Sunday, December 04, 2011

Essay: Awareness and Bias

Critical thinking is an important skill to nurture. But one of the key components of critical thinking is awareness: the ability to identify, discern, and articulate problems.

For example, I think a lot of problems in the world is due to either a) Western-centrism or b) patriarchy. Just look at the flaws of Christianity (and Catholicism) as an example (and if you don't immediately identify how Christianity is Western-centric or patriarchal, then you have your homework cut out for you).

What's insidious with the above-mentioned problem is how it's often unconscious and deeply embedded in culture. Hence the need for awareness.

For example, one of the things people tend to take for granted and easily dismiss is language, history, and the news. All three are mutable despite pre-conceived notions that they are "factual". What immediately comes to mind is Filipino hero Lapu-Lapu (and that in itself is fraught with a lot of contentious topics, everything from Magellan as hero to whether Lapu-Lapu can indeed be considered Filipino). Until recently, it's been canon that the poem "Sa Aking Mga Kabata"  — and its famous line "Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salita, Mahigit sa hayop at malansang isda" — was written by national hero Jose Rizal when that isn't necessarily the case. When it comes to local news, you'd be surprised at what doesn't get covered (including stories wherein human lives are lost), either due to pressure from external sources (sponsors, politicians, institutions, etc.), or editorial choices by the people in charge (literature and education is not on their high list of concerns for example).

I'm not immune to this. I've made several errors, faux pas, and guilty of prejudice.

What people need to understand is that everyone will have an agenda  (and I don't mean to use the term in a negative way, which in itself is an example of baggage associated with language). Mine for example has been the promotion of Philippine speculative fiction, "World SF", and authors/editors I encounter and admire. If you think this blog is bias-free, you're mistaken. It's my particular bias that shapes who my readers are (you can think of it as my target audience). No text (be it fiction, poetry, film, music, games, or any other media) can be entirely divorced from its agenda (although readers, of course, are free to interpret it under their own biases as well). Every story, for example, will have a hierarchy of moral values (and what's moral in one culture might be a different case in another).

I love speculative fiction but let's face it: there's a lot of things wrong with the genre (again, Western-centrism and patriarchy). A lot of it is unconscious.

One of the popular sections in my blog are Links and Plugs. Since the fourth quarter of 2009, I also contribute (most of it is lifted from my blog and then the SF Signal crew add their own links) to SF Signal's Tidbits (which is significantly more popular than my blog) every Monday to Friday. Since SF Signal is quite popular, it puts me in a unique position, doesn't it?

Initially, the order of links was arbitrary. (Yes, order matters.)

But there are nuances to every post (which I didn't necessarily determine — it's not my blog). There's a cover image (derived from Amazon's database) at the start of every post, for example. So here's the question I asked myself: as a source of news for a certain segment of the community, is there anything I can do to improve the state of things?

In the beginning, it was easier to determine what not to include in the Tidbits. There's SF Signal's own posts for example. I often don't include my own blogs posts, or if I do (the SF Signal crew usually adds it in later), I seldom put it on top, unless there's a good reason to, as that feels more self-promotional than doing a genuine service for the community. "Old" news gets chucked out.

So what do I end up including in the Tidbits? Material that I think is relevant (but not necessarily condone) to SF Signal's readers (which, in turn, is shaped by my own biases).

But then again, there's also the issue of chronology. So I've included all the stuff that I consider to be important in relation to SF. Who goes first? This is important when it comes to the Interviews and Profiles section as the lucky author whose books are available on Amazon gets the cover of their book posted in the Tidbits (now whether this actually helps promote sales of their book, I don't know).

As of mid-April of this year (if you examine the archive of SF Signal Tidbits, you can identify the trend), there was a conscious decision (arbitrary just means unconscious bias) on which author interview was at the top of the Tidbits.

I'll be frank. There's a lot of causes that need championing: World SF. People of Color. LGBT. Women. Gender. YA. If it were up to me, I'd post a book cover of a World SF book every day. But that's not possible on a consistent basis (either there's not enough interviews going around or their book isn't listed on Amazon); it's probably a valid criticism that I'm probably not looking hard enough. So I went with a criteria that's broad enough: women.

Admittedly, there are days when I can't find interviews with women in the field, but that's the exception rather than the norm (if you want stats, just look at the archives of Tidbits starting mid-April that's attributed to me; or better yet, compare it when I wasn't deliberate in my selection). Failing that, I try my other criteria, such as World SF, people of color, LGBT authors, etc.

Does all this matter? I don't know. Has it been consciously noticed? As far as I know, no one has brought it up.

No comments: