The Exigent Duality
Everything is biased-- why don't we admit it? - 11:33 CST, 11/30/12 (Sniper)
"Finally FDR has promised in the 1932 campaign to cut spending, and he resolved to keep the promise in his second term, ordering a drawdown of federal expenditures. That, combined with the new taxes enacted by the Seventy-fifth Congress, pushed the economy into recession in the spring of 1937." --Jay Cost in his book "Spoiled Rotten"

"I think we'd be better off if every news outlet was the equivalent of a openly partisan. In fact, right next to every journalist's name, they should state their party affiliation-- then at least we're being in the open about it." --Me, in a previous post

Some weeks ago I read a recent edition of "A Concise History of the Middle East". And yesterday, I started reading Jay Cost's "Spoiled Rotten". In both instances, I was continually struck by how biased human beings are, how much faith we put into human "experts", and how influential these "experts" are in formulating social discourse.

If I stop to think about it, virtually every sentence in every history book I've ever read is highly subjective-- other than the citing of dates and the names of events, places and people, nearly everything else is an author's interpretation of events. Yet just like media outlets, history books are presented as coming from some sort of disinterested, unbiased, unopinionated source of absolute truth. The fact is, if a human is doing the writing, then such presentation is totally disingenuous.

For example, in the Jay Cost quote above, I completely disagree that a decrease in Federal spending had anything to do with a supposed "recession" in 1937. In fact, I don't think the economy had ever recovered by that point-- it just looked like it had started to due to the temporary jolt from all of the tax payer stimulus. It was a phony "recovery", not a real recovery followed by some sort of new recession, as Cost claims.

But that's not my point: the facts are that in 1934, unemployment was 21.7 percent, in 1936 it dropped to 16.9 percent, and by 1938 it had risen again to 19 percent. Whether you believe the dip was caused by fake Federal stimulus or that the economy had actually started to improve-- in other words, whether you believe my explanation of events or Cost's-- you have to admit that the data is open to a variety of interpretations, and the interpretation we get depends on which historian writes the account.

Winston Churchill recognized this same phenomenon when he said "History is written by the victors."

Don't get me wrong: I really enjoyed the middle east book, and I'm also enjoying Jay Cost's work as well.

My complaint is primarily with how we present such books to ourselves and others. If we want to be honest with ourselves, we should present history books, media outlets, and a plethora of other sources openly as fundamentally biased works that reflect the values of their authors-- not as sources of absolute truth, as they are currently presented. This is especially important when teaching school children history; preface every history lesson with "this is one account of events, there are many others as well."

We should also present an account of the author before consuming such a work-- what kind of climate were they raised in, by whom were they most influenced, and from which school of thought do their ideas originate? I don't recall a history teacher ever giving me a pre-lesson on my history books' authors, and that is a sham. It also might be insightful-- teachers probably pick books, either themselves or with administrative influence, that agree with their world view. The teachers aren't up front with their students about their own biases.

In the end, it's only through renewed vigilance and transparency that we can solve the problem of secret coercion influencing the discourse of society's unwitting members.