Philosophy against Misosophy



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Bias, Liberation, and Cosmopolis


 Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.

7. Group Bias 

As individual bias, so also group bias rests on an interference with the development of practical common sense. 

But while individual bias has to overcome normal intersubjective feeling, group bias finds itself supported by such feeling. 

Again, while individual bias leads to attitudes that conflict with ordinary common sense, group bias operates in the very genesis of common-sense views. 

Basically, social groups are defined implicitly by the pattern of relations of a social order, and they are constituted by the realization of those dynamic relations. 

In its technological aspect the social order generates the distinctions between scientists and engineers, technicians and workers, skilled and unskilled labour. 

In its economic aspect, it differentiates the formation of capital from the production of consumer goods and services, distinguishes income groups by offering proportionate rewards to contributions, and organizes contributors in hierarchies of employees, foremen, supervisors, superintendents, managers, and directors. 

In its political aspect, it distinguishes legislative, judicial, diplomatic, and executive functions with their myriad ramifications, and it works out some system in which the various offices are to be filled and the tasks performed. 

However, in the dialectic of community there is the operation not only of practical common sense but also of human intersubjectivity. 

If human intelligence takes the lead in developments, still its products do not function smoothly until there is effected a suitable adaptation of sensitive spontaneity. 

In a school, a regiment, a factory, a trade, a profession, a prison, there develops an ethos that at once subtly and flexibly provides concrete premises and norms for practical decisions. 

For in human affairs the decisive factor is what one can expect of the other fellow.  Such expectations rest on recognized codes of behaviour; they appeal to past performance, acquired habit, reputation; they attain a maximum of precision and reliability among those frequently brought together, engaged in similar work, guided by similar motives, sharing the same prosperity or adversity.  Among strangers we are at a loss what to say or do.  The social order not only gathers men together in functional groups but also consolidates its gains and expedites its operations by turning to its own ends the vast resources of hum ail imagination and emotion, sentiment and confidence, familiarity and loyalty. 

However, this formation of social groups, specifically adapted to the smooth attainment of social ends, merely tends to replace one inertial force with another. 

Human sensitivity is not human intelligence and, if sensitivity can be adapted to implement easily and readily one set of intelligent dictates, it has to undergo a fresh adaptation before it will cease resisting a second set of more intelligent dictates. 

Now social progress is a succession of changes. Each new idea gradually modifies the social situation to call forth further new ideas and bring about still further modifications. 

Moreover, the new ideas are practical; they are applicable to concrete situations; they occur to those engaged in the situations to which they are to be applied. 

However, while the practical common sense of a community may be a single whole, its parts reside separately in the minds of members of social groups, and its development occurs as each group intelligently responds to the succession of situations with which it immediately deals.  Were all the responses made by pure intelligences, continuous progress might be inevitable.  In fact, the responses are made by intelligences that are coupled with the ethos and the interests of groups and, while intelligence heads for change, group spontaneity does not regard all changes in the same cold light of the general good of society.  Just as the individual egoist puts further questions up to a point, but desists before reaching conclusions incompatible with his egoism, so also the group is prone to have a blind spot for the insights that reveal its well-being to be excessive or its usefulness at an end. 

Thus group bias leads to a bias in the generative principle of a developing social order. 

At a first approximation, one thinks of the course of social change as a succession of insights, courses of action, changed situations, and fresh insights.  At each turn of the wheel, one has to distinguish between fresh insights that are mere bright ideas of no practical moment and, on the other hand, the fresh insights that squarely meet the demands of the concrete situation. 

Group bias, however, calls for a further distinction.  Truly practical insights have to be divided into operative and inoperative; both satisfy the criteria of practical intelligence; but the operative insights alone go into effect for they alone either meet with no group resistance or else find favour with groups powerful enough to overcome what resistance there is. 

The bias of development involves a distortion.  The advantage of one group commonly is disadvantageous to another, and so some part of the energies of all groups is diverted to the supererogatory activity of devising and implementing offensive and defensive mechanisms. 

Groups differ in their possession of native talent, opportunities, initiative, and resources; those in favoured circumstances find success the key to still further success; those unable to make operative the new ideas that are to their advantage fall behind in the process of social development. 

Society becomes stratified; its flower is far in advance of average attainment; its roots appear to be the survival of the rude achievement of a forgotten age.  Classes become distinguished, not merely by social function, but also by social success; and the new differentiation finds expression not only in conceptual labels but also in deep feelings of frustration, resentment, bitterness, and hatred. 

Moreover, the course of development has been twisted.  The social order that has been realized does not correspond to any coherently developed set of practical ideas.  It represents the fraction of practical ideas that were made operative by their conjunction with power, the mutilated remnants of once excellent schemes that issued from the mill of compromise, the otiose structures that equip groups for their offensive and defensive activities. 

Again, ideas are general, but the stratification of society has blocked their realization in their proper generality.  Ideas possess retinues of complementary ideas that add further adjustments and improvements; but these needed complements were submitted to the sifting of group interests and to the alterations of compromise. 

Still, this process of aberration creates the principles for its own reversal.  When a concrete situation first yields a new idea and demands its realization, it is unlikely that the idea will occur to anyone outside the group specialized in dealing with situations of that type.  But when some ideas of a coherent set have been realized, or when they are realized in a partial manner, or when their realization does not attain its proper generality, or when it is not complemented with a needed retinue of improvements and adjustments, then there is no need to call upon experts and specialists to discover whether anything has gone wrong nor even to hit upon a roughly accurate account of what can be done. 

The sins of group bias may be secret and almost unconscious.  But what originally was a neglected possibility, in time becomes a grotesquely distorted reality. 

Few may grasp the initial possibilities; but the ultimate concrete distortions are exposed to the inspection of the multitude. 

Nor has the bias of social development revealed the ideas that were neglected without also supplying the power that will realize them. 

For the bias generates unsuccessful as well as successful classes; and the sentiments of the unsuccessful can be crystallized into militant force by the crusading of a reformer or a revolutionary. 

The ensuing conflict admits a variety of forms.  The dominant groups may be reactionary or progressive or any mixture of the two. 

In so far as they are reactionary, they are out to block any correction of the effects of group bias and they employ for this purpose whatever power they possess in whatever manner they deem appropriate and effective. 

On the other hand, in so far as they are progressive, they make it their aim both to correct existing distortions and to find the means that will prevent their future recurrence. 

Now to a great extent the attitude of the dominant groups determines the attitude of the depressed groups.  Reactionaries are opposed by revolutionaries.  Progressives are met by liberals. 

In the former case the situation heads towards violence. 

In the latter case there is a general agreement about ends with disagreement about the pace of change and the mode and measure of its execution.  

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