People often criticize me as if I’m pretending to be somehow free of bias. But I’m not. I’m very biased. I’m just biased towards the center.
To be clear, I’m not talking about harmful, negative biases about massive groups of people. I’d just call that prejudice. I’m taking about decision-making biases that help us determine what politicians to support and what positions to take.
Bias serves a pivotal role in American life. It would be nice for us all to have a direct democracy, but someone has to bake the bread and drive the buses. Someone has to build spreadsheets, file legal briefs, teach our children and put out house fires.
Since we’re all so busy building our civilization in all the non-political ways – which are honestly much more important – we can’t devote 100% of our time to political issues. We can’t all be marine biologists, intellectual property experts, or foreign policy wonks. For most of us, that’s where bias comes in.
While I’d love to spend years researching every single issue, eventually you have to say, “Enough, let’s move on.” Bias helps us come to conclusions and make decisions when we run into the depths. And that’s okay! That’s how it’s supposed to work. Otherwise we’d have to throw up our hands and say, “No, we can’t take any action here at all.” We would be paralyzed, mired in skepticism, unable to take a stand on any issue.
To repeat a favorite catchphrase of mine, it’s a representative system for a reason.
But just because we need bias does not mean all biases are created equal. Some are better than others. A good bias is designed to close the gap and bring us to a course of action, but when they go off the rails, they can be equally paralyzing themselves.
Just look at our Congress. America’s twin biases have put into power a Republican party that is in full control of government, yet struggling to get anything done. Even if, by extremely narrow margins, they do manage to pass meaningful legislation, it will very likely be undone within 4-8 years. That is not how you run a country.
Can this be fixed? Yes. Marginal changes can have big effects, and just a handful of centrist legislators could have a huge impact on the makeup of our government. That alone could restore the working coalition in the American center. Better districts would help too, and there’s a chance the Supreme Court might lend us a hand on that one. But even then, it won’t be easy. A lot of institutional elements are aligned against the American center.
Ultimately, our leaders can’t do this for us. The change will have to come from the electorate itself. If we want a functioning government of the kind that could actually tackle America’s major issues, we’re gonna need to get better at contending with our divisions and engaging with our political opponents.
We’re gonna need a better kind of bias.