Sunday, March 5, 2017

Inherent Bias

All demagogues and salesman are instinctive experts at exploiting what Kahneman and Tversky called "the availability heuristic" - having a particular exemplar come to represent a whole category because it is more readily available to the mind. This is, of course, the basis of stereotyping and ultimately of all bigotry. It is also an inescapable - and useful - feature of human cognition. The ability to evaluate a category in terms of a few exemplars is very useful when you're a hunter-gatherer on a dangerous prehistoric savannah and can't afford to see every kind of predator before learning to recognize dangerous animals. It is even useful in everyday life today, where quick decisions on whole categories of books, movies, foods, etc., that we do or do not like saves us a lot of time and effort for other. more useful things. The problem is that the bias carries over to judgments about categories of people. That is why no civilizational imperative has been more difficult to sustain throughout human history than the equality of all humans, and also why no bias has been exploited more successfully by tyrants and demagogues through the ages. Now we are seeing it again....

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