[Originally published in the Front Range Voluntaryist, Libertarian Sociology 101 column, By Richard G. Ellefritz, PhD]
What kind of biases exist? It is clear that the universe has a bias toward existence, though one might contend that the “vast emptiness of space,” as Bill Nye once put it, contests this. The Earth has a bias toward life, though we might consider to that end the inevitability of death (and taxes). Within academia, and especially within the liberal arts, in which case “liberal” indicates academic freedom and growth rather than a clear cut Leftist political agenda, New York University social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, among others, has documented the Left-progressive bias, noting that among its various effects have been a weeding out process of conservative scholars and a narrowing of scope of thought presented in research and in classrooms.
Max Weber long ago used the phrase “social closure” to describe the phenomenon whereby a social group constructs material and symbolic boundaries that limit and exclude access to resources by competing groups. Therefore, higher education is moving away from academic freedom for all to academic equality for some.
Social psychologists have long studied various cognitive biases, evolutionarily inherited heuristics ingrained in much of our unreflexive, everyday thinking. One of these heuristics is confirmation bias. This occurs when we ask questions for which we seek particular answers, or when we look for particular answers when confronted with difficult questions. Within my field of work, sociology, social closure by the Left has led to – yes, the closure happened first, right around the time Joseph McCarthy was whaling about communists infiltrating the academy, among other institutions – confirmation bias to the extent that Marxism is taught vis-à-vis the conflict paradigm.
Hearkening to the adage that it is far more difficult to unlearn rather than to learn, paradigmatic thinking is related to confirmation bias in that once one becomes entrenched in a worldview any and all alternative explanations for a given phenomenon are suspect and credulous. Partly through anecdotal and experiential evidence, but also based upon years of reading texts from my field, sociologists tend to ask questions that inevitably lead to the "#blameitoncapitalism" meme prevalent among the Bernie-supporting, socialist-loving Left, who themselves seek out affirmations that their failed ideology is the last best hope for humanity (because Venezuela is just another example of not implementing the true version of socialism).
It is no secret that I am an anti-Marxist (and proud of it). Therefore, my bias is clear. In my experience, many contemporary sociologists self-identify as conflict theorists, which is a broad school of thought within the discipline often said to have its roots in the works of Marx and Engels. I discussed this in my first column in The Front Range Voluntaryist.
What is the difference between my own bias(es) and those of your everyday Left-progressive? Those who know their Marx will say that they are starting from first principles, i.e. that humans must work to live and that human work is contextualized by the material organization of the world. It follows, then (at least for Marxians), that one’s own interests are often obfuscated by a false consciousness constructed by the ruling class; and, to say otherwise is merely the product of that very same false consciousness!
I actually agree with these premises, but not for the same reasons and to the same ends as Marxians. Yes, humans exist in a material sense, just as most of the rest of the universe, but we also are composed of subjective (e)valuations, one of which is that for most people it is better for them to control their destiny rather than it being controlled by others. Self-ownership, rather than collective ownership, follows from this, as does certainly the concept of private property rather than the abolition of property, which was one of the ultimate desires of Marx and Engels. The social closure of academia (among other institutions, i.e. mass media) has led to a plethora of resources for Left-progressives to use to confirm their biases.
Voluntaryists need to recognize this fact, because to ignore it is to ignore the reasons why we see and hear so little from this side of our opposition (Right-progressives are another story) about the mass murders, starvation, imprisonment, and general malaise of people living in full-blown socialist and communist societies.