What’s my bias?

This earlier post on media bias led me to think, perhaps it’s best to abandon objectivity altogether, and instead be totally, even painfully, subjective — but with self-awareness.   Also, it reminded me that this blog is itself is a media outlet of sorts, and so I should be clear for myself and for you, the reader — what’s my bias?

The graphic is from an Australian Computer Science education conference — referring to experimental bias that creeps into the work of computer scientists — but it’s useful generally as a way to visualize the cyclic, self-reinforcing nature of bias….

My bias? Well, as much as none of this ‘should’ matter according to the objectivist view — the reality is that I was  born into a Hindu Brahmin family, of the Telugu 6000 Niyogi subsect from Andhra, who were originally, of all things, known as good public administrators.  My family is descended from the sage Mowdgalya, a lineage of rishis said to have authored the Atharvaveda Upanishad. Today, in addition to the philosophical foundation of the Vedas, and extensive influence from Buddha’s teachings, we practice in Ramanuja’s strain of Vaishnavism, with deep connections to the Tirupati Balaji temple and its tradition of Vishnu tantra. 

I was born in Hyderabad, India, but raised in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and McLean, Virginia. I went to public schools, but was always in gifted and talented programs, honors classes and magnet schools, including the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. My father was a strong Democrat when it came to American politics, and a Congress Party of India supporter, with strong Marxist/socialist philosophic leanings. My mother was one of India’s first women electronics engineers, and bought me my first computer at age 9, and she’s been in government service all her life, both in India and the US. Of all public thinkers and leaders, perhaps the most formative was Gandhi, whose autobiography I read at age 17 while traveling in India and doing research on HIV/AIDS epidemiology — and that’s changed me forever.

These facts are the core of the deep spiritual, scientific, political, and social convictions that are with me today. Of course, I am very much my own man, but it’s surprising, for as much of a rebel as I’ve been in my life, how little I’ve really strayed from that basic foundation of belief.  All those influences were really baked into my source code, so to speak.  Today, I have the engineer’s conviction that the world’s problems are solvable; the scientific conviction that they’re understandable; the spiritualists’ conviction that they — the whole world over, each and every single person — matters; and the political conviction that, with the right leadership, it’s all possible — real transformation …

I also have the experience in adult life of, many, many times, getting stuck — wanting, needing, believing I needed to be doing something different, but not finding the ability to, long after it no longer really ‘made sense’.  It’s the human condition in a sense, not just to err, but to keep erring because a known error can be less fearsome than an unknown one. But it’s probably the main lens through which I see myself and my life and human life in general: flowing versus stuck. Growth or stasis.  And having spent my entire adult life addressing this divide in myself through the very scientific, technical, spiritual and social predispositions I described above it’s brought me around to the same belief: real transformation is possible.

It’s not just possible — it’s necessary — to transcend our lesser selves and the ‘laws of biological behavioral gravity’, as my great-uncle Dr. N.C. Surya termed it .  It’s only by knowing what weights we bear, what our karma has shaped us into, that we can transcend.  ‘With skill, determination and scientific sincerity, we can fly.  No mystery is involved in airplane flight, he wrote.  Similarly, the flight of a human being into their better selves.

So that’s it, my biggest, most basic bias — by training and experience — I believe we can utterly surprise ourselves.  In fact, it’s the one thing we can really count on.


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