Monthly Archives: September 2009

Removing all biases

Apparently, we are all biased.

I assumed I had biases, sure, but I was positive with the right education, I could overcome them. Four years at the best university in Canada would surely erase my pre-conceived notions and leave me with a blank slate, right?

One of the readings assigned to my “Arab-Israeli Conflict” course is called “Socio-psychological Foundations of Intractable Conflicts” and discuses how our social identities are constructed in such a way to prolong the current conflict. Our historians write history books with these self-focused views, enabling younger generations to maintain this conflicted identity (conflicted in two senses: a. unable to recognize other views of the conflict and b. adapting your past experiences to the version of the conflict you are supposed to believe in). It would be ignorant to claim that I have come without biases as I study this conflict – my education has ensured that I see the conflict in certain manners and my relationship to those involved in the conflict have altered my vision. But as a child, instead of dreaming of barbies and pet horses, I wanted to be an educated individual who would be able to separate her own feelings and emotions to study a conflict entirely based on feelings and emotions. Enrolling at McGill was an attempt to begin this process.

Unfortunately, according to “Bar Tal., et al…” it is nearly impossible to separate your identity from the one you have been taught to have. Our media, our history books, our modes of communication have ensured that we think a certain way, that we understand the conflict in terms of “us versus them” and these ideas are so deeply rooted in our societal nature that we cannot truly hope to separate ourselves from it. Well, there goes my childhood dream.

If my notions about the conflict were constructed because of my past, can I re-construct my identity because of my present? If I change my surroundings, my experiences, does that mean I am finally free to erase my own biases – or will I merely see what I wish to see?

I’m not sure if we can erase our notions of what this crisis is about – and I’m not sure we should. If I could give up my past in favor of a impartial future, would I trade in all my feelings for this knowledge? Perhaps that was my childhood dream, but as I enter new phases in my life, I would rather remember the lessons I have learned from childhood and adapt it to my future. Maybe “Bar Tal” couldn’t imagine a world without these permanent identities, but I can. Erasing my beliefs and feelings would only make myself immune to the conflict, rather than enable me to understand it. These past experiences are what make us desire to end this conflict, to see a resolution. In fact, this goes for any historical lesson. We remember the Holocaust to help us recognize that the morality of the world is not a given and we remember 9/11 to make us realize that we have a duty to inflict morality upon the world. It may be the more difficult path, but it is the path that we cannot part from.

Because our social identities are tied to the conflict we cannot ever give up hope of solving it. After all, why would I fight for a conflict that is not, intrinsically, mine?