Oh, silly me!

Are you easily fooled? Recently I went to a price comparison site before I renewed some insurance. And – way ahead of competitors – was a company offering the lowest rate. Not being easily fooled, I Googled the company, and I was delighted to see, from the plaudits received, the warmth with which its customers viewed it. Clearly this was a company which acted promptly and professionally. Its customers regarded it with affection, and reported having built up personal relationships with members of staff. I was ready to buy.

Having a few minutes to spare, I idly tried another site. Goodness! This was full of dire complaints about the very same company. There was example after example of poor service, including big charges for minor changes, documents being sent late, or not at all, and a general approach which treated the unfortunate punter as someone to be milked and abandoned.

Now, what was I to make of this? Do you think it possible that the first site was an invention by the company concerned? How cynical! There have been stories around of writers posting laudatory reviews of their books on the internet and minor celebrities ready to doctor their own biographies. So I am back to my own insurance company. It’s not the cheapest, but at least it works.

Of course, we are all capable of fooling ourselves. About the age of 10 I used to read an American magazine called Popular Mechanics. A group of smokers claimed that they always chose a particular brand; they would have none other. So they were asked to smoke a number of different brands while blindfolded. When they identified their favourite it usually happened to be the one cigarette in the group which was unlit. Nowadays, I look out for studies of, say, expert wine-tasters, and I rejoice when I read that supermarket plonk is often chosen ahead of a classic vintage.

Such outcomes are not necessarily as damning as one might suppose. It seems that when we taste something which is identified as our favourite brand it may actually taste better, through some alchemy of the brain. But how about my own capacity for discrimination? I’d rather not test that.

An interesting example occurred last year in the vexing matter of teachers giving too many C grades when marking external coursework. They were very upset when Ofqual pointed this out and understandably annoyed when they could get little chapter and verse. But, of course, they couldn’t expect that. Teachers rightly have to use some discretion but, however conscientiously they do so, they will tend to mark in the student’s favour. And this simply shows up as a statistical spike just on the right side of the sacred C grade. You can’t trace the actual teachers, but the bias stares you in the face. The same phenomenon can also appear in scientific studies, where there is a statistical spike just over the level at which a result is technically considered significant. No one cheats, it’s just self-indulgent human nature.

Scarcity has a value. I remember when the first Mini Coopers came on to the market in the 1960s. They were out of my league at the whopping price of some £700. Not that it mattered: there were very few around. And then I saw a garage in north London offering one – just one. I was up there, deposit paid, before the day ended. Why are so many offers just about to come to an end? Of course we know why: we are not fooled even as the barbed hook reels us in. Ironically, Which? magazine tells us of airfares which can be actually cheaper after the offer has ended. And beware the salespeople who tell you that, if you buy right away, you will get some extra benefit. Aren’t they generous?

Scarcity is effective because it addresses our fear of loss. It’s interesting that significantly few people will take a chance on a coin toss which will lose them £100 or win them £200. The loss of the first is more frightening than the attraction of the second – although a gambling man would leap at the chance of such odds.

But there is one area where we can be confident that people are not fooled. I speak of judges and magistrates. These guardians of our liberty are trained to vet evidence and to make wise decisions. Which leaves us with an awkward question: how is it that a 2011 study of judicial decisions related to parole matters showed clearly that the clemency of the judges was directly affected by the length of time since their last meal or snack break?

Decisions in favour of the prisoners, initially in 65 per cent of cases, dropped steadily over time down to zero, but leapt back to 65 per cent immediately after the next break. It is unsettling to realise that your freedom under the law depends more on the comfort of your judge’s stomach than it does on the evidence. And that leaves aside all the issues like the judge’s temperament, the row they had with their spouse that morning and whether you, the plaintiff, are an attractive person with an educated accent.

Such examples might lead us to be suspicious of everyone we encounter, and, even if that is justified, it is rather depressing. We might be better served by gazing inwards and looking for better ways in which we lessen our own biases. Since rationality is identified as one of the major ways in which we are created in the image of God, increasing our own rationality is a worthwhile objective.

We might consider our biases, our prejudices, our lacks of discrimination, and the occasions when we allow our emotions to contaminate our reason. There are those who acknowledge that we are all susceptible and so are on their guard, and those who don’t – and so continue to make the same mistakes

About Quentin

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91 Responses to Oh, silly me!

  1. ionzone says:

    This is a very common trait with people in general and I am glad that Quentin has brought it up since it is something we all need to be very aware of in ourselves. It is also the reason that people will believe just about any nasty rumour they hear about something they despise or love and will lower their standards of evidence to zero when it it comes to this subject. For example, to a racist:

    [i]Mugging of white man by black man = evidence all black people pick on whites.

    Mugging of black man by white man = evidence of black people and ‘race traitors’ in the media picking on whites. Black man ‘had it coming’.[/i]

    I wish I was kidding. All humans are prone to this sort of warped logic and it is interesting how much of what we do and say is pure prejudice. And the funny thing is that the victims of this hate often allow themselves to be bullied into accepting the lies and rumours of the people who despise them as truth, while the people who hate them are prone to this kind of thinking:

    [i]*If you supply evidence I will refuse to read it whilst also rejecting it as insufficient, biased, propaganda, or rumour based on nothing whatsoever beyond my own feelings. The people who wrote it are charlatans. However if I hear a rumour about *you* it is automatically true no matter how much evidence you have and how stupid the rumour.*[/i]

    I think we have all fallen into this trap to some extent, including myself, I am ashamed to admit. A powerful example of this in action is the inclusion on the ‘myth busting’ program QI of things that even Wikipedia would laugh at, such as the idea that there was once a female pope who was only found out when she gave birth in public and that this has resulted in every new pope being groped by a cardinal who then loudly proclaims (in Latin, of course) that the pope has nice…dangly bits. This is an astonishing load of rubbish, but that doesn’t mean you won’t hear it repeated with astonishing regularity by people who really ought to know better. If you rebuke them they will argue and argue at astonishing length, but what they will never, ever, do is provide you with evidence. They might quote some famous person repeating the myth, but for them the rhetoric and rumour is actually better proof than the enormous pile of historical documents that prove that this can’t possibly be the case.

    The same is also true of the idea that religion ’causes all war’ and the idea that Christianity is based on something like thirty or forty different pagan gods who bear absolutely no resemblance to Jesus, even if you really, really, look for the smallest similarity (and at least one who post-dates Jesus by several centuries).

    I have, of course, revealed my own prejudices here simply by the type of examples I choose to give. Oh the irony…. :p

  2. Vincent says:

    Now that’s very interesting. By coincidence I had two occasions today.

    The first was a telephone call from a well spoken lady who told me that because I was under 60, I qualified for a special bonus of £1500. Since I am not under 60 I simply put the telephone down, and waited till it cleared.

    (These scams lead to requesting ‘necessary’ information to establish identity. If you respond appropriately your bank account will be cleared out on the same day. Why do people fall for such an obvious scan? The answer is that the scammers are happy to avoid knowledgeable people – and rely on the dumbos to get their money.)

    The second related to me trying to find a solution to a minor problem on my computer. I found a very convincing program which promised to analyse my whole computer and to correct all the errors. I downloaded it, and it started scanning. Meanwhile I consulted the internet, as I always do with programs I cannot identify. No one suggested that it was a con, but just a bit dodgy. I went back to the scan and found that I apparently had no less than 301 errors in my registry. This is an old trick! Offer a free scan, report a multitude of errors, and your customer will, in panic, pay $30 to have them removed. Who would be stupid enough to get caught? (Me actually. I was caught that way a few years back – which was why I wasn’t caught this time.)

  3. Claret says:

    One of my sons is soon to marry a young lady he met on the internet. Nothing too unusual in that situation nowadays ( a TV advert claims 1 in 5 relationships now begin that way.) However when I tell people that the lady is Russian you can see by the look on their faces that they have already decided she is a dole cheat , only wants benefits, is insincere, has dishonest motives and yet they have not even met her !
    I was reflecting that if I had said she was French or American I doubt there would be a single one of those thoughts come to mind.
    A racial assumption is made that 100 million Russian females are all of the same mind. I find myself in a constant round of pointing out that she cannot even work for six months, that she is not entitled to benefits and if she or my son try to claim any then she will be swiftly dispatched back to Russia. She has to have a Visa to come here and then has to apply for a series of Visas after that to remain here.For each of these Visas to be granted very strict conditions have to be met. That all this costs a fortune for both of them. However i have now stopped explaining because it is a totally uselss exercise. Minds have been made up in seconds and will not be shifted.
    I am experiencing racial prejudice at first hand.
    How many posters reading the first few lines of this post had already come to an unfavourable judgement on her ? Racial prejudice comes in many forms

  4. Singalong says:

    Accents are a great source of prejudice. I believe a Liverpool accent doesn`t command much trust or respect. I lost mine very quickly, at the age of 15, when we moved “down South”, and were laughed at, and deliberately misunderstood, which is very hard to take at that age.
    My own Achilles heel, I am afraid, is most American accents.

    • Quentin says:

      There was an important book on the subject: ‘Does Accent Matter’ by Professor John Honey. It shows how much our judgment is affected by different accents. For example, when people are asked to watch a possible criminal being questioned by the police their verdict on whether or not he was guilty was significantly related to accent. I fear that Liverpool didn’t do well — not did Birmingham or Glasgow. BBC English was clearly the accent of the innocent! It was written over 20 years ago, but I don’t suppose there has been any radical change. A study two years ago at a German university confirmed that accent is “much more important than how a person looks. (not that we would believe this because it would have been discussed in a foreign accent. And we tend to mistrust foreign accents; it starts very early – babies distinguish foreign speakers when they are only hours old, having learnt ‘native’ sounds in the womb)

  5. St.Joseph says:

    When I met my husband at a dance in London , I was 17 he 21,
    Whilst dancing I told him I was a Catholic (silly me) He said ‘Oh no, not one of those, pray to statues, worship Mary, next door neighbours to my parents are Catholics, and you want to see how they behave’. So we sat down for the next 2 hrs drinking Cola or some pop from a machine (it was in the Mecca Dance Hall in Finsbury Pk London a big dance Hall , and I told him what Catholics really believed in. I thought I wont see him again.But I told him where I worked and he phoned up the next day.and asked me to go to the pictures. 4 years later we were married,It was by chance that he went to the dance from Finchley.
    He was a Methodist but lapsed, he used to come to Mass and Tuesday Novena of the Miraculous Medal. In those days I only had non-catholic friends
    They used to call me the ‘little catholic girl. I didn’t hide my faith under a bushel.It did not enter my head to mix with Catholics, nor does it now. But do have plenty of Catholic friends,Even my non church going friends send me holy Christmas Cards.
    Strangely though, my parents moved back to Eire when I was 9 for a few years with my fathers job, and an English boy was on holiday visiting his grandmother playing with a crowd of children, they were all called in by their mothers, but not me, it was because he was a protestant.Yet a lot of their parents had pictures of the Royal Family hanging in their hall.
    ‘Nowt as queer as folk’ , as my late husband used to say . being Yorkshire.

  6. Nektarios says:

    If we have a bias or prejudice, opinion, we have reached a conclusion. I wonder if we realize that blocks us from any further enquiry. If have an opinion about someone,or something, that prevents further enquiry.
    If we have hundreds of biases, prejudices and opinions forming conclusions and are blocking our way to finding out,then the question is what is one to do? How can I be free from biases, prejudices, opinions and forming conclusions?
    As the contributors so far seem to infer or imply….I don’t know?

    Can I suggest we start there… I don’t know? I have hundrends of biases, prejudices, opinions and conclusions about many things. I don’t know why I have them, how I got them, or why I hold on to them
    and I don’t know how to be free of them. Yes, let’s start there, but saying, I don’t know!
    Perhaps some are thinking, ah wait a minute, what if I keep my good biases and prejudices, opinions and conclusions and get rid of the bad ones? I’ll keep those biases and prejudices that are comforting, those that are fashionable, that gratify, which are satisfactory, then am I not still playing with my biases, prejudice and opinions?

    So what am I do? I don’t know how I have a acquired them, I don’t know what to do with them. So my mind does not know. Right?
    Do see the beauty of this. My mind does not know, so it therefore has the vitality and desire to learn.
    So my mind is now capable of learning.
    It does not know why or how it has these biases, prejudices, opinion and conclusion, so the mind then has a tremendous energy to find out.

    • St.Joseph says:

      A saying of my mothers when she took people at face value and then learned differently was
      ‘Yes”If you want to know me come and live with me’.!!
      We do well to be cautious.

    • Horace says:

      When I was in my last year in school one of my schoolfellows put up his hand and asked “Sir, aren’t you going to tell us about the exam we are to take next week?”
      He received the reply “You are here to be educated – not to pass examinations!”.
      How different from the attitude today.

      Still, it does raise the question “What is education for?”.
      From one point of view education helps one to make wise, reasoned, informed decisions.
      From another point of view education instills prejudices which, as Quentin points out, interfere with the rationality of our decisions.

      Prejudices are very important to brain functioning because otherwise we simply get stuck in thinking about things and never actually get round to doing anything!

      So should we try to acquire good prejudices and try to avoid bad ones?
      One answer is that we should, from time to time, deliberately think about decisions that we have made and analyse, carefully and logically, the possible prejudices that have conditioned these decisions.
      Perhaps we should also pray to God for the grace of guidance.

      • Nektarios says:

        On your first point on Education: Education teaches you what to think, not how to think.
        So Let me ask you, in learning, does one acquire knowledge and use that knowledge to get rid of
        ones biases, prejudices, opinions and conclusions?

        On another point you make, Horace: “Prejudices are very important to brain functioning because otherwise we simply get stuck in thinking about things and never actually get round to doing anything.”

        If I may suggest, Horace, perhaps, you want to get rid of your biases, prejudices,opinions and conclusions, go beyond them, be free of them? I don’t.
        I don’t know how I have these biases, prejudices and opinions I have got, I don’t know how to get rid of them, therefore I am willng to learn. I see that these biases and so on, block my finding out.

        Again, Horace,If, one wants to be selective and hold some biases, prejudices, opinions, and their conclusions and not others, then, are we not just playing around with our biases, prejudices and so on?
        Can I ask our fellow bloggers and readers if we are together following this – it’s fun!

      • Vincent says:

        I wouldn’t presume to be sure that I was following all this, but some things seem to be clear. If prejudice means pre-judgment (am I being naive?) then it is a necessary but dangerous thing. It is necessary because I can only understand new experiences in the light of old experiences. But it is dangerous if I allow those old experiences simply to define how I understand the new experience.

      • Iona says:

        “Good prejudices” – isn’t that a contradiction in terms? What sort of thing do you have in mind as a “good prejudice”?

      • Horace says:

        prejudice :-
        an attitude that always favours one way of feeling or acting especially, without considering any other possibilities. [Other definitions tend to be pejorative].

        I would argue that, as Vincent says, prejudice is “a necessary but dangerous thing”.

        I suggest that to say ” Mr X is a well known and reliable person; therefore when he expresses an opinion it is probably true.” would be a ‘good prejudice’.

  7. Peter D. Wilson says:

    As a Radio 3 addict (now how many prejudices does that raise, I wonder?) I used to be irritated by the accent of one Ian MacMillan in plugs for coming broadcasts, but having heard more of him I rather like it, so evidently prejudices are not immutable; maybe my irritation was due more to his forced jocularity on those occasions than the accent itself.

  8. St.Joseph says:

    I am not following it.!That does not mean I am biased to what you say.I can not be biased of something I don’t understand.
    My human instincts tell me to use my instincts, and if I think it is important then I will find out. what you are trying to prove.But you will have to interest me a bit more first. I don’t believe that is me being prejudiced either.

  9. Nektarios says:

    St. Joseph
    Nevertheless, we all have our biases, prejudices, opinions and if we are drawing conclusions built upon
    biases, prejudices and opinions then it blocks our way to any further investigation into anything by us.
    I am not trying to prove anything, but looking, hopefully together at the fact, we all have our biasies, prejudices and opinions.
    If I am ever to deal with these, then thinking one can keep some biases and not others is only playing around with them, but not getting rid of them.
    As I have said, I have my own biases, prejudices, opinions and conclusions drawn from those.
    I don’t know why I have got them, I don’t know what I am supposed to do with them and so on.
    So having said to myself, I don’t know, why I act out of biases, prejudices and opinions, my mind wants to find out.
    If for example my understanding of God, the Church, social, moral issues political issues, then prejudices, biases and opinions block my way to further enquiry because it has upon these prejudices and so on drawn conclusions.
    So I don’t start blurting out or argung from a biased and prejudiced position, because these block any enquiry into God, the Church, social and moral issues or political issues by me.
    I don’t know why that is, but it is a fact.
    Therefore as I said previously, I start with I don’t know, them my mind is prepared to learn.
    Does that help St. Joseph

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you. But I am not too sure whether you are serious or not.!
      Why are you thinking about these biases and prejudices.,and how seriously do they affect your life.
      Likes and dislikes are a part of living, are they the kind of things you speak about,
      I have many dislikes, they don’t worry me,nor do I diagnose the reasons why I have them.
      I dislike going up escalators but if it affects me too much-I have a choice and take the stairs.I don’t like eating meat only maybe a little ham, so I can ask my self why I don’t, I can say it must not be the animal that puts me off beef.. I wont eat sausages as I don’t know what is in them etc etc etc. But they don’t rule my conscience..
      Perhaps you can say what the prejudices you have and the reason why you consider them so important.
      We have spoken on the blog on many subjects and have given our ‘opinions’-I would not call them biases or prejudices.
      I know why I hold my opinions and beliefs.and know why others hold theirs through discussions here.
      In the end it all boils down to your definition of being biased and prejudiced.-only you can answer that one. I would suggest you forget about them and get on with your life.
      Does that help.

  10. Nektarios says:

    St Joseph

    It does not help really.
    Consider, I am everyman and everyman is me: So when it comes of to considering the effects biases, prejudices, opinions and the conclusion one has on account of such biases and prejudices, that is, the whole of humanity.
    I am glad you care, for you seem to think I am weighed down by these problems – but no more than any of the rest of us. So, when I use the word I, change it to the word one, or us, or we.
    Afterall ,this is the topic Quentin has layed before us to discuss, is it not?

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph
      error – delete the word `of’ in the second line. – Thank you

      • St.Joseph says:

        Yes this is the topic that we are discussing-perhaps I don’t understand the meaning of bias and prejudices.
        I base my opinions on my experiences in life.
        When I spoke about my late husband having pre-conceived opinions of Catholics before he met me,but he did not become a Catholic because of what I told him,it may have planted a seed,but it took a lot of reading and soul searching, we were 44 years married before he entered into the Church-although always came.
        He had pre-conceived ideas about abortion until he saw the Silent Scream film and then became a pro-life worker.
        As an early teenager living in North London and working in a large office in a large Company in Shoreditch,mixed with all nationalities and religions,and all became friends,black, brown and yellow, and Jewish, we met socially at Harringay ice rink, Jazz Clubs, Soho coffee bars,great fun-but always my Church. for me. We should have as Catholics pre-conceived ideas that people don’t understand our faith or know about the Catholic Church since Our Blessed Mothers Conception,and some think that we just popped up as another religion, a lot of my friends in those days didn’t know who the pope was or Who he represented.. But we were a good crowd in those days.Lots of fun and no harm done!
        That is why I agree with Quentin about Vatican 2, it did bring the Church to Life in the modern world to expand, but I believe when it is ‘sorted’, It will maybe have to reduce now to be a better Church in the future for our grandchildren,that is the pre-conceived Hope that I pray for.

  11. Singalong says:

    Names, Christian or “First”, especially, but surnames as well, are a great source of prejudice. I usually have an initial picture of an individual as soon as I hear it, but would hope this is pending more information and better acquaintance.
    A few years ago, legend had it that teachers always had it in for Darrens and Waynes. I think the names have changed now, but some children are labelled before they open their mouths. And of course they often react to this treatment and live up to it.

    • Nektarios says:


      I agree with you, however prejudice went much further in many others and my case
      who were orphans. Then their prejudices took on the form of positive discrimination.
      I fear things have not changed much over the last 65 years, though the rhetoric has – hypocritical window dressing as I call it.

      St. Joseph,
      We may go into the issue of bias, prejudice, opinion and the effects of such conclusions
      which we all have them, yes even this old double-dyed sinner, that is if we all really want to look at this together? I am concerned that not only we, but all the other readers who so far have not found the courage to contribute to the blog yet do do so,as they can see it is them too, and their contributions would be very welcome and surprise us all, in a nice way.
      Looking up the dictionary will give you the general idea of the meaning of these words.
      The effects however are not included in the dictionary definition.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I did look in the old Oxford Pocket Dictionary and it says- ‘Pre conceived opinion bias adverse presumption.
        Then Prejudicial says ‘ having tendency to do harm’..
        Which is different to being prejudiced which does not necessarily do harm to anyone., only if they are that kind of person anyway..We are all entitled to our opinions as long as we respect each other.Which I think we do on this blog, and when Quentin keeps tabs on us!!.
        But thank you. I don’t mind admitting I left school in Ireland at 14 -so didn’t learn the definition of words-but get by with a dictionary .

      • Vincent says:

        It’s odd, isn’t it?, that when we say someone is prejudiced we take it to mean something like ‘to have a bad opinion of’ and not the opposite. The word ‘critical’ is similar. If I were to say that I was critical of you, you would think I meant there was something wrong. In fact my ‘critical’ verdict of you could be an admiring one.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Singalong – There could be a rational basis for a prejudice against some names. The parents’ choice, unless merely frivolous, indicates a preference for a certain kind of role model. A teacher who considered the choice unworthy might well suspect that the unworthiness or frivolity could rub off on the child.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I always thought that when one was baptised they were required to have a Saints name.
        I don’t know if it is the same now.

      • Singalong says:

        Thank you, Peter, yes, I can agree with that, as long as he is careful not to give the dog a bad name and hang him too quickly. Our local Catholic hospital chaplain is Fr. Darren!

  12. Geordie says:

    I think I would be more inclined to make the effort to follow the above discussions if they weren’t so long and rambling. I have a prejudice against long sermons, long speeches and over-long posts.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Maybe you did not notice but my reply’s were to Nektarios, you dont have to read them!
      I believe it is good manners to respond to the person by name when it is for their notice,not anyone else’s.If they don’t wish to.
      You could say that is a prejudice of mine.!

    • Nektarios says:


      Me too! I hope my contributions don’t seem rambling to you, sermonizing or speechy?
      Hope this post meets with your desire for brevity?

    • Quentin says:

      Geordie, I’m glad that you raised this subject. I have always felt that a big advantage of contributing to a blog is that you can have more than one go. So there’s no temptation to put too many points into one contribution. It is the nature of the internet, I have always thought, that readers prefer the reasonably short, well planned, contribution.

      And that’s what we usually get. Mostly, they are thoughtful and move the discussion on. That is why I see them as a conversation between friends who know they won’t always agree but are ready to learn from each other.

  13. St.Joseph says:

    Was that really necessary?
    I find Nektarios posts quite interesting and thought provoking. One has to ‘listen’ to what he is saying. I may get it wrong sometimes . We ‘all’ do not say what we want to in one sentence!!!!.

  14. mike Horsnall says:

    I’m with Rahner and Geordie here… (ramble ramble- bleat bleat)

  15. Nektarios says:

    MH, Geordie & Rahner,

    Pouring cold water on others contributions is not worthy of you.
    Now can we have your contribution relating to the present topic and discussion?
    I am sure you have plenty to say?

    • St.Joseph says:

      I believe that we lose all our inhibitions on SS or at least we can.
      I don’t know about any one else, but sometimes I speak from my heart and soul. to others who I have never met.
      This to me is a very good therapy whereby I would not speak about subjects to anyone else. Not that I couldn’t but because opportunity’s don’t arise.
      I for one live alone-I do have a social life, and a good family, and Church , but where could I get into a conversation like we do here on the blog,which Quentin reminded us that we do among friends.
      I do find it sad when one stoops to undermine those who through their thoughts have entered into the thoughts of others who we don’t know and are willing to divulge our secret thoughts and part of our lives that maybe we have forgotten.
      I for one have remembered a great part of my life-and I am sorry I don’t write a script first-for those who may find it to boring and waste of time to read.
      I understand that , although I always am interested in the experiences that other people have and are always ready to listen, and take note.
      That’s all I have to say!!


      • Rahner says:

        I have lost count of the number of times you have condemned me as a heretic….not that I would take your remarks that seriously anyway…..

      • St.Joseph says:

        Rahner If that comment is for me .I want to know what you mean by that remark., I take it as an accusation. Prove it.!

    • Mike Horsnall says:

      er….it was a joke yer honour.

  16. Mr Smug says:

    I’m not quite sure why the discussion is entirely around prejudices. We’ve done that one before, when we had great fun disclosing our own. I think the conclusions there were: prejudices are inevitable; some are more rational than others; if you are aware of them, you can compensate for them to some degree at least; you cannot make your mind up anew from scratch about every issue each time time it comes up, because life is too short.

    More interesting is Quentin’s point about sub-concious effects on judgements (or indeed judgments – legal ones, that is). Human judgements of things like appropriate sentences are unavoidable (I suppose – would you want them done by a computer?) It’s difficult to compensate for what you don’t know about. But if you do know that you tend to impose harsher sentences when you’re hungry, what do you do? Only make such judgements at 10am after a standard breakfast, a cup of coffee and a Mars bar?

    • tim says:

      Mr Smug, aka tim. I don’t know why the system sometimes lets me change my pen-name and sometimes seems to select one at random.

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Its just to keep us on our toes Tim-makes sure we don’t hurl insults at strangers for fear of being detected-a bit like the Spanish inquisition…..

      • Horace says:

        I think that you may either have reset your browser or be using a different browser or computer.

    • Nektarios says:

      We may have discussed the issues of prejudices before, mentioned a few of our own perhaps, the rational and irrationality of such biases, prejudices, opinions etc.
      Now we are looking beyond mere definition of these words to the effects it has upon our judgements and actions – more accurately, reactions, if we allow our prejudices to hold sway in our mind.
      When it comes to biases, prejudices and opinions, it is the formulating in these prejudices etc certain conclusions.
      Have come to a conclusion blocks one from enquiring further.
      Take a simple example: One says, I believe in God, and another says, I don’t believe in God. If that is their bias or prejudice or opinion, then such a conclusion stop the conversation on the matter and in each case, they cannot move any further.
      The problems this has caused humanity is not easy to quantify, but it has led man to the sorry state of isolation, and a fragmenting society, globally.
      So Tim, it is worth revisiting the topic perhaps, as not everything on the subject, by far
      has been explored. Perhaps you see it differently?

  17. St.Joseph says:

    I take Nektarios post here as a good example of this post. If my thinking is right.
    We all have biases and prejudices. It is how we handle them, rectify them, and to what conclusion we have reached then how. we no longer hold them up as correct in our opinion.
    That is why I think it is necessary to give our own and other experiences that have changed our and their lives.. It may be helping someone else to see things differently when we or they have the same.

    • Singalong says:

      Here is one of my experiences:
      My father had to leave his wife and children for over 4 years to fight in Burma in WW II. He was not imprisoned or tortured, but he became ill out there, and died a few years after eventually coming home.
      Consequently, I was rather prejudiced against the Japanese as a nation, to say the least, for a good many years. I was desperately sorry for their sufferings in the attack on Hiroshima, but not at all pleased to hear accounts of their efficiency, and wonderful economic progress, and to see so many tourists over here.
      Gradually, these feelings have subsided, but I wonder quite how they stand in relation to Christ`s teaching that we must love our enemies.

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        Singalong – That prejudice, though regrettable (and in my experience of Japanese people greatly mistaken), is entirely understandable.

        Probably through luck in past acquaintances I have a prejudice in favour of new ones. That means I may be gulled; in fact on one occasion I know I was for a time, though having had suspicions all along could easily afford the consequences. Especially since I later came across precisely trhe same scam described in a John Grisham novel, and realised that the scammer had started from a completely false premise, I found the whole episode amusing rather than otherwise .

        It does leave a question, though: how far, in any particular instance, is it wise to give an unknown the benefit of any doubt?

    • Quentin says:

      A little story in the papers this morning gives us another view of our inclinations. The study (funded by a chocolate company) measured what occurrences triggered the most immediate happiness in human beings. Perhaps it says something about bias?

      “A surprise £10 windfall generated the highest average score of 82.9. At the other end of the scale, listening to badly played violin emerged as one of the most unpleasant experiences, with a rating of minus 55.7.” Fuller story at

      • Singalong says:

        We should have had a dreadful time in the 1970`s, when two of our children were learning to play the violin, but I remember enjoying it! Fond parent bias in operation?

      • Horace says:

        I can’t really believe this story. What activity was measured? [Fast rhythms in EEG??]
        How was it measured? (Average amplitude of rhythms in the beta range?)
        Having tried this sort of measurement myself I know how difficult it is to differentiate brain rhythms from artefacts.

      • Horace says:

        My prejudices ?

      • Quentin says:

        Sorry Horace, I know nothing more. A similar story appears in the Daily Telegraph. I have no reason to suppose that the study was peer reviewed as no journal; appears to be quoted. You can Google Dr Funke Baffour. You will have to decide whether that gives you more or less confidence.

      • Horace says:

        Thanks for your suggestion.
        I am still trying to recover from my surprise! What price prejudice?

  18. Iona says:

    Horace – on “good” prejudices –

    I suggest that to say ” Mr X is a well known and reliable person; therefore when he expresses an opinion it is probably true.” would be a ‘good prejudice’.

    I don’t take much interest in competitive cycling, but have recently heard a number of people (who do take such an interest) talking about Lance Armstrong who after winning goodness knows how many races has finally admitted that he was using banned performance-enhancing substances. The people I have been listening to were previously great admirers of Armstrong, and now are upset or positively incandescent at his behaviour. They might be said to have been prejudiced in his favour; but was this really a “good” prejudice? It led them to an inaccurate judgement, which they now clearly regret having had.
    Another example: Jimmy Savile, such a great chap, raised all that money for charity. Such a view shows a prejudice in his favour, but hardly a “good” one in view of the outcome. If fewer people had held that prejudice, fewer children might have been abused.

    • Horace says:

      Good point! However there is an old saying “The exception proves the rule”.

      See Mr Smug above “you cannot make your mind up anew from scratch about every issue each time time it comes up, because life is too short”.

  19. St.Joseph says:

    The news this morning said that the drop in children going into hospital suffering from asthma since the ban on smoking was reducing considerably. They gave the % per year since 2007
    Will that make people who smoke ‘biased and prejudiced’ and give it up. I wonder.

  20. John Nolan says:

    Quentin’s point about the effect of hunger on judicial decisions put me in mind of Pope’s famous couplet in ‘The Rape of the Lock’:

    The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
    And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.

    I read once that it is not a good idea for a jury to try more than one case. Defendant A comes up, the jury hears the evidence and finds him not guilty. It then transpires he has a criminal record as long as your arm. Defendant B already has the scales weighted against him. If I am ever up in front of the beak, I hope my case is listed early.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Someone told me once that only a few at time passed their driving test to keep cars off the road. Seems a bit far fetched.

      The doctors have changed the blood testing strips for diabetes for £15 cheaper a box of 50.
      False economy as they are not as accurate as the old ones, I and many others have found. One needs to take it twice to get an accurate reading, or maybe 3 times.
      There is going to be a meeting. I am biased often on false economy.

  21. Singalong says:

    Peter, how about somebody dissatisfied with their spouse, going through a bad patch in their marriage, or unrealistically looking for total perfection? Such a person might well be very vulnerable, and likely to see alternative prospects through rose tinted spectacles.

  22. Nektarios says:

    It seems we all have many biases, prejudices, opinions and draw conclusions from them.
    It also seem clear from the discussion so far, we hardly recongnise we have them, thousands of them
    about practically everything we can think about, drawing our conclusions, based on our bias, prejudice and opinions.
    Again, it seems clear from the discussion we do not know what to do about them, keep them, play around with them, keep the good jettison the bad biases, prejudices, opinions and former conclusions.
    Another suggests that we need these biases, prejudices, opinions and our conclusions because one cannot make ones mind up about every issue…. as life is too short.

    If you re-read what I wrote initially, your way is blocked if we operate in our minds out of bias, prejudice, opinion and our conclusions.
    One might not think that is at all really serious. Well, Christian, it is serious, for we, by opeating thus, are procluding ourselves from really discovering the Truth. What life in Christ actually is, and we talk all the time as if we know, but operating in bias, prejudice, opinion and our conclusions, blocks our way to ever finding out.
    In the issues of Salvation, or relationships at the human level, in politics or business and religion, so much is presumption because it contains bias, prejudice, opinion and conclusions and in each, ones way is blocked from discovering, enquiring more. That is how serious, Christian, such thinking is.

    • Singalong says:

      Yes, Nektarios, it is very important. We must struggle against our prejudices, however understandable they may be. Christ, as always, gave us the example of His understanding, forgiveness and tolerance, in His dealings with those who were ostracised in His society, lepers, tax collectors, Samaritans, the Good Thief. He made no distinction between the rich, like Joseph of Arimathea, and the poor, or between the powerful, like the Roman centurion with his sick daughter, and the powerless blind beggar.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Are these not biases we as Christians should be aware of, Christian instincts-and if we do find ourselves giving in to the temptations of the above.Go to the Sacrament of Confession
        Those are what we ought to be teaching our children
        If we really love our neighbour as Christians-we won’t need to think about them.

      • Nektarios says:


        You make some interesting points here to think about. In each case, Jesus our Lord, knew how to act; His response to each case was total and life-changing to the hearers of His words. He had a total discernment and perception into the person or the hearers and spoke and acted accordingly.
        However, if we live in the periphery of our lives, the superficial, we cannot act in that way.
        Yet the Lord would have us so empowered to do so…. ` great works shall ye do because I go to the Father’.

  23. St.Joseph says:

    I listened to a interesting programme on radio 4 this morning,Life Scientific. ‘One to One’, an interview with Annette Karmiloff Smith .by Martin Wainwright.
    I was surprised when she made the comment about her experience at a WHO conference early in her experiences in her work.
    She said when a prominent theologian in the Catholic Church stood up and said ‘women should not use birth control’. afterwards she realised she could not accept that or repeat it.

    That to me is understandable, but however this is one of the very things that I am biased about
    A theologian at the WHO conference making a statement in error with Catholic teaching.
    Dr Anna Flynn RIP represented NFP at the WHO Conferences, and actually the WHO give a very clear understanding of fertility awareness, and fully appprove of it.
    This is just the kind of information we do not need today from someone who is ignorant of the facts especially to broadcast it without the truth as well.
    As my comment at 12.58 20 January was saying.

    BTW an interesting interview with Malcolm Bowden followed afterwards for 15min on his beliefs in truth.

  24. Nektarios says:


    Correction – should read – “greater works shall ye do because I go to the Father”.

  25. St.Joseph says:

    Are we returning to the subject of conscience.

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph

      No – well not in any direct sense. We covered a lot of ground before, superficially perhaps, on the subject of conscience.
      If anything, it has more to do with how we let the spiritual life with all its power, potential
      gifts, and virtues…. the life of Christ in us operate or not.
      Living the earthy life, which we must all do, we tend to live at a very superifical level,
      powerless and all the biases and prejudices, opinions and our conclusions are a type of mental shorthand, So compartmentalized, fragmented, narrow, limited and constricted has our lives become.
      I don’t think for a moment that God intended Christians to live that way,
      So many see the Truth through the screen of their own biases and prejudices,
      Hence one is forever accumulating, but never coming to a knowledge of the Truth.
      They are blocked by their own biases, prejudices, opinions and conclusions.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you.
        It is just that the thoughts were going through my head that we as Christians when you mentioned the ‘greater works shall we do because we go to the Father’ and it struck me that ‘what about atheists and non-Christians’, is it only good works by Christians that God takes into account as if the others don’t count that which is done out of a good conscience and the Natural Law., or what those have learned through Christian acts and they don’t realise it or do them out of love for God but for mankind.
        It would seem to me that the Lord would take all that into consideration as a purely unselfish reason of their life here.
        I may not have explained this very well-but know myself what I am trying to say.

  26. Brian Hamill says:

    I once met someone who during his training as a counsellor was in a lecture on prejudice. The lecturer asked the assembled trainees if any of them thought they were capable of being Concentration Camp guards and, if so, to stand up. No-one stirred. He then told them all to stand up and declared, ‘Now you have got it right’. He was making the vital point that the only way to avoid the path to the deepest evil is to know that one is well capable of treading it. To say, as Peter did, ‘All these may forsake you but not me!’ showed he was defenceless against the time of temptation and so Jesus, the true psychologist, foretold his denials. St Augustine’s ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I’ makes just that point.

    • Nektarios says:

      Brian Hamill,
      Quite so.The way of sorrows and suffering as St.Peter and discovered, revealed their inward life, Oh how it changed them!
      None of us know ourselves as we ought, and we all have our sorrows and our sufferings,
      living with it, one comes to know oneself clearly.
      Alas so many today will rather fight, argue, bully their way through life and prepared not to suffer anything.But if we have no sorrow or suffering, we will not have any of the joys
      or the end game of it all – peace of God reigning in our hearts.

  27. Nektarios says:

    St Joseph

    God’s judgments are so different from ours, so infinitely higher, and He sees and knows all.
    What about atheists and non- Christians? Jesus would say, `what is that to you, Follow Me’.

    Comparing oneself with another, only leads to a life of frustration. Yes of course, God sees the works of others, but it would be wrong to assume one knows His judgments on anyones works.

  28. St.Joseph says:

    Then here lies the question’ are we saved by faith or good works alone’?
    In other words do we receive grace through good works when we don’t believe. in God.

    • Nektarios says:

      St Joseph
      I think you already know the answer to that question?
      Scripture teaches we are saved by faith. Not only that we are justified by faith.
      We are told in another place, that faith without works is dead.
      So this is our work, that we believe on Him whom He sent – that is Jesus the Son of God.
      Then we have that empowerment to do the works of God by faith. in Him – Jesus Christ.
      We are also told in another place, that without faith, we cannot please God.
      So it is not possible to be saved without believing on Him whom God has sent. The works may appear good in the eyes of men, but God knows all.
      We are also told that faith is a gift of God.
      We could go on and on through Scripture, but some would complain my posting are to long and rambling – so forgive me, I better stop there for now.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you. At least some have received some info .from you that some probably did not know, but the CCC has loads on Grace.I call it evangelizing!
        I often think of St Peter when he denied Jesus, was it because of cowardice ,because he cut the soldiers ear off ,so it must not have been from fear And we don’t hear much about Jesus healing his ear again! Or what the other soldiers thought of that! Just a thought.No need to reply.But as I see it it is all to do with the subject.and why we think as we do!
        One thought leads to another!

      • Vincent says:

        Nektarios, I must say that I have enjoyed your more recent comments – you have suddenly become more immediately understandable.

        On the question of the necessity of faith for salvation, it seems to me to be generally agreed that even those who disbelieve in God can be saved. How can this be?

        I think that the answer lies in St Matthew, Chapter 25. Here. you will recall, God welcomes into his kingdom those who have been loving to their neighbour – even though they did not recognise Jesus, as such. It is indeed an act of faith to recognise one’s neighbour as someone worthy of love, and to love him.

  29. St.Joseph says:

    How do we define love.? In respect to an act of faith. Is faith something that ones believes themselves.? Otherwise we can forget about Gay Marriage and Abortion etc.

    Nektarios. Your comment above.
    Would Jesus really say ‘What is that to you, come follow me’ Are we not here to teach-but not preach.!To be part of the salvation of ours neighbours. Like the parable of the buried talent!

  30. Nektarios says:


    Thank you for your kind comments. Who are those that have been loving to their neighbour? Cf: Matth. 25verse14. His servants. It is wise to be careful with popular, often loose and erroneous Scriptural interpretation., Scripture cannot be properly understood by any private interpretation.

    • Vincent says:

      Thank you Nektarios. My interpretation is not private but the one which is generally used — in fact rather unoriginal. The message is addressed to everyone in the world as v.32 makes clear. v.14 relates to a different story altogether.
      St Joseph, my interpretation of love is broad, something like ‘caring and acting for the true good of everyone, including oneself.’ The motivation for that is the recognition of the image and likeness of God in human beings. But for many that recognition will not be explicit, it will be in the form of a more general sense of the dignity of other human beings. Of course one can and should love animals too, out of respect for God’s creation.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you for your reply.My comment was posted the same time as yours only different words but similar thoughts.I wanted to make it clear that sometimes some think that Gods Love is not the love that they always want to hear.-because their beliefs are different.
        The Lords wants us to suffer sometimes for the sake of His Kingdom.
        I know that!!

  31. Nektarios says:

    St Joseph
    You have your gifts, your talents. It is not for me to say what these are. But, God will call to account what we have done with our gifts and talents He has given us.
    Not everyone is called to preach, or teach and those that are, will give account on that day what they have
    done with their gift and talents.
    Does it not reduce us to tears when we realize that we are unprofitable servants? I speak of myself and those who may feel the same.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Motherhood is a gift from God, also fatherhood, our gifts are not all meant to be out of the ordinary.
      The Holy Father has given us as RC some very clear instructions for the year of faith and evangelization, We will never know how little or how much we have fufilled this duty as Catholics until we meet Our Lord when we die.
      But we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments, and not everyone the same gifts,but it is up to us to find out which ones we are capable of.Maybe we just do it subconsciously although surely we ought to know it is a responsibility and a duty to find out., if of course we are serious about our faith. Hopefully we all are here or else we would not be discussing religion. That is not presumptuous just mature thing.
      I am reduced to tears often when I think of all the work to be done by the laity and is ignored, and by my self at time, I see people giving their whole life to God .We have to be awake at all times or slip into apathy.The Sermon on the Mount reminds us of that..But we do have to live in this world but not belong to it.
      I don’t mean this to be preaching or teaching if everything we say was seen as that I for one would not be here on the blog-.

      • Nektarios says:

        Without going into it in depth, the whole of Matthew 25 v32 in part, a description of the Last Judgment.
        Matthew 14 is a parable where many a believer are today, careless, slothful as well as those who are watchful and attentive – what is the last judgement to be for the careless and slothful believer?
        It all has to do with this last judgement.

        St Joseph
        Therefore, keep watchful, keep being attentive. May you have the Holy Spirit in large measure
        to lead, guide, bring you peace…. and so save thousands round about you

  32. Nektarios says:

    Correction – in my reply to Vincent:
    should read Matthew 25 verse 14. Thank you.

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