How well can you detach emotionally from your biases?



How balanced are your views










How balanced is your outlook on contentious subjects?

It took me a big part of my 63 years on this earth to understand that people with completely opposite opinions to mine could be just as “right” in their minds as I was in mine. Before that I thought they were uneducated, misguided or plain stupid.

This week, I responded to a question posed in a Linked In group about North – South development. My response was to use the cases of rapid development of agriculture and manufacturing in Rhodesia under sanctions and the “old” South Africa pioneering human heart transplants and deep level mining techniques.

Another member whilst acknowledging those successes publicly, chose to tell me in a private message that he could not possibly use examples with “obvious connotations to inhumanity and deplorable crimes against humanity of apartheid, of Hitler and of Nazism”.

I do believe that this person genuinely believes the propaganda that was directed against South Africa and Rhodesia for most of the 20th century.

This is not a political blog (I write about politics on my other blog), but politics is an area charged with conflicting opinions, ripe for argument and violent conflict.

It is not a religious blog either, but for years I puzzled over the question of how millions of people could believe as fervently in their religion as the most ardent Christians could in Christianity. Supporters of one religion slaughtering those of another, while horrific, was understandable. How people of different sects within the same religion could do the same was beyond my comprehension.

I lived under sanctions and condemnation by the most of the world in Rhodesia and South Africa, seen and felt the effects of terrorism, the corruption, brutality and economic collapse of Zimbabwe and then moved to North America.

It has been a source of amazement to me that practically every otherwise sensible liberal or politically moderate, well-educated North American considers that all White Southern Africans were terrible people, that “apartheid” was one of the worst sins ever dreamed up by an oppressive regime and that all Black Africans were the unfortunate victims of “colonisation”.

Very few facts are ever presented to justify this view. “Read or heard about it in the media” is the reason given. Digging further, it is apparent a distorted view of events in Southern Africa since WW2 has been provided by schools and universities in the Western world.

There are several reasons for this bias, but they are not the subject of this post. I am just describing the background as I see it from my own biased point of view

I am not going to defend all aspects of legislated racial discrimination in South Africa or the much milder version in Rhodesia. There were many aspects of the former that with hindsight should never have been allowed to happen. Just as with hindsight, slavery should never have been allowed to exist in America nor the Caribbean.

Throughout history, bad things have happened. At the time there were reasons for them happening. It could be argued that as disastrous as slavery was for slaves, the benefit to the economies their labour helped develop, was huge. Many of the descendants of those slaves may be considerably better off in the USA than if their ancestors had remained in Africa – if they had survived.

To escape poverty in their homeland, many Indians signed up as indentured labour to work on South African sugar estates. Although not slavery, conditions were harsh. However those early labourers were the foundation of what is now the largest community of Indians outside India at over one million and including many successful business owners, professionals and academics.

South Africa would not have developed into the economic powerhouse it became under white rule if it had attempted to provide the same level of amenities and services to the whole population. Nor would it have developed if the small, (mainly, but not exclusively white) economically active segment of the population had felt insecure or been taxed at the level necessary to provide those equal conditions.

The flight of hundreds of thousands of educated citizens of all races from South Africa and years earlier, Rhodesia, then more recently the illegal migration of an estimated 2 million poor black people from Zimbabwe to South Africa support that argument.

I have learned with difficulty, to detach emotionally from attacks on my former countries. I have come to accept that most such criticism stems from ignorance rather than malicious intent.

I sent a measured reply pointing out a few facts that show, with regard to the treatment of indigenous populations (which excludes Black people in North America) any charge of “Hitler or Nazism” would be more accurately directed against North America and Australia than South Africa or Rhodesia.

This puzzle as to why so many North Americans and Europeans believe so much of what is not true about Southern Africa was still occupying space in my mind when I read this post by Braude Blais-Billie in Thought Catalogue , 10 Things you don’t know about American Indians .

Her 9th point – A genocide was enacted upon Native America, includes the statement that “80-90% of the American Indian population was killed between Columbian contact and today. The Trail of Tears, San Creek Massacre, Wounded Knee Massacre, the Camp Grant Massacre, the list goes on.”

I am not a historian and cannot verify her estimate, but my research, including a fascinating book I am reading,  Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond indicates that the population of Native North Americans is no greater and possibly lower now, than at the time of the arrival of the first European settlers. Disease almost certainly played as big or a bigger role than guns. Australia followed a similar pattern with various estimates putting the Aboriginal population now somewhere between 50 and 60% of its level when Captain Cook arrived.

Most critics of White Southern Africans have no idea of the comparative population statistics for the region and are shocked when I provide them.

Before 1500 AD, there were few people of Bantu (Black African) descent in what is now South Africa and Zimbabwe. The warmer parts of the region were sparely populated by San people (also known as Bushmen). The area with a Mediterranean climate in the extreme South West of South Africa which is now the Western Cape was not inhabited by any Bantu people.

With the increasing change in lifestyle of Bantu people from hunter-gatherer to primitive farmer, the fertile lands with good rainfall in the higher altitude parts of Southern Africa attracted increased migration Southwards from tropical Central Africa.

At the time of the first Dutch settlers in South Africa, it is estimated that the indigenous population of what is now South Africa was between 500 000 and 800 000, two hundred years later, that of the smaller region which became Rhodesia, around 300 000.

By 1992, the South African population had risen to 36.69million (Google) and to 51.2 million by 2012. At the transition to Zimbabwe in 1980, the population had grown to 7.3 million, later reaching 12.6 million in 2010.

What this means is that the indigenous population grew under “oppressive White rule” in South Africa from under 1 million to over 30 million and in Rhodesia from 300 000 to 7 million. Growth factors of 30 and 21 respectively. (Over a shorter period in Rhodesia.) While in the model democracies of the USA, Canada and Australia, the indigenous population has remained static or declined.

On that basis, which countries should be accused of “inhumanity and deplorable crimes against humanity of apartheid, of Hitler and of Nazism.”

There are many factors to consider, not least massive black migration to South Africa with the creation of thousands of jobs. Restricted White immigration to both African countries. Harsh, dry terrain in many parts. Less effect of exotic diseases on native people, more serious effects of diseases and parasites on European immigrants. Larger numbers of dangerous wild animals, reptiles and insects.

That is not the point of this post.

The point is that it is too easy to nurture our lifelong biases, reinforced by biased media, political correctness, propaganda from organisations with vested interests and an assault on free speech.

I am not asking you to abandon your biases, our biases are part of who we are. I am suggesting that the sooner we can emotionally detach ourselves from other people’s biases and opinions we don’t agree with, the sooner we can enrich and expand our lives.

By taking emotion out of the way when I responded to the “crimes against humanity” accusation, I was able to respond more rationally. Will it change that person’s opinion? Probably not, but it might cause him to think differently about Southern Africa.

The “old me” would probably not have read the whole of Braud Blais-Billie’s post, by the title dismissing it as yet another complaint by ungrateful natives. I am glad that I did read it and found her 10 points interesting and informative even if I am unsure of the solutions to some of the problems she mentions, ownership of land for example.

How well do you look at things from another perspective?

Peter Wright

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  3 comments for “How well can you detach emotionally from your biases?

  1. Roberta
    April 19, 2014 at 9:29 am

    WOW! Very interesting and deep post.

    How well do I look at things from another perspective?

    Like most people I start at my own level of comfort, prejudices, and knowledge. Yet, I also try to understand the author and his/her mindset.

    That is not always easy and must be a conscious decision.

    I try to learn from most everyone and give everyone a fair chance to teach me something new or broaden my knowledge and mind sets.

    This has become easier the more I age.

    I also love true debate where people can say what they believe without anger or rancor from others and discussion can go on for hours and we can learn from others.

    Sadly, that is hard to do for all of us.

    • April 23, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      It certainly does get easier with age for me too.

      Some of the most interesting and lengthy debates I can remember were when a group of us part time soldiers from different backgrounds would be thrown together on military duty in the bush. No electricity, tv, radio, newspapers or anything else to distract us.

      When we were not out on patrol, we would talk about any and every issue. The sight of a powerful rifle on your debating partner’s knee tended to keep the debate civilized.

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