The Bias Towards Fairness

As democracy has spread all the world, it has caused monumental shifts in every aspect of our lives.  Governments have been fully reformed to reflect the views of the people, to give a voice to the minorities and to hear every side of every story.

The media has been conditioned to offer a fair broadcast of what is happening in society, free from bias.  This expectation falls under the ethics of journalism – which is to be objective and fair in order to inform the public.  This is a clear expectation from us – the people.  The same people who are lauded when we can appreciate and empathise with both sides of an issue and systematically come up with the most logical answer, regardless of whether it is the right one or not.

The writer Aaron Sorkin, who I have a huge amount of respect for, explained this phenomenon as “The Bias Towards Fairness”.  He had this to say in an interview with New York Magazine  (Read the full interview here)

“Nobody uses the word lie anymore.  Suddenly, everything is “a difference of opinion.”

In our desire to maintain absolute neutrality, we are afraid to call a lie what it is.

As mentioned before, we have been brought up with the idea that every story has two sides and both should be accepted and understood before taking a stand.  So when we encounter facts, the natural reaction is to create a counter-argument so that we can cover our bases, if you will.  In doing so, it is often easier to fabricate a counter-argument which may have no basis in facts whatsoever – and it happens surprisingly often.  So in our attempt to avoid bias, we fall into the paradoxical trap of a bias towards fairness.

Now I should be very careful here, as I am crossing a controversial line.  Let me make it clear.

I am not saying that there shouldn’t be or aren’t reputable differences of opinions.  I am also not saying that stories never have two sides.  I am simply saying that in a significant number of cases, the facts are straightforward, and to craft an alternate opinion simply in the name of reporting ‘both sides of the story’ is simply – a lie.

The philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote a book called ‘The View from Nowhere’ which is based around a similar point.  He argues that:

“Objectivity is both underrated and overrated, sometimes by the same persons. It’s underrated by those who scoff at it as a myth. It is overrated by people who think it can replace the view from somewhere or transcend the human subject. It can’t.”

In essence it comes down to this, in my opinion.  If we are striving for objectivity for the mere fact of being objective – then we have lost our way.  We should be striving for objectivity in order to present the facts and expose the truth.

It is without doubt a complex issue and a single blog post could not hope to dissect it.

However, one thing that I believe we can take forward is that there aren't always two sides to every story.

We would be naive to think so.  Sometimes there are 3, or 4 or even 5 sides.

But sometimes there is just one.

The Truth.