Is confirmation bias confirmed by us?

Published 6:01 am Saturday, June 23, 2018

A few of us are considering the issue of confirmation bias and asking ourselves if we engage in the process. If we engage in this process, we are looking for persons who think as we think, believe as we do.

Our national order is being turned upside down as all of what many of us were taught in American history and government classes in high school and college seems to be being overturned: “liberty and justice for all.”

A return to the past is not the role I endorse for America. I want to go forward even as I concede that at times we’ll make poor choices as a nation. The list of our past errors is too long for this column, but the list of the ways in which we have endorsed important and sacred values is much longer.

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As a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child, and my beliefs and thinking were formed by the culture in which I lived. That culture was narrow, extremely narrow. Let me give some examples.

Some valued playmates of my brother and me were Sonny and Norman Williams, two African American brothers. Did I attend school with them? No. They went to the “colored school,” and I never questioned this.

My aunt married a Catholic. My grandmother was upset and feared for her future in the hereafter. I felt that my grandmother was justified in her thinking and believed only Southern Baptists had a lock on truth. And I was taught that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus and were not to be trusted.

Divorce was taboo in that culture and any sexual preference other than heterosexual was not even whispered about. Marital infidelity was a topic and a few persons supplied more than enough juicy gossip for the entire community. Bearing children without the benefit of marriage just didn’t happen – even if it meant the newly married were little more than babies themselves.

Immigrants had been around for so long that a few had established successful businesses although they never became a part of the top layer of society.

Recent immigrants who worked in the coalmines were referred to by several ugly monikers; however, when they were underground, they were merely workers bonded to those who had been born in the U.S. as both labored in dangerous situations and knew their very survival might depend on their looking out for each other.

Consumption of alcohol was absolutely forbidden, and those who did imbibe had access to bootleggers for moonshine and to other characters, whom I could never identify, for the bottled and taxed spirits. Those who drank these spirits were going straight to hell for certain, no doubt about it.

I knew as a country we had friends in other places: Canada, France, England, Spain and other Western European countries. And wars were only fought if they were necessary to preserve freedom, and I certainly never understood the complexities of these alliances.

Then I grew up under the tutelage of excellent high school teachers, my own reading, and attendance at college. The blinders fell away as did the biases and prejudices of the culture in which I grew up.

Now I have an uneasy feeling that so many of those prejudices are being resurrected, and I am frightened by those changes.

I can’t go back to a narrow world that excludes so many. My values are set, and I have looked for a political party that espouses them, or most of them. I now realize that I must change my party affiliation, and on Friday I will revoke my prior affiliation and register as an Independent.

Going back to an earlier time is not an option for the U.S. Check out what you are confirming. Are they biases/prejudices that no longer have place in today’s America?

We are a diverse society, a multi-cultural society. Problems come with that diversity , but we are an intelligent, persistent, compassionate people who can embrace our diversity..

As I write my column this week, I must believe that we are a country in process, that ultimately we will make enough good decisions that we will be all right. I believe that we will mend fences where we have broken them, that we will look at each other and forgive the flaws we see, and that we will respect differences, and that we will seek the good.

Dr. Vivian Blevins is a Harlan County native. She has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teaches communication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College in Ohio. Reach her at