagandists present the things in such a way that their presentation appears to be completely neutral whereas actually it is biased but the tilt is so subtle that a person of normal IQ cannot identify it and he / she considers the material as completely objective and unbiased. But the bias which is meant to brainwash the genuinely neutral persons, acts smartly and in most of the cases, the naive and trusting readers / listeners are carried away by it. If, at the end of the day, even one neutral fellow finds his thoughts moving towards the side of the author / speaker, this subtle bias has served its purpose.

I read a lot of articles on a variety of subjects  viz. politics in India, world dynamics, social traditions vis-a-vis social reforms, the issues pertaining to womenfolk, caste system and caste-based reservations in India, approach of one religious community towards the other, explicit content in books and movies, brain-drain, crime and punishment, law, literature, cinema etc. And I find that a number of popular and acclaimed authors (most of them being the so-called intellectuals) use subtle bias to sway the popular opinion towards their own (based on their ideology or their vested interest). The articles appear to be completely neutral at a glance and apparently every argument or every assertion therein is objective and fact-based. But as it is asserted for statistics that they can prove everything as well as nothing, it demands a careful examination on the part of the reader to be sure that lies and unconfirmed pieces of information are not mixed with known facts. Mostly such segregation of fact and fiction from the composite work presented is not easy. And that ensures the triumph of the author who is actually biased but appears neutral.

Subtle bias mixes with the known facts just like water is mixed with milk, losing its colour in that but diluting the quality of the milk. When the quantum of water mixed in the milk is relatively low, even the consumer of the milk (containing that water) cannot guess that he is not consuming pure milk. The colour of the drink being consumed by him is white only and without use of a lactometer, the manoeuvre of the shrewd milk-supplier cannot be caught. And the trick of the trade is not to get caught only. The users of subtle bias use this tool to aggravate trivial things and also to dilute serious matters according to their own convenience and interest. The way toned milk is the same as fatty milk in appearance, the same way such aggravated or diluted presentations of facts appear to be the same as they would have appeared had they been presented with complete objectivity.

The strength of subtle bias lies in its remaining hidden from the normal sight and hence it is a lethal weapon in the hands of the smart (or oversmart) ones which they strike at the genuinely unbiased and neutral people who trust their word. I personally consider it a crime, an intellectual crime which always goes unpunished. You take a stand, you take a side, you promote some ideology or thought but be clear and transparent in your expression. Usage of subtle bias is just like a wolf’s roaming around with the sheep while wearing the skin of a sheep, thereby hiding its true identity. It’s a glamorized hypocrisy. And a sin in my considered opinion.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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6 Responses to Subtle bias

  1. neerajme says:

    Very detailed scrutiny of nuances.

  2. sydbarett says:

    Mathursaab, great to see you venture out of Baliwood, Pathaksaab and Christie Mam. Apne paon aage badhaiye….ghabraiye nahin ye maile nahin honge…

    Would love to know who are these “acclaimed authors or so-called intellectuals” who are using subtle bias.

    • Hearty thanks Nishant. They are the people having their own political or ideological tilts and are always trying to pull the neutral / borderline folks on their side through the application of subtle bias in their writings / speeches.

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