... we must always be aware of how pervasive the confirmation bias is. Whatever we want to believe, we set out to look for any evidence that supports that belief. If we find even a single piece of evidence that supports what we want to believe, we feel like we're done, we've done our homework and we can now be certain about what we believe. Everyone does this, on both sides, and therefore, people disagree with each other while both being certain that they're right.
It especially means that we must be aware of the problem of moral diversity and moral teams. Whenever there is a moral team that has no moral diversity and is trying to study the other team, we can pretty much bet money – we can take 3-1 odds – that they're going to get it wrong. They can't get it right because the biasing effects of morality are so strong.
- Jonathan Haidt
I saw this quote the same week John Tierney's NYT article about bias and the lack of intellectual conformity in the social sciences came out. Arguably, the single most fascinating line in Tierney's article was this one:
“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”
This quote was endlessly repeated on conservative blogs because frankly, it was just so darned useful. I couldn't help hoping, though, that one of us might turn it around - see if the other side of that double edged sword sliced as cleanly?
“Any time conservatives see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to [any explanation that doesn't involve] discrimination or bias,” ...“But when we learn that conservatives are underrepresented in academia by a factor of more than 100, bias and discrimination no longer seem so implausible, do they?”
I liked the first statement because there's a very large grain of truth in it.
There happens to be a very large grain of truth in the second statement too, but I have to admit it doesn't sit nearly so well with me. Haidt's comments came to mind again when I saw this item from Glenn Reynolds. I'll admit to being briefly encouraged by Glenn's characterization of game as cartoonish. The rest of his comment - the part about being glad these men were 'getting help' - disturbed me a bit.
I want to see young men become more confident with women. I want them to succeed, if by "success" one means being able to approach women, talk to them, hopefully date them, form relationships (married or otherwise) that make both the man and the woman happy. But I don't see any particular value in teaching men to despise women, nor in teaching them tricks that make it possible to "bang" large numbers of shallow, confused and impressionable young women who would normally be out of their league (if we accept the self professed goals of the game community). There have always been ways to trick or pressure people into doing things they wouldn't otherwise be inclined to do. If human beings weren't vulnerable to such tactics, peer pressure wouldn't work. But the mere existence of a thing doesn't legitimize it.
It doesn't make it the right thing to do. It doesn't make the end justify the means, nor does it make two wrongs suddenly equal a right. What disturbs me is the omission of morality - and humanity - from this equation. Let's say that we accept the existence of a supposedly universal male desire for promiscuous, consequence free sex. Moreover, let's stipulate that what is natural is somehow inherently good, both for society and for the individual.
Rather a stretch, isn't it? But I'm willing to play along just to see where it takes us.
If (as conservatives so often assert) men and women are different and thus naturally want different things, by what logical or conservative principle do we wish for men to get what they want at the expense of women getting what they want? If it's "natural" for all - or even most - men to want consequence free sex and all - or even most - women to want families and committed relationships (and if these two desires are at odds with each other), then men can only get what they most desire by denying women what we most desire. And vice versa.
That's a pretty dismal view of male-female relations; it turns partnership and mutual support into a zero sum game in which men and women are pitted against each other:
If one accepts the hard-to-dispute premise that, between the sexes, women prefer a higher-sexual-cost regime in which men are supposed to "work for it," as it were, and men prefer a lower-sexual-cost regime in which their sexual needs can be gratified with almost no work whatsoever (compare and contrast female wish-fulfillment romcoms with male wish-fulfillment pornos, or even James Bond movies, actually), then of course it makes sense that women, rather than men, have a sound motive for increasing the sexual penalties for promiscuous sex whereas men have stronger motive for decreasing them.
It's funny - for years now I've watched men argue that porn is just fantasy - that it has nothing to do with what they want in real life. Suddenly now porn is being cited as indicative of what men really want to see happen in the real world (in other words, they want sexual needs gratified with no work and thus won't do anything that frustrates this desire)?
Wow. Really? I have to say that I had a higher opinion of the male half of humanity. This is the problem with reducing complex issues to simplistic formulas:
... lefty feminists continue to insist that it is men, of all people, who workin' as hard as they can to keep women chaste. To keep women from having sex with them, in other words. To make women feel bad about the occasional one night stand so that men can't have the occasional one night stand.
Does this sound like men to you? Or does it sound like a fantasy farce of cartoon men, wearing the Black Hats of Insanely-Counterproductive Sexual Prohibition, concocted by a blame-shifting villain-needing sexual cult?
From where I sit, it was not the rise of women but the spread of Christianity and Judeo-Christian values that turned Western civilization against centuries-old practices like slavery and prostitution. And last time I checked, for most of its history men have been the intellectual and political force that turned the words of a Jewish carpenter into the world's largest religion.
I'm not sure what makes so many men fall all over themselves in their haste to reduce their own sex to little more than an utterly amoral collection of uncontrollable urges, but I suspect that confirmation bias has a lot to do with it. That's the only explanation I can come up with for arguments that discount so much contrary evidence.
Or maybe that's just what I want to believe - the biasing effect of my own morality :p
Update: "Most boys are raised by divorced women with an axe to grind against men."
I realize we ladies are not exactly known for our mathematical prowess, but even I know that less than 34% doesn't add up to "most":
The percentage of children under 18 living with two married parents declined to 66 percent in 2010, down from 69 percent in 2000.