Confirmation Bias

The waiting socialists have a bit more on the hijab issue and our disagreement on same. (That link goes to the right post; Marcus at Harry’s Place pointed out that the waiters in fact do have Permalinks; I just overlooked them.) One comment caused me to ponder a bit.

We won’t go over the same ground again here, as we’ve responded in the comments section attached to her post, and she’s responded to us. Guess what? She hasn’t changed her mind, and neither have we changed ours. What that might say about blogging in general we’ll leave to people better able and more willing to generalise about blogging than we are.

What caused the pondering is the ‘Guess what?’ That seems to imply that non-changing of minds is not surprising, hence that we generally don’t change our minds in the course of these discussions – but I’m not sure that’s true. It seems to me I do sometimes change my mind when I see new evidence or arguments (new to me, I mean). But I don’t change my mind every single time – I don’t develop a new set of ideas with every post I read. If I did, B&W would be a pretty chaotic thing to read, wouldn’t it!

I do go into the discussion with some fairly firm presuppositions – that is to say, with plenty of opportunities for confirmation bias. I probably pay more attention to the articles that fit my presuppositions. I have frames through which I understand things, just as we all do. So I thought I would mention some of them, by way of clarification and full disclosure (or rather, partial full disclosure). I see the hijab as a badge of inferiority, as men controlling women, as misogynist and oppressive. I am aware that there are other ways to see it, but I’m not as sharply aware of that as I am of the first view. Then, I also see the hijab as having a lot of baggage – baggage that it wouldn’t have had twenty-five years ago. Wearing it now, after the Taliban, after what’s been going on in Iran, seems to me a different thing from wearing it before that. And not only wearing it, but being around people who are wearing it. It seems to me it can be seen as a poke in the eye to secularists, feminists, women who do not want all of that, who want to escape it, in a way that it wouldn’t have to such an extent before 1979. It’s a statement, a political statement, and in my view it’s a very reactionary, even brutal one. That means I’m less sympathetic to ideas about tradition, identity and so on – that’s my bias. And then, a third frame, I’m intensely hostile to religion (partly because of the history of the past twenty-five years), so I tend to favour efforts to keep it out of the public or secular realm. I’m not very good at seeing religion as a refuge from an alien culture, as the heart of a heartless world.

But another point is a bit different. I’m not convinced that I ought to do any mind-changing here, because I haven’t actually been arguing flatly that the ban on the hijab would be an unequivocally good thing and that’s all there is to it. I’ve been arguing against the view that it would be an unequivocally bad thing and that’s all there is to it. The people I’ve been disagreeing with are the ones who deny that there is any rational or non-racist reason at all to favor a ban. But if that position were accurate, there would be no such group as ‘Ni Putes ni Soumises.’ But the group exists. That is to say, there are French women of Muslim background who do support the ban. It seems to me opponents ignore them and their reasons. Surely arguing that there are people on the other side is not something I ought to change my mind about. I’m not so much arguing for the ban as I am arguing for taking all factors into account.

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