Thursday, January 5, 2012

In Which I Admit to a Bias

by K.O. Myers

I generally eschew the annual ritual of New Year's resolutions. If I don't have the mental discipline to positively alter my character or behavior in June, I'm not sure how passage from one arbitrarily demarcated solar orbit to another is supposed to provide the necessary willpower. If the psychological signpost of the beginning of a new year affords you sufficient impetus to tack toward a course of self-improvement, you have my sincere congratulations. I've never found it particularly motivating.*

As 2012 sways unsteadily onto the front page of the calendar, I've been reading about the latest clashes in the long civil war over whether the community of skeptics, loosely organized under the banner of critical thinking, has an issue when it comes to its treatment of women and minorities, and the tangential (but in my opinion important) argument about why we can't seem to have a discussion about the topic that approaches something more productive than siblings screaming at each other over an unlabeled Christmas present. Apart from inspiring a monumental run-on sentence, it has occurred to me that this is also an opportunity of sorts.

I won’t opine on the rightness of anyone on either side of any particular skirmish. Judging by the content of my social media feeds, there has been enough cogent commentary (and defensive, kneejerk name calling and buck passing) to keep one reading until long after we’ve let the ancient Mayans off the hook for neglecting to chisel out a 2013 calendar before their civilization collapsed. Instead, I’d like to use this opportunity to publicly admit that I approach these arguments from an inherently biased position.** In a twist on the typical resolutionary formula, however, I don’t intend to apologize, or make any attempt to compensate.

If I have one bias about which I am deliberately not self-conscious, it is this. When opinions conflict, and evidence is anecdotal, I generally give more credence to the perspective that defends the rights of those who have been historically abused, subjugated and discriminated against, and I rarely find myself particularly concerned about whether that defense is overzealous.****

If I am going to be mistaken, as we all inevitably are, I choose to err in the direction of being too concerned about people who I believe are being marginalized. I suppose that makes me occasionally, or even consistently, irrational. I further suppose that I can live with that.

*I tend to fall back on slightly prickly assertions that I am, in fact, practically flawless, and any change would only serve to upset the delicate balance of characteristics that I've curated into a personality. This probably explains why, as I rapidly approach middle age, I still struggle with biting my nails and remembering to renew the registration on my car.

**It's been said that confession is good for the soul. While I can't say I believe that I have a non-corporeal asset which can be improved upon by admitting my faults, I agree with the spirit*** of the phrase, if not the details.

***OF COURSE, pun intended. An unintentional pun simply means that your subconscious is wittier than you are.

**** I draw the line of “zealous defense” somewhere before stereotyping your opponents, but I’ll have to think of a tortured metaphor about the wisdom of fighting fire with a petroleum aerosol before I can address that in any detail.

K.O. Myers is a judicial policy researcher, the Producer of Skeptically Speaking, and the founder of Grassroots Skeptics. The above opinions (and admissions about unsanitary personal habits) are entirely his own, and are not intended to express the view of any organization or entity with which he is affiliated.


  1. Agree with general message but had to comment on this:

    "I'm not sure how passage from one arbitrarily demarcated solar orbit to another is supposed to provide the necessary willpower."

    Not everyone who decides on a new years resolution is a poor un-enlightened fool who un-sceptically believes that an arbitrary date will allow them to stop eating pies/read more novels. The big boost about New Year is the *shared* resolution. The fact that everyone in your family/friend-group has chosen this date to think about their lives and maybe what to change in them; you've shared the massive christmas binge with everyone and now you're sharing the motivational drive that admittedly is unlikely to survive past February but there you go.

    It doesn't matter whether it's the 1st of January, the 8th of June or the xth of ping-pong the point is that it's a shared social event. And shared social events have power. If you lived on Mars, where the Martians all made determined resolutions every Sunday then you would look a bit silly making them arbitrarily on the 1st January.

  2. LR - That's a good point, thank you. FWIW I wasn't suggesting that anyone who chooses to make a New Year's resolution was foolish or unskeptical. I was merely saying that it hasn't worked for me, and I don't quite understand how it's supposed to. Your proposed mechanism makes a lot of sense, especially given the fact that I am by turns solitary and actively anti-social, so the shared struggle likely wouldn't motivate me in any perceptible way. Thanks for the comment.


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