Understanding Bias

Everyone Is Biased

Most of us are familiar with what bias is, but we also tend to be conveniently blind to our own, especially when it suits our own agenda. In fact, bias might be best defined as a preference for something based on self-interest rather than what is fair or makes the most sense.

Self-interest takes two main forms. The first is simply how something makes us feel one way or the other. So opinions based on emotional satisfaction rather than making sense are emotionally biased. The second type of self-interest favors material gain. For example, if one is given the choice between two identical jobs, one of which pays twice the salary, it's likely that most people will be materially biased in favor of the higher paying position.

Bias is also bidirectional. In other words, people form opinions based on what they don't like or how much they have to lose as often as what makes them feel good or how much they have to gain.

Letting emotional or material biases guide our decision making has consequences. It blinds people to the charming con-artist who dupes their marks into trusting them, and motivates people to make unsound investments in pyramid schemes. So how do we recognize our own biases and reduce our vulnerability to being manipulated?

Not All Opinions Are Equal

As you can imagine, opinions about relationships are filled with all manner of bias that spans the spectrum from highly emotional to highly material, and when a preference for one's bias conflicts with the truth or unfairly affects the lives of others, someone will probably get hurt or taken advantage of. Yet I've lost count of the number of times someone has claimed that their opinion is as valid as anyone else's simply by virtue of it being an opinion rather than a fact.

The truth however, is that not all opinions carry equal weight. For example well informed opinions really do make more sense than uninformed ones. So one way to help reduce one's vulnerability to bias is to recognize and form well informed opinions, even if they seem to conflict with our own self-interest or view of the world.


Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a term for the psychological stress that happens when a person is faced with a situation that doesn't conform to their view of the world. The first reaction to resolving cognitive dissonance tends to be the fight or flight response.

In other words, we'll either attempt to defend our position or remove ourselves from the situation. Avoiding the situation can be effective, but if the situation isn't one that can be avoided, then defending one's position is generally the default behavior.

But not everyone chooses to fight or flee. There's also the option of conforming to the expectations dictated by the situation. Conforming can diffuse the immediate external situation, but if one's internal viewpoint conflicts with the external cause, there will still be internal discontent.

The ideal solution to the problem of cognitive dissonance is to recognize the truth of the situation and adapt so that there's no longer any conflict between one's views and the situation. But that's often easier said than done, especially when the opposing sides are convinced the other side is wrong or doesn't recognize the truth.

Worse yet, if it's easier or more profitable to eliminate the dissonance with violence than with reason, then someone is likely to get hurt. Major wars have broken out over differences in ideologies, and there's a lot of ideology embedded in monogamous tradition.


Reality Versus Ideology

Generally speaking, those who are embedded in mono culture tend to beieve that they are monogamous because it's their own choice. The relaity however, is that monogamy is an ideology about how romantic relationships should work according to the institutions that have socialized them.

The most prominent of those institutions have been the church, state, and media. They also just happen to be the same ones that have started and promoted all the major wars. We shouldn't be too surprised then to find that the connection between monogamy and war is more than coincidental.

As mentioned on the Nature Versus Nurture page, the ancient Romans found that instituting monogamy produced bigger, better armies, and the evolution of Western civilization has been highly influenced by the Romans.

The legacy of the Roman Empire includes the set of cultural values, religious beliefs, technological advancements, engineering and language. This legacy was passed on after the demise of the empire itself and continued to shape other civilizations, a process which continues to this day. - Wikipedia

So in the West, monogamy is a deeply embedded ideological construct that conflicts with the reality of our nature. For many people the conflict takes place on an intuitional level that is manageable, but because there's no way to remove ourselves from our nature, it's just a matter of time before it becomes a source of discontent.

Consequently, there are countless fights going on right now between couples over some indiscretion related to exclusivity. In fact, there's a whole sector of the legal profession dedicated to pitting one partner against the other over who's to blame for cheating on who.

According to statistics from the CDC, the number of divorces in the USA since the year 2000 has been consistently over 800,000 per year, and depending on the source, infidelity accounts for 15-40 percent of the reasons. That's a conservative 120,000 - 320,000 people per year.

The number above is actually higher because certain states, particularly California, which has one of the highest populations and rates of divorce is missing in the CDC data set. Plus that's only the number of marriages that breakup over infidelity. What about relationships where marriage isn't a factor?

A study by University of Denver Department of Psychology researchers followed a nationally representative sample of 993 unmarried individuals in committed opposite-sex relationships to explore predictors of first-time infidelity. It found that 14 percent had sexual relations outside of the relationship over a 20-month period, and 43 percent of those broke up after the infidelity. - Source

All things taken into consideration, there must be literally millions of people around the world in some sort of crisis because of the cognitive dissonance between their non-monogamous human nature and their monogamous social conditioning.


Everyone's Guilty

Bias isn't restricted to mono people or any other segment of society. Everyone is guilty and poly people are no exception. Poly people tend to form self-serving opinions of what polyamory is to suit their personal preferences.

For example, in the Reasons For Caution and Polyamory & Marriage sections I expose the wolves in sheep's clothing types who label themselves as polyamorous in order to justify cheating on their mono relationships or marriages.

In my experience some of these people are so heavily biased that it completely blinds them to the ethical problems involved, sometimes to the point of acting out by projecting unsubstantiated blame onto others to justify their behavior.

Casting blame deflects responsibility away from one's self and is another method people use to deal with their cognitive dissonance. It's also often a precursor to more elevated conflict. So when the discussion goes in that direction it's probably better to simply disengage.

Simply put, if you want a truly poly relationship, then begin with a well informed unbiased perspective on what polyamory is, and don't get involved with swingers, hookup culture, or mono people who want to bolt you onto their relationship just to spice-up their boring love lives.


Judging Nonjudgmentally

There's a difference between judging and being judgmental. Being judgmental means making judgements based on bias rather than reasons that make sense. However it's very common for people to accuse others of being judgmental simply for judging them at all, especially when that judgement causes cognitive dissonance.

The irony of the above is that judging someone to be judgmental in order to defend one's own bias is in and of itself judgmental. The best way to avoid this pitfall is to make sure that before voicing your opinions, you have some reasonably well substantiated reasons for them, and be prepared to change your views if it turns out that someone else has views that make more sense than yours.

The way I reduce my own bias is to consider both pro and con information from a variety of sources, compare them to my own experience, then apply critical thinking to determine how true the various claims and opinions are likely to be. I've also found that the Direct Communication and Reflective Listening skills can be very useful.


Bias In Hierarchies

Poly relationships are sometimes defined in terms of a hierarchy that puts labels onto the participants according to how they relate to one another. For example, the partner someone resides with might be called a Primary while others who are seen less often are called Secondaries or Tertiaries, and the entire set is sometimes called a Polycule.

Polycules also have names like "Triads" ( for 3 ), "Quads" ( for 4 ), and so on. A lot of poly jargon has been created by poly people and authors. This might result from the tendency for poly people to do a lot of reflecting and communicating with one another. This is very positive in most respects, but hierarchies have a downside.

The idea that one partner shouldn't be considered better or worse than another tends to resonate with poly ideals. Yet one partner being better than another is exactly what labels like Primary and Secondary imply. Most of us have heard the expression, "That's of secondary concern." and sometimes even, "He ( or she ) is of secondary concern".

Few people in relationships want to feel that they are of secondary concern, and that's why I personally don't like this labeling system. It smacks of bias. To me, everyone is special in their own way. Love isn't any higher or lower, or better or worse, for one person than it is for another. This doesn't mean that there aren't logistical realities in poly relationships, but from my perspective, that doesn't impart more or less value to the people themselves.

Another thing I don't like about poly hierarchies is the way it leads people to consider themselves as the origin point from where the relationship is mapped. It's an egocentric point of view that arguably contradicts the spirit of being poly. By that I mean that truly poly people strive to learn how to receive joy from the successes of others rather than always placing themselves at the center of attention.



The core principles of polyamory should in theory be more helpful in facilitating fair and unbiased views than mono relationships, but some people are so heavily biased one way or the other that they can't distance themselves enough to apply a reasonable level of objectively to views that differ from theirs ( whether they're poly or not ).

Therefore, unless it can't be helped, I recommend avoiding anyone who holds militant unsubstantiated and judgmental views about anything. Unfortunately, when it comes to being poly in a predominantly mono Western culture, avoiding bias is much more difficult that it should be.

The solution is to become as well informed as you can so that when faced with biases of your own or anyone else's, you are able to evaluate them with views that carry weight based on evidence and critical thinking. Ask yourself frequently: Am I being analytical ( which is good ) or am I being judgmental ( which is bad )? And then adapt accordingly.