[OPINION] The problem with ‘pointing out bias’ and ‘demanding objectivity’

Leo Lusañez
[OPINION] The problem with ‘pointing out bias’ and ‘demanding objectivity’
Have you ever been told to 'be objective,' or that you're 'too biased in your political views'?

When it comes to political discussions, I admittedly prefer expressing my opinions behind closed doors, not because I fear the repercussions of speaking out publicly, but because I’ve a particular disdain for the current state of public discourse.

Just recently, when I heard that my previous article had been published, I was ecstatic and eager to tell my friends and family. The former greeted many of my ideas with open arms, but the latter had me go to the parents’ room for what was to become an earful of rambling.

They told me that they were supportive of my endeavors, but were critical of several parts: they said what I’d been saying about Maria Ressa and ABS-CBN was fake news, and because I was staring down authority in the face, I had to let them keep talking. 

Of course, questions on facts are nothing new and can very often be answered by explaining things in greater detail. However, one particular piece of their so-called “critique” proved to be especially infuriating: “Be objective,” they said. “Lay down both sides of the discussion. Masyado kang biased pagdating sa political views mo!” (READ: Senators: De Lima ousted for being ‘biased,’ anti-Duterte)

Is it wrong to demand objectivity? Of course not. In fact, anyone who has a basic understanding of writing will see objectivity like a shadow that looms over every word they write – and it’s a shadow all of us do our best to overcome! The problem, however, is with the context in which they make said demand.

“Bias” in political discourse

It is no secret that the primary concern of political theory is the definition of justice. There have been many perspectives forwarded throughout human history, and while economy forbids me from discussing each of them in detail, there is a universal point of agreement: we’re always in conflict because we all interpret “justice” differently. 

On the one hand, this is a natural catalyst for healthy political debate across robust democratic systems, while in more flawed models like ours where political repression is more likely to happen, this leads to the proliferation of lies in order to forward corrupt political agenda. (READ: [OPINION] End media neutrality)

Hence, when people say they are “being biased,” whether you’re a “Dutertardor “Dilawan” – despicable as these labels are for what are essentially communitarians and liberals in that order – what they’re really pointing to is the fundamental difference in the way we see justice. 

Pointing out that you’re “biased” in this regard is a tautological waste of time, since it is unavoidable that our conceptions of justice will inevitably lead to differences in how we perceive certain political situations.

The message behind “pointing out bias”

Further, the problem with demanding this kind of so-called “objectivity” is that it has a profoundly undemocratic message behind it, hidden behind layers of unfortunate subtlety. 

The first is that it makes you question exactly where you can start injecting your opinion. If the goal is to “let the public decide,” as claimed, then do I stop writing once I’ve “laid out the facts,” or can I opine after the facts have been laid out? Essentially: do I make or withhold my own, personal opinion as a citizen of our country? (READ: Will vocal Duterte supporters read this article from start to finish?)

Second, it is a subtle form of whataboutism. The virtue I am being told to exercise is that of prudence and “searching both sides for information.” Here’s the problem: I have looked at both sides of the coin, yet even then, because of my own inclination toward liberalism, I came out with different conclusions. This is not at all unreasonable nor unexpected. On the contrary, I find that assuming the opposite position allows people to think about what the government needs to work on, or at least consider. 

And there is much to consider. As Nicole Curato noted in her A Duterte Reader’s introductory chapter: “[…] Duterte’s interruption [of the political status quo] also hinges on the perpetuation of the very same social structures that led to the failures of the Philippines’ 30 years of democratic experimentation.” 

The book I’m quoting was published last 2017. It is now 2020, and it’s still as relevant as ever. People are still talking about the ramifications of Duterte’s administration and wondering whether real change truly is coming soon. 

I, for one, believe so: objectivity has been politicized at long last, and I gravely fear what this all means for our democracy. – Rappler.com

Leo Lusañez is an MA Philosophy student of the Ateneo de Davao University, currently on hiatus. He enjoys reading works on Roman history, ethics, and political theory; playing video games with friends; and writing drafts on rainy days. 

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