Sunday, August 24, 2014

Political Protests in Manama and Madison: It's a Small World After All

On February 17, 2011, The New York Times ran two major stories that have a common denominator: angry protesters. Bahrain and Wisconsin are not typically thought of together.  Bahrain is a small kingdom in the Middle East whereas Wisconsin is a large republic in North America. In mid-February, 2011, both were engulfed in protest in their respective capital cities.

In Manama, Bahrain, the army took control on February 17th; on the following day, the military would use automatics against a group of protesters. Before the army had taken control of much of the capital city, the police had opened fired on protesters camped in Pearl Square--that occurred a day after the king had said that the protesters could use that park to express themselves. According to The New York Times on February 17th, "As the army asserted control of the streets with tanks and heavily armed soldiers, the once- peaceful protesters were transformed into a mob of angry mourners chanting slogans like 'death to the king,' while the opposition withdrew from the Parliament and demanded that the government step down."  

In short, violence had turned on peaceful protest, turning the capital city into a war zone, and that situation was repeated the next day.  From the standpoint of the protests in Madison on February 17th, the scene of carnage in Manama would have been difficult to imagine. My thesis is that while the differences are real, they should not be overdrawn. The people in Manama and Madison are human, all too human, after all, hence they are fully capable of going well past the confines of polite society into the state of nature yet with vastly more interpersonal contact.

In Madison, protesters had begun protesting on February 16th. I happened to be in Madison on that first day and I witnessed the protesters make their way to the Capitol. The next day, the protesters were congregating in the rotunda at the seat of government when the thirteen Democratic senators walked out of the Senate (and in fact out of Wisconsin). With the majority party one person short of a quorum in the Senate, the pending bill that would reduce benefits for public employees and restrict their unions' collective bargaining rights on wage negotiations was effectively in limbo. The New York Times reported that day, "Walker’s plan was upending life in the capital city."  On the 18th, the paper reported that on the previous evening as the rallies against the bill grew, "(p)eople screamed: 'Shut it down! Shut it down!' Drums pounded. Students, some barefoot, danced." This description is more revealing than one might suppose at first glance.

Even though the protesters in Madison can be distinguished as a group from the protesters in Manama, the protesting Wisconsinites should not be treated as a homogeneous mass. In fact, the presence of out-of-state university students broadened the protest beyond Wisconsin. Furthermore, although some of the students were doubtless deeply involved in labor issues, many of the students I saw on their way to the protest on the 16th looked excited, like they were going to a rock concert, rather than angry or even into political activism. Some even had little pictures painted on their faces. Later in the week, a large drum circle took shape inside the Capitol. At times protesters seemed more concerned by what they regarded as insufficient attention on them by the national media than by their cause. It's all about me! Watch me! That is not much of a revolutionary attitude.

The more disgruntled, personally-invested protesters (i.e., actual workers) might have been mobilized by the unions that would receive less in union dues if public workers had the right to withhold union dues (a feature of the proposed bill). In other words, greed rather than anger might have been motivating some of the protest organizers even if most of the unionized protesters were motivated by principle. Also, in addition to teachers attending on principle, schools may well have organized their students to attend as a group. 

Therefore, lots of agendas funneled into the protests in Madison that February. My point is not that the protesters were somehow fakers or imposters relishing attention or a festive party; rather, my point here is that protests are actually rather heterogeneous even though they look like one fuzzy blob from a distance (i.e., through the media).

Moreover, it might seem like the protests in Madison were quite different from those that were taking place in Manama at the same time even though a closer examination uncovers some underlying commonalities based on human nature and how it plays out in terms of political organization.

To be sure, in terms of being different, shutting down the Senate temporarily is a far cry from a revolution wherein an entire government is to be replaced. Treating the passage of a bill as though it were a matter of life and death smacks of hyperbole. Responding to the flight of the democratic senators, for example, Sen. Scott Fitzgerald said, “This is the ultimate shutdown.” Well, no, I don't think so, Senator; the ultimate shutdown was going on in the political protests in Tunesia, Egypt and Libya. What was going in Wisconsin was not revolution even if that language may have served the protesters' various purposes, including more attention and importance than warranted.

The difference between the two protests can be appertained by contrasting college students in Madison dancing barefoot in a heated building in February while protesters in Manama were facing live gun-fire. Shouting "Shut it down!" as if a government were somehow obliged to close because a group of people demand it is not like screaming "Stop shooting at me!!!" From the vantage point of an American, protesting for a real revolution seems like a world, or planet away from protesting to stop a particular bill from becoming law. In Madison, the likelihood that the protests would turn massively violent was doubtlessly perceived on both sides of the issue as being so remote that protesters were allowed inside the building housing all three branches of the Government of Wisconsin.

Whereas the police and military in Manama were mobilized on February 17, 2011 to remove protesters from a city park, the Wisconsin National Guard (Wisconsin's military) was nowhere to be seen as protesters flowed into the seat of Wisconsin's government in Madison. Even when the capitol police wanted to clear the building for cleaning on the Sunday of the second week, the protests were able to remain. In fact, Wisconsin's chief executive and head of state had notified the Wisconsin National Guard to step in to perform vital governmental functions should the public employees go on strike. In short, the images of college students dancing barefoot even as they are reported to be "angry protesters" is difficult to reconcile with the pictures of blood-soaked protesters in the Middle East lying on cement or being carried to hospitals. I wouldn't blame one of the real protesters for shaking one of those students and saying, "Hey, this is serious! We are not playing!" 

Why were the protests in Madison so different on the surface from those in Manama? Why did the drama turn Madison into "a political circus," according the USA Today, while protesters (and even the medics trying to help them) were getting shot at in the Arab Spring? My knee-jerk explanation is that the tradition of democracy and protest had been so engrained in Wisconsin's political ethos by 2011 that no Wisconsinite seriously worried that the Capitol Square would turn into a real battlefield. Furthermore, in spite of a protester's sign at Wisconsin's Capitol identifying Gov. Scott Walker with Pres. Mubarak in Egypt, the goals of the Wisconsinites protesting did not even come close to toppling the bicameral legislature, the head of state, or  the form of government itself. I contend nevertheless, however, that the disjunction or dichotomy between the protests-to-violence in Manama and the protests-as-festival in Madison is at least in part illusionary. 

Sources: (poster of Mubarak and Walker at the protests in Wisconsin)  (on the psychology/corruption in the Madison police dept)
Iona Craig, "Protests Spread, Worsen in Middle East," USA Today, February 18, 2011, p. 8A.
Dennis Cauchon, "In Wis., Pitched Battle by Unions," USA Today, February 18, 2011, p. 1A.

Political Protests in Wisconsin and the Middle East: A Common Denominator?

Imagine some of the blue-collar unionists in Wisconsin's Capitol in February, 2011 suddenly "losing it," insulting officers of the Capitol Police keeping an eye on the protest going on in the rotunda. Due to a video made public (and related news stories), a clan of officers taking down just one protester, who was actually there merely to observe a protest two years later, we don't have to imagine such a scene, albeit "downsized" from that of protesters en masse being attacked.   

From the video: The young man being thrown to the floor and jumped on had last made reference to his right of peaceful protest, which the police presumably punished him for anyway. How much power do rights have if force refuses to recognize them?  Image Source:

Had there been a full-blown confrontation in February, 2011, imagine how quickly the barefoot dancers would have run in horror past all the blood, open wounds, and death. The distance between Madison and Manama back in February, 2011 would have been significantly narrowed, but not eliminated. A common denominator does indeed exist: the propensity of human nature to abuse a monopoly of power and to view other people as objects rather than ends in themselves.

The inhabitants in the United States are muffled from the starker political protests that go on in other regions of the world; so much of the status quo is presumed in the U.S. Also, the difference between a real dictatorship and the republic form of government, and the difference between the political culture of Bahrain and that of Wisconsin make a difference, to be sure. However, a political protest by a mob is inherently unstable; the police and military in Wisconsin are just as capable of abusing their legal right to use lethal force just as the police and military in Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, or Libya.  This point is often lost on people living in a society whose political system has been stable for over a century.

Just a week before the protests in Madison that began on February 17, 2011, a Madison police officer had been dismissed for "overbearing, oppressive, or tyrannical conduct." Should people who have problems with impulse control have a gun just inches from trigger-happy fingers? The capital of Wisconsin could become something more like the capital of Bahrain, or a major city in Libya than we might suppose. That is to say, such a slide would not take as much as might be assumed. 
On Saturday, February 19th, "Libyan forces opened fire on mourners leaving a funeral for protesters Saturday in the flashpoint city of Benghazi." The Libyan death toll from protests reached a hundred, while Wisconsin senators were praising the lack of any violence in five days of mass protest in Madison. The contrast could not be starker. Besides the obvious difference in violence, protecting the bargaining power of public-sector unions in a republic is a world away from deposing a dictator.
Even so, the potential of an underlying common denominator based on human nature, from which violence is possible at any large protest, should not be so easily dismissed even where there are limited aims, a mitigating political culture, and a relatively open political system. To support this point, I now turn to the matter of the commonality of human nature playing out in the concurrent protests going on in Madison, Wisconsin, Manama, Bahrain, Sana, Yemen and Benghazi, Libya.

For one thing,  Madison may not have been any less corrupt than Manama at the time of the concurrent protests. Apart from the progressive students that the university there is known for, the city itself is rather provincial.  For example, Robert Lafollette remarks in the preface of his autobiography that the political boss in Madison in the early years of the twentieth century had been rather corrupt. That boss kept Lafollette out of politics for years due to his "reformist" tendencies.

In the 1930s, the city bosses in Madison's city government twice thwarted the will of the people expressed in two referendums that Frank Lloyd Wright's plan for a city building on one of the city lakes be built (Monona Terrace was finally built in the 1990s). The reason, according to a PBS documentary on Wright, was that the city "leaders" didn't like him.

In the early 1990s, a professor on chemotherapy, fighting for his very life, also had to fight for tenure simply because he had been critical of a local bank that had endowed a chair in banking. The senior faculty member occupying that professorship was determined to force the well-published professor up for tenure out. 

During a short visit to Madison about twenty years after the fact, I discovered that the case had hardly been forgotten by long-term staff and of course the senior faculty. The tenure vote had somehow been "misreported." After the professor's lawyer counted the ballots and discovered the dean's office's "mistake," the school had to recommend tenure to the university tenure committee,  which had the final say. Unfortunately, the banking professor bullied the committee members and the tenure motion went down. As for the bully, the dean's office subsequently rewarded him with an associate deanship. The university apparently knows how to reward its own. One of the vice chancellors at the time of the incident would offer a shrug with a grin when asked years later as to why the dean's office had lied about the tenure vote. "[That faculty member] was a problem." In other words, lying about an election result at a state institution was justified if you wanted the guy gone. The screenwriters for The Sopranos couldn't come up with a better plot.

During my visit, I was stunned when a legislative staffer of one of the members of the legislature's Education Committee admitted to me as an aside that the University of Wisconsin is run like the mafia. "It is an open secret in the state-house," he said. Two staffers at the university subsequently confirmed for me the sordid nature of the university's administration. "It would not surprise me if what happened to that business professor years ago were the norm," a long-time employee told me with a shrug. 

A tenured professor told me that the university's chief of police had been sharing confidential police records of students with their parents, and that officers had been taking students' IDs on the basis of mere suspicion. The university's chancellor at the time told that professor that he did not want to "take on" the chief as she was a rather "assertive" lesbian who did not take well to being hemmed in, even by her boss. This means that the university's police force was essentially free of accountability, at least as far as the university is concerned.

Lastly, I learned that the provost's office had taken over a department in the humanities because its chairperson had been using funds vindictively. The chairperson of another such department, since promoted to the provost's office, had acted at the request of his friends in other departments to push out visiting professors as if with utter impunity, hence brazenly. 

It is no secret among academics at other universities that vindictive politics characterizes the university. Madrick, for example, writes of Milton Friedman's brief stint as a faculty member there: "After a difficult year as a young associate at the University of Wisconsin embroiled in faculty politics, Friedman returned to Washington to work for the Treasury in the early years of World War II."[1] The fraud at UW certainly goes beyond the sort of petty politics that doubtlessly go on at every college and university. The "this goes on everywhere" defense mechanism and enabler can only fall with a loud thump for anyone with a larger perspective.

In short, the city (and the University of Wisconsin) may suffer from a corrupt insider element that does not feel itself constrained either by fairness or the law, and this could potentially sow the seeds for revolution. The seed, after all, is in the harvest.

That Wisconsin is a republic (i.e. a policy characterized by representative democracy) whereas Bahrain was a kingdom at the time does not mean that abuse of power by public authorities is not possible in either polity, given the under-current of human nature. Outside Sana University in Yemen, for example, a few hundred people complained on February 17, 2011 of corruption and poor government services. According to USA Today, Mouath Hamed said that corruption was killing Yemen. Why haven't Madisonians and UW students protested the corruption in their midst?
Unlike the protesters in Madison, the protesters in Sana declared, "This is the beginning of the revolution." They faced sticks and electro-shock weapons as the students in Madison danced barefoot in a warm rotunda during winter.

The capital city of a republic can be so corrupt that protesters in such a city should demand mass resignations of  entrenched, corrupt and incompetent civil servants in order to clean up the people's house. It could be objected that my American cultural bias shows through here; to expand protest demands merely to include getting rid of civil servants can be labeled as an Americanization of what in terms of the Middle East protests would include the ouster of top government officials and the cessation of extant constitutions. To be sure, the American constitutions are already democratic.
However, it is only to the extent that a constitution really is democratic that it can be expected to not be treated by protesters like a constitution in the Middle East that props up a dictator. For instance, to the extent that office-holders in a republic can protect themselves as entrenched incumbents from the electoral check afforded to the people by a democratic constitution, the protests of the people could eventually come to approximate those in a dictatorship, even in America, if the pressure rises to a certain critical threshold. That is to say, the curtain of political stability that we presume distinguishes us from them could be ripped down the middle if the corruption continues to get worse.

Depending on the salience of popular sovereignty in the American republics, it is possible that the sort of demands made by the protesters in the Middle East could be carried by westerly winds and take root in the United States. I am not advocating such protests because they risk the total collapse of civic order. Also, unlike dictatorships, republics can perhaps repair themselves without such violence. Even so, fundamental protest that treats the system of governance itself as illegitimate could take root in any of the United States if sufficient public frustration builds up amid the hubris of wealth and power manifesting in corruption and other abuses of power.

Abstractly speaking, human political nature is a constant in the human race; accordingly, the potential for escalation and ensuing violence should not be summarily dismissed on the basis of an assumed sui generis American civic culture that is somehow immune from revolution. In the American context, the driver to watch is the extent to which the corruption of wealth entrenches itself in the halls of government at the expense of government of, by and for the people. Public officials desiring favors, good relations, friendship, or money are tempted to develop cozy relationships with entrenched private property interests at the expense of the public good and justice. At the time of their respective protests at least, Madison and Manama may not have been so different in this regard. Therefore, even though the pictures of the respective protests in Manama and Madison clearly suggest marked differences in the nature of the protests, the underlying dynamic might have been more alike than the barefoot dancers in Wisconsin could have known, for they were generally blind in their festivity to the true corruption in their midst. It is far easier to see corruption in the other's yard than on one's own street.

America is not an island isolated from human nature. We are not so exceptional or protected as the political culture we have built up may suggest to us.  As incredible as it may seem, both in terms of aims and governmental reaction, the protests that were spreading throughout the Middle East in early 2011 could manifest at some time manifest in any of the United States. It is not as though American public-private connections are so pristine or salubrious that fundamental protest could not take root. We are not so different--not so immune--as we might suppose. It may be that the Tea Party included traces of this more fundamental level of protest in the 2010 election season in declaring that the U.S. Government had gone beyond its constitutional authority in certain respects and was to that extent illegitimate as a government. It should not be lost on any of us that the subterranean human political dynamic stemming from human nature can surface at any time, anywhere. Specifically, the human proclivity to engage in corruption and even violence and to protest arrogant governmental encroachment on human liberty are the real dynamics going on under the surface anytime, anywhere, there is political authority and mass political protest.  A political culture can moderate this dynamic only to a certain extent, even if appearances seem to say otherwise. Any type of government invented by man is mortal, and flawed, being constructed by and inhabited by human beings. Likewise, human nature is mortal, and flawed. The interaction of political organization and human nature cannot be segmented by region or political system such that one area or type is somehow different, or safe from the latent violence that is almost inherent in the interaction itself. So the protests in Madison and Manama were in some important ways very distinct, but in a more fundamental sense they were made of the same stuff--albeit realized outwardly differentially because of the different types of polity and cultures.

In the end, good, stable government may depend on caritas seu benevolentia universalis (higher human love, that is, universal benevolence) rather than privilege and partiality. The people of any polity have the right and  responsibility to insist that the people they put in authority over them use their power on the basis of compassion rather than corruption.

1. Jeff Madrick, Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 2011), p. 32.

Sources: (poster of Mubarak and Walker at the protests in Wisconsin)  (on the psychology/corruption in the Madison police dept)
Iona Craig, "Protests Spread, Worsen in Middle East," USA Today, February 18, 2011, p. 8A.
Dennis Cauchon, "In Wis., Pitched Battle by Unions," USA Today, February 18, 2011, p. 1A.

Jeff Madrick, Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 2011), p. 32.
Concurrent lead stories on protests in Libya and Wisconsin on February 19, 2011:

On La Follette of Wisconsin, see:,_Sr.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

National Leaders Lag Global Crises: A Systemic Explanation

Surveying the world on August 19, 2014, the UN’s Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, claimed that the greatest humanitarian crises in the history of the United Nations were outstripping any solutions coming from the organization’s members. World leaders, he said, “have to sit down together with an open heart to negotiate in the interests of their people,” Ban said.[1] Yet there’s the rub, for even though the Secretary-General avoided the point (perhaps because it implies structural reform at the UN), national officials acting in the interest of their respective citizens do not necessarily have an interest in coming together with other such officials to take care of the mammoth human external costs of countries at war with themselves.

By the day of Ban’s astonishing declaration that the world faces the greatest humanitarian crises in the history of the UN, 6.5 million people had been displaced in the three years of civil war in Syria. The Russian-aided separatist movement in Ukraine had claimed 2,000 lives since the beginning of 2014. Fighting in Iraq and Israel were also among the humanitarian disasters in progress. In 2013, at least 33 million people had been displaced by such conflict—the highest figure ever recorded, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.[2]

Even though Ban complained about the lack of political will in the international community to resolve the ongoing conflicts or at least provide sufficient humanitarian aid to the displaced, the problem lies deeper. That is to say, it is no accident that national officials around the world were not leading on these global problems. Rather than merely being a question of leadership, thus idiosyncratic to particular officials, a disjunction naturally severs their political interests from their international “responsibilities;” for is it even fair to an elected official to say that he or she has an ethical duty to work toward solutions to problems outside the actual or best interests of his or her constituents? Similarly, would it be ethical for a corporation’s board of directors to disregard their fiduciary duty to the stockholders in committing funds needed in the company to societal problems that only vaguely negatively impact the company’s short- or long-term profitability? Certainly, global and societal problems cry out for help, and it is only human to want to respond, but what if the incentives and disincentives built into the system work tacitly against rather than for such a response?

In his statement, Ban Ki Moon admits both that national officials work in the interests of their respective peoples and that he himself cannot solve the crises or attend to their humanitarian external costs. “I can bring world leaders to the river,” he explained, “but I cannot force them to drink water.”[3] What lies only implicit, unfortunately, in relating these two points is the lack of any governmental sovereignty on Ban’s level, on which resolving humanitarian crises is not an externality. Depending on government officials on another level to respond as if this were so on their level too is foolish, not to mention erroneous. In fact, it may even be unethical, given the fiduciary duty of elected national officials to represent their respective constituents. That Ban backed off from mention of this structural flaw in the global fabric is telling, particularly given the conflict of interest that exists for any national official in deciding whether to cede some sovereignty to the UN or retain the authority. Ban wants to keep his job, and he knows where the true power lies in the UN.

Leadership, especially the visionary sort, does not respond to crisis after crisis; rather, a vision is of an alternative paradigm, and thus connotes structural change in governance systems. Perhaps political leadership had been so melted down into public administration and the culture of managerialism by 2014 that structural change even as an ideal could only be imagined as an oxymoron, and certainly not uttered in the public square. With such a tight straight-jacket, it is no wonder that pressures around the world built up and exploded. Are we then left with a tale of two cities—one gripped by a pathological fear of change and the other moved only in fits by revolutionary fervor? Is the want of visionary leadership in formulating, enunciating, and advocating systemic change to be forever sacrificed in favor of either Edwin Burke’s conservatism or Robespierre’s forced radical change?

[1]Oren Dorell, “U.N. Chief: Crises at New High,” USA Today, August 20, 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Unfairness and the Brain: Behind CNN's Biased Coverage of the Israel v. Gaza Conflict

Watching CNN on August 4, 2014, I tuned into CNN when Wolf Blitzer briefly mentioned the number of Palestinians killed that day only to quickly pivot to a focus on Israel's successful interception of two rockets. He went on to interview an Israeli official on the defense system to the extent of near obsession. The implication is that an Israeli life is worth more than a dozen Palestinian lives. At the very least, the editorial judgment is questionable, if not suspect. 

My question is not so much as to why CNN (and other news editors and reporters) is so biased; they are human after all. I find it more interesting that so many viewers have such a tolerance for unfairness that they continue to watch.[1] CNN would not have been giving the story such airtime were viewers fleeing like bats out of hell. As soon as I realized that Blitzer's attention would be on the intercepted rockets even as scores of Palestinians had died that day, I changed the channel. Did many other people watching have the same sentiment of disapprobation I instinctively felt and simply dismiss it when it came to deciding on whether to act? Or, do people have different instinctual tolerances for unfairness, whether as bias primped up as neutral journalism or the unfair fight being covered? Perhaps different life-experiences intervene, rendering the common instinct more or less sensitive to the external stimuli. Lastly, not everyone is going to make the same choice regarding how to respond.

Nevertheless, we can look inside the brain, at how it functions normally, to get at whether a certain tolerance for unfairness is species-wide even if individuals differ in how far the tolerance extends. The process of natural selection may have left its mark, and the matter of self-interest or self-preservation is never far when discussing human nature. Crucially, the extent to which a person’s own interests—including one’s self-identity—or those of one’s friends—are involved in a given case of unfairness impacts how reasoning, or cognition, and emotions, or the passions, affect the tolerance.

Experiments have found that activity in the cognitive area of the brain, the cognitive dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), increases the amount of tolerance beyond that which the emotional area, the anterior insula cortex, will permit. Simply put, by thinking over whether to accept a condition that is unfair to you—that feels unfair (and is)—a person analyzes whether acceptance is in his or her own interest. If it is, then the person is more likely to override his or her anger at the unfairness and accept.

In one study, $100 is to be divided between two players—one of whom makes an offer, which the other person can accept or reject. The game is played only once, and anonymously. So the person tasked with accepting or rejecting the offer must decide whether a distribution unfair to him or her is worth accepting, given that rejecting it would mean he or she would not receive any money. Rationally, he or she would accept any offer, even one in which the other player gets $95 of the $100 because $5 is more than not getting anything. Emotionally, however, the responder may reject blatantly unfair offers. In the experiment, this second player rejected offers in which he or she would receive 30% or less of the $100. At that point, the emotive response outweighs cognitive calculation.

In another experiment, magnetic pulses were used to reduce the activity of the relevant emotional area of the brain (don’t try this at home!) while leaving the cognitive area untouched and thus fully functional. The result is that more unfair offers with less than 30% of the total $100 are accepted. The suppression of the sentiment of disapprobation that is triggered by instances of unfairness gives cognition the upper hand. The person can more easily conclude that tolerating the unfairness is worth the (diminished) emotional cost of resenting the other person for getting more than deserved. In business terms, the break-even point shifts in the direction of greater tolerance. Reason can speak internally with less suffocating clutter being spewed out by the passions: self-interest does not reside ultimately in relieving momentarily unpleasant feelings. Accordingly, the dominance of the cognitive area in the brain results in more tolerance for unfairness in cases in which the person’s self-interest is directly impacted by the unfairness.

The rational self-interest impacts the tolerance by reasoning that the person gets more in spite of the unfairness than without it. Less directly, the gravity of the self-interest can be expected to inexorably skew the person’s perception to an angle at which the unfairness is conveniently less transparent, and the tolerance more bearable. The person’s assumptions naturally comply. By means of their larger framework—a paradigm of assumptions unconsciously organizing experience with the world—they bend perception itself accordingly.

The CNN viewers who self-identified with Israel, for example, would not have perceived the bias fully, or even at all. Hence, the rational self-interest can triumph without so much emotional turmoil over the alleged unfairness to be tolerated. What about the viewers whose rational self-interest is not invested in either side the conflict, or with CNN? With perception freed up, though certainly not objective, the appearance of the bias cannot be assuaged or mollified. Nor is rational self-interest there to justify tolerating more unfairness.

Yet even so, self-interest generalized as self-preservation—that genetic instinct informed by the process of natural selection and elevated by reason—may still enable more tolerance. We humans can evince a chilling tolerance for unfairness that is borne by others rather than ourselves. The underlying culprit here may be our survival instinct, which is etched into the fabric of our very being through the myriad of accretions pronounced by natural selection on our species’ genome. We may have a greater confidence of our own survival by vicariously "living" through the dominance of an alpha male unfairly dominating a weaker constitution. Any sentiment of disapprobation proffering a harsh ethical verdict is also instinctual, but the primal urge of self-preservation more successfully marries instinct to reason and is thus habitually more powerful. According to Nietzsche, reason consists of contending instincts—the strongest urge being victorious as conscious thought. The instinct of self-preservation affords more tolerance of the unfair than the moral sentiment would allow. Society, including its organizations, may magnify this tendency.

Broadcasters may orient their news broadcasts to the cognitive dimension in highlighting facts, statistics, and news analysis. CNN suffers less of a financial disincentive from decreased viewership in exploiting an unfair fight and taking sides, even if tacitly in the choice of paradigm undergirding the news reports.  

Moreover, modern society itself, being oriented to scientific advancement (e.g., in medicine) and technological innovation (e.g., engineering) over the humanities (e.g., philosophy), may privilege the brain’s cognitive functioning over moral, sympathetic feelings. The news media may simply be reflecting this overall ethos. Ironically, the teachings of some major philosophers, Hume excepted, advocate for the hegemony of the rational dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Reason has what Kant termed “absolute value.” Furthermore, Plato’s theory of justice requires reason to subjugate emotions so as to provide order to the psyche and polis (city), which are then in musical/mathematical harmony with the harmony of the heavenly spheres (i.e., stars and planets). Within this “justice as order” prescription, greater tolerance for unfairness can be expected as the sentiment of disapprobation is subordinated.

In conclusion, the bias implicit in the CNN report relies on not only the rationalistic values esteemed in the technological age, but also a natural proclivity in how the human brain coordinates its internal parts. We may be inclined both as a society and as individuals to accommodate instances of unfairness that are repugnant to us emotionally—even those in which we decide to bear the unfairness ourselves. Just think how easy it must be for us to tolerate unfairness when someone else must bear the burden.