Friday, September 2, 2016

Confirmation Bias and the Philippine Anti-Drug Campaign

When the president you have elected or his closest political rival or his critics and their publicists go with your opinion, you think you cannot go wrong. How could you err if you share the same sentiments or them confirming your existing beliefs? You tend to look for or interpret information in such a way it confirms your biases that lead to disregarding or ignoring other information or evidences contrary to your preconceived ideas or prejudices.

In many points of my life, I have also been a prey to confirmation bias. This is due to the difficulty that, human as I am, I cannot easily see it coming. According to Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. in his column Science of Choice which appeared in Psychology Today dated 23 April 2015, “Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true”. Regardless of the things that divide us, for instance our social standing and religious or political beliefs, humans deceive themselves in many occasions. For example, when a junkie or drug pusher is advised by his parents to stop his vice, he has this tendency to be confident that he can still be a good family member - a good loving father or a husband, a good neighbour and a good citizen despite of the fact s/he is hooked on drugs or peddling it. He can still feel morally upright as long as he does not harm other people. As long as he constantly prays to God and ask for his forgiveness each day and pray for the Lord's blessings. As long as he does not hurt, do injustice, kill, rape or rob people. So if the junkie or pusher gets busted, killed or in the process commits crime to satisfy his cravings for drugs, his false optimism brought about by his self-deception paid an important part in his sad fate.

Having mentioned this, self-deception is as deadly as shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) or any prohibited drugs littering the slums or during parties for it deadens our perception of reality. Confirmation bias as self-deception is a thing that blinds us to weigh things by gathering evidence and participate in some intellectual quests that is required in every thinking species in the face of the earth. Confirmation bias as a form of self-deception makes us act like those hooked into shabu.  Robert Pagliarini, writing for I Have Net in an article titled Five Tips to Avoid Confirmation Bias, aptly puts it, “The problem with confirmation bias is that you selectively filter what information you choose to pay attention to and value. So, not only will you actively look for evidence and seek out experts that confirm your existing beliefs, but even more perniciously, you'll hide from or discredit any information that contradicts your viewpoint.” If drug addicts do the most heinous of crimes because their minds are poisoned by meth and other substance, he is at par with those who are drifted into confirmation bias for they both do not see things objectively. They only do and believe those things that confirm their prejudices, as I have said. If those who are fallen into confirmation bias ignore and reject all that cast doubts on their beliefs, the drug addict (and sometimes the political publicists in our midst and including of course their patrons) defy moral compasses, ethical standards and legal dictums and instruments just to serve their own cravings and agenda. They are incarcerated in their own assumptions.

Scrutinizing the exchanges of those who favour and those who oppose the bloody anti-drug campaign happening in the Philippines today, especially the posts, comments and memes over the social networking sites concerning the rift between President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Leila M. de Lima, it’s easy to point out  how one sector of the publicists deceive their readers. They deceive people by hiding or distorting the truth (or evidences not favouring their line of thinking) and like nincompoops, the readers believe them. To those who deceive people, theirs is the advantage for they know what they have imparted are lies. It isn’t the case in self-deception.

As Ken Taylor, co-creator of the site Philosophy Talk, have noted, “But in the case of self-deception the deceiving party and the deceived party are one and the same.  That’s what makes it so puzzling.” In this particular case of the word war between the hard core supporters of de Lima and Duterte, in this case of self-deception, are same banana. Taylor is right in concluding that philosophically speaking, self-deception borders on the paradoxical.

Of course, you may likewise argue that this little reflection is laced with confirmation bias, or to some point, self-deception…


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