Updated: Aug 7
There’s not a single human example of unbiased writing out there. That’s because there’s not a single human example of an unbiased writer out there.
And that’s because there’s not a single example of an unbiased human being out there. Even babies, as described by NewScientist way back in 2004, have their preconceived notions:
Newborn babies prefer to look at attractive faces, says a U.K. researcher, suggesting that face recognition is hardwired at birth, rather than learned.
Alan Slate and his colleagues at the University of Exeter showed paired images of faces to babies as young [as] a day old and found that they spent more time fixated on the more attractive face.
“Attractiveness is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s innate to a newborn infant,” says Slater.
Developmental psychologists have known for years that babies have preferences for certain objects, such as high-contrast images, and curvy, biological shapes.
Admittedly, I’m going to disagree with the idea that attractiveness is a set standard. (Whoever determined that Matthew McConaughey was a heartthrob?) But other than that, it does seem true that we’re “born this way.”
Meaning we’re born with biases. And it’s only constant assessment of them that can help us become less so.
Notice I didn’t say we could ever become unbiased writers. Only that we can become less so.
Very smart, well-read people (like writers) often like to think they’re unfailing authorities on good judgement. Which just makes them exceptionally biased toward being smart and well-read.
It’s entirely possible to have a high IQ and be so blinded by bias that it does you no good. Or you can be very well read in only one side of an issue.
While there are no doubt a million reasons why we think we’re not biased… there are a million and one to show how we are.
List your biases. Then choose one to challenge.
You can do this in a novel-specific way or a self-specific way… if you’re feeling very brave. If the former, write down the real-world biases you built your first draft off of. If you’re going all in, write down the biases you base your life on (that you can think of, anyway).
Choose just one, then buy a book, watch a documentary, or listen to someone else’s podcast who believes the opposite. It can be scary to challenge yourself, I know. But it can also make you a better writer to at least understand the other side. And a better human being.
You already are a good human being, you say? Great! But that’s not the challenge.
The challenge is to become a better one.
Let’s say you're conservative and don’t like illegal immigration.
You no doubt have very good, very logical reasons for thinking that way. Because illegal immigrants put undue financial and other burdens on our educational, healthcare, and law enforcement systems.
But there is an emotional side to be considered. Some illegal immigrants genuinely came here looking to help out their families or seeking a better life for themselves. They have stories to consider.
Maybe not enough to change your mind on illegal immigrants. But they still have stories.
How can you learn more about them?
Or let’s say you don’t like people who don’t like illegal immigration.
These are people, you point out. They have stories to tell. And they're only looking to help out their families or seek a better life for themselves.
But there is a logical side to be considered when it comes to illegal immigration. There are dangerous people entering our country without permission – drug dealers and sex traffickers, to name a few.
Plus, the U.S. is in excessive amounts of debt as it is. How are we going to provide for all these additional people?
There are facts to consider. Maybe not enough to change your mind on illegal immigration. But there still are facts.
How can you learn more about them?
Because learning about them – whatever subject or group you have preconceived notions about – is the only way you’re going to become something closer to an unbiased writer.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on bias here.