R. Paul Wilson On: How Your Biases Distort Truth

How Your Biases Distort Truth – Why You Need To Check Yourself

I’ve spoken before about gaslighting, perhaps one of the most damaging psychological tactics of deceivers and liars of all kinds, but this is only one of many tools (or weapons) that might be used to influence us.

Since my last discussion on the topic, toxic public discourse, media manipulation and political propaganda has increased to a degree even I could never have predicted in my most cynical fantasies.

Recently, I caught myself in an act of
self-deception based on bias in the middle of a barrage of information.

We All Get Swept Away

First, let’s agree – in the context of this
discussion – not to take sides (or discuss details) on any particular matter.

This is all about personal bias, manipulation, and self-directed deception.

Whether you’re a gambler, a business owner or a
private individual, my main advice is always to take time to analyze your own
decisions, motivations and situations; to regularly ask yourself:  “Am I being deceived?”

Anyone who plays poker knows that this is constant consideration and just like in the game of poker, we can occasionally find we’ve been acting on instinct for too long and are trapped in a corner of our own making.

It’s hard for human beings to always analyze or
act with cold precision so it’s important to take notice and change gears
whenever we catch ourselves behaving in a way that makes us easier to
manipulate or predict.

The Impact Of Biases

I recently watched an expert give testimony on a
topic that has affected us all over the last two years – an unexpectedly
divisive issue that resulted from the pandemic and has been distorted by a
multitude of voices and opinions motivated by wishful thinking, bad science and
personal (often selfish) biases.

The person I was watching was a genuine expert
in this field, more than qualified to give an informed assessment of this issue
based on his wealth of experience.

As I watched, I knew he was exactly the person I
should be listening to and found myself both compelled and convinced by his
evidence until one offhand comment triggered in me an immediate negative
reaction against him.

This was a stark example of my personal
operating system attempting to reject information I had just learned based on a
single remark that revealed the speaker’s political affiliations, which were at
odds with my own.

So I stopped, re-assessed, and tried to
circumvent my gut reaction.

My personal bias resisted, determined to
re-paint everything I had learned as “suspect” or “unreliable”.

All of this based on one comment that shifted my
perception completely.

Had his remark signaled a shared political
perspective, I doubt if I would have noticed.

But I am certain that would have cemented my
belief in his testimony completely when my goal – as I have said previously –
is always to remain fluid and not commit to one side or another.

And yet, there I was, attempting to convince
myself that my initial assessment was wrong purely because the speaker turned
out to have a different political opinion to my own.

Predetermined Manipulation

Con artists use this kind of positioning to feed information to their victims from politically, ethically, or morally aligned sources to the mark.

Using this method, a scammer can “poison the
well” by making it seem as if a source of information comes from a person or
institution the victim might instinctively distrust based on personal bias.

It’s a powerful tactic that has worked for centuries and is why many victims of con games find it very hard to understand what happened once their money is gone.

With the speaker on that video, I caught myself repainting
information I had initially accepted as valuable as suspect or questionable
once I realized the speaker and I were on opposite sides of the political
fence.

It’s my job to study all forms of deception and
as I’ve said many times, I am far from immune to being conned scammed or
deceived but it still shocked me to realize that I had just tried to gaslight
myself!

My Head Hurts Too

Personal bias is an insidious beast that forces
us to interpret the world based on past experiences and current beliefs.

In essence, it’s a protective impulse designed
to avoid dangers in the wild, perhaps while hunting in prehistoric jungles but
in modern life, under a barrage of data and information coming at us from all
sides, I have come to believe it tries to filter out noise by selecting one
version of “the truth” and then protecting that “truth” at all costs.

The problem is that “truth” has become
increasingly subjective since anyone with an opinion about anything can now
broadcast their bullsh*t regardless of knowledge, experience or intelligence.

Or honesty.

Polarizing people based on politics, religion or
identity has never resulted in a positive long-term outcome and simply by
committing blindly to one side or the other you surrender your freedom and
flexibility of thought and make yourself a perfect candidate for further
manipulation.

And we’re all doing it, several times a day.

The middle ground of any issue is a difficult
place to exist and with so much to think or feel about, it’s hard to maintain a
balanced perspective on everything so naturally, we find ourselves sliding to
one side or another.

This prevents us from thinking clearly about
information that challenges our beliefs and makes us suspicious of anyone who
confronts those beliefs with an alternative perspective.

So yeah, my head hurts when I think about this
stuff and I realize that I’ve allowed myself to fall into trenches, unable to
preserve a balanced outlook on the world around me.

I keep asking myself: How much of what I’m being
told is true and am I able to decide what’s true based on my own unconscious
biases?

The answer is usually – if I’m honest – that I
can’t possibly know for sure.

An Important Frustration

This meditation on my own uncertainty is as
important as studying the myriad methods used by con artists every day.

Understanding that we are constantly manipulated
by media that we have personally sorted and selected based on preferences is an
essential tool to avoiding impulse reactions to essential situations.

I often force myself to “go to the other side”
to examine other people’s opinions and perspectives and I’m always shocked at
my own resistance – and sometimes revulsion – at their version of reality.

And yet, that reality is not necessarily wrong –
or invalid.

My reason for putting myself through all this –
and now you – is that I am seeing so much distortion and distraction in daily
life thanks to media bias and political deception (from all sides) that I am
genuinely concerned for the mental welfare of the general public.

When political leaders approve and encourage the
use of fear as a tactic to motivate people into one action or another, the long-term
ramification of that tactic is a form of mass confusion based on manufactured
certainties fueled by propaganda or polarized sources of information.

This is a paradox of modern life and a rich vein
of opportunity for con artists and deceivers of all kinds.

Keep Digging

After watching that testimony video, I decided
to write down exactly what the man had said as evidence of his position and
spent some time researching each point.

It turns out he really did know what he was
talking about and his opinion was just as valuable as I had initially believed.

And sure enough, his political affiliations were
on the opposite side of the fence to mine.

Did that change the veracity or accuracy of his
expert opinion?

Of course, not.

And yet several people I have shared that video
with dismissed it entirely based on that same offhand comment.

Next time I jump to a conclusion, I plan to look
before I leap.

I hope this helps you to do the same.