Do we believe that Palestinians are more likely to be terrorists who resort to violence, or are they more likely to use peaceful, non-violent methods?
Do we think the Israeli Defense Forces are brave, heroic soldiers protecting the Jewish homeland, or are they sadistic brutes who enjoy mistreating Palestinians?
We know that the situation in the Middle East is more complicated than that, but the way we answer those questions has alot to do with how we seek out and process information.
My good friend, a psychologist, has traveled and lived in the Middle East for months at a time. He taught me a new term recently. Biased Assimilation, see here.
Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.[Note 1] People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.
I find myself questioning good friends and family who appear blind to the information I share about Palestine. (For that matter, the same thing often seems to happen when I discuss climate change.) Why can’t they see what I see?
Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Poor decisions due to these biases have been found in military, political, and organizational contexts.
In law school, students are trained to “think like a lawyer.” Part of that process is to understand and argue persuasively from any side. I recall having to defend capital punishment in my first year Criminal Law class, although I’m an ardent opponent of the death penalty. That exercise can really make your head hurt.
I suspect that overcoming our own biases about the Middle East requires the same mental gymnastics. I’m going to make a concerted effort to exercise daily.
In this TedTalk Brazilian Filmmaker Julia Bacha talks about the need to pay attention to nonviolence if we want to encourage more nonviolence tactics.