Biased Views and Suffering

Cravings and aversions are mental conditionings recorded in our brain, without us noticing or authorizing them, that activate automatically in response to certain stimuli. Known as harmful mental formations in Buddhist terminology, they generate abnormal needs or threats. Cravings are demanding mental formations that trigger desires for something we lack. Aversions are rejecting mental formations that make us wanting less or nothing at all of something we have and dislike. Whether we are greedy or resentful, the associated cravings and aversions are fetters that enchain us to suffering.

Cravings and aversions are not the only chains that enslave us. The adherence to biased opinions is a similar fetter that also shackles us to suffering. Opinions are the broad range of prejudiced beliefs and bigoted views that lack backing from positive knowledge. We attach to opinions in a subtle way that makes them a sort of mental possessions.

As opposed to material goods, nobody can take our opinions away; even so, we defend them passionately: The more fervent our belief, the harsher our defense. The problem with opinions—religious, political, racial or sectarian of any kind—is that they put up a cloud that obscures our understanding, and alters reason, speech and behavior.

Basic appetites (for food, water or sex) come from biological needs; sound fears to dangers that may hurt us (guns, predators or calamities) are neuronal coded mechanisms that protect our survival. Opinions, on the other hand, do not satisfy any vital requirement. There is no such thing as a natural opinion that we develop by genetic design or we acquire as a biological protection.

Once a bias takes over our mind, however, we find interesting any thought that agrees with our prejudice and we experience aversion to any opinion that contradicts ours. In the first case, we somehow crave for the company of those who share our opinions. In the second one, we feel a kind of aversion for the holders of clashing opinions.

Opinionated people cannot recognize their contradictions or fallacies; their mental framework obfuscates their vision. They consider the color of the glass through which they see the world as the right one; you cannot explain ‘green’ to somebody who sees only ‘yellow’; his or her reaction will always be: “I do not understand how you cannot see the ‘yellowness’ in my point of view.”

Biased opinions are pervasive, harmful mental formations with a negative impact on the outcome of our thinking. Biased views deteriorate the quality of our conclusions more destructively than misread information or weak reasoning resources. Says German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (parenthesis added): “The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error(misinformation), not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers (lack of common sense) but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice”.

When we search for accuracy and reliability, the damaging influence of wrong data or deficient logic fades when compared with the distortions that biased views create. A careful review of the proceedings of an evaluation, by third parties or by the same person who did the analysis, will always detect any faults in data or logic. This is not so when we reach conclusions based on or supported by biased views. When this happens, we are unable to either recognize our own errors or accept third party’s correcting advice. We consider right only those opinions that coincide with our point of view.

People seldom change opinion; the more biased the opinion, the more difficult the modification. This resistance is particularly evident in the arena of religious or political beliefs. It is not so in natural sciences. Scientific viewpoints change as knowledge progresses and investigators come up with new theories that replace obsolete models.

People with opposing opinions will always have different pictures of the same reality; they see the world exclusively through the mental eyes of their own opinions. Unquestionably, biased views, not wrong data or faulty analysis, are the worst barrier to the truth in any field of knowledge. And what is worst: Besides leading to individual suffering, biased views are the roots of fanaticism that, unavoidably, brings social violence.

Atlanta, June 22, 2013


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