Bias

Shortly after Ita Buttrose was appointed the chair of the ABC, she faced hostile questioning from several commentators who accused the ABC of ‘left-wing’ bias.

Bias, of course, is an accusation that’s usually levelled at one’s opponents. People rarely address the issue of bias in themselves. Using the word bias is often code for ‘you don’t belong to our group.’

The issue of bias is important. In Australia, the Murdoch empire owns 70% of media outlets, so this concern perhaps needs to be turned on its head – why are the media so right wing?

Humanity has made remarkable advances in the pursuit of knowledge and technology, both of which require strict objectivity and built-in mechanisms to safeguard against bias.

In the recent Federal election, the opinion polls predicted a different result to the outcome. Brian Schmidt, Nobel laureate in physics, wrote an article about this with the title, ‘The mathematics does not lie.’  He suggests there must have been a bias in the sampling. (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/20/mathematics-does-not-lie-why-polling-got-the-australian-election-wrong )

However, in the rest of life that is not ‘scientific’ eliminating bias appears impossible.

I also wonder if it’s desirable. I don’t mean that we should have no concern for the facts. Of course, we should seek to be as well informed as possible.

What I refer to is the way we organise the facts, and the values and perspectives we bring to them.

Liberation theology asserts that it was never Jesus’ intention to be balanced.

Jesus was intentionally biased, adopting a ‘preferential option for the poor.’ This expression implies that life looks quite different, depending on whether one is rich or poor. Both perspectives are inevitably biased.

Such bias cannot be eliminated. In liberation theology, the critical issue is not about removing bias but aligning it with that of Jesus.

For example, in reading Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, his preferential option is very evident, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, yours is the kingdom of God… Woe to you who are rich, you have already received your consolation.’ (Luke 6: 20, 24)

I suspect that most people are biased without knowing it and that the main determinants of this bias are loyalty to the ‘group’ and fear. For the sake of our community and the sake of humanity, we need to develop an awareness of how these factors operate inside us and determine our views.

From a gospel perspective, it’s critically important to become more aware of Jesus‘ bias and consider adopting it ourselves.

Taking the insights of liberation theology seriously (which I do), we don’t look for balance but endeavour to look at life through the eyes of the poor and the outsiders.