By Cameron M. Bray ’16
In Mr. Joe Klein ’86’s room, there hangs a banner displaying one of my favorite quotes of all time.
A quote from the famous physicist Albert Einstein, it reads: “What is right is not always popular; what is popular is not always right.”
A basic restatement of the bandwagon fallacy, which posits that popularity does not prove validity (otherwise the Earth would be flat and the sun would revolve around it for much of history to accommodate people’s beliefs), this quote strikes me as a thinker.
Having taken philosophy with Mr. Tom Mar my first semester, I now find myself thinking about this quote whenever I hear a debate unfold, whenever I read newspaper columns or whenever I watch television pundits spout opinions about the right and wrong course of action.
Despite all their self-proclaimed “wisdom,” I still want to ask these commentators, “After looking at majority the facts and consulting the advice of experts, is this truly what you have concluded as the right and proper thing to do? Or are you merely speaking from your confirmation bias, desperately attempting to confirm that which you have already accepted as true or right?”
While the biases of pundits and commentators are often made manifest in their writings, our own biases are more subtle and have deviously fashioned blindspots within our rational, moral minds.
As Mr. Tim Broyles discusses in his “Living the Paschal Mystery” and his “Senior Synthesis” classes, due to our particular upbringing and our culture at large, we have all inherited from others certain biases that prevent us from seeing the light and from leaving the cave of ignorance (to use Platonic terms).
In other words, our biases have conditioned us like Pavlov’s dog to turn a blind eye to evidence, to accept certain actions as inherently right without question and to offer knee-jerk opposition to those that challenge our preconceived beliefs.
Let me give an example to illustrate what I am saying.
In the Middle East, our government is attacking civilians indiscriminately via drones, bombing hospitals with seemingly reckless abandon and has torturing captives with hypothermia, sleep deprivation, forced feeding and worse. Atrocious deeds.
Yet many U.S. citizens hardly question what their government is doing or why the land that proclaims all men are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is showing such flagrant disrespect toward human life.
In fact, many citizens try to rationalize these horrific acts and confirm their biases (hence the term confirmation bias), telling themselves desperately, “We had to do this. The majority of Americans and politicians agree that we had to do these horrible things to prevent terrorist attacks. We had to do bad in order to achieve a net good.”
These people, unfortunately, have fallen into the trap of their own biases.
With all that said, let’s take a step back.
In this edition of The Roundup where we study the tastes and preferences of Brophy students, I merely want us to look back and to think upon our own tastes and opinions.
I want us to ask the important questions which, when neglected, are often responsible for many of the ills that plague our world: hatred, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance, dehumanization, etc.
So ask yourselves: How have my own tastes and opinions influenced my moral judgments? How have the tastes and opinions of others influenced them, as well? Are these influences tainting my objectivity and my judgment?
When studying optics in Mr. Mike Welty ’83’s AP Physics 2 class, we learned about lenses and the difference between a real and a virtual image.
A real image is created when light rays actually converge at a point while a virtual image is created when light rays merely appear to converge and do not actually intersect.
I bring this up because I believe we all our born with lenses in our eyes—unique, personal, creative ways of seeing this wonderful, beautiful world that surrounds us.
And while our individual vision is often positive, it can also create fantasies—virtual images of good and evil within us that prevent us from seeing reality and from properly following Christ’s teachings of love, mercy and generosity.
We have make to mirrors, not more lenses, so that we can properly and objectively understand ourselves, the world around us and ultimately what we are meant to be and do as human beings.