, February 23, 2024

Unconscious bias 1930s Germany and the BBC


  •   3 min reads
Unconscious bias 1930s Germany and the BBC

Unconscious bias is something we are all subject to, but in the debate over asylum seekers and 1930s Germany, was Gary Lineker or the BBC guilty of unconscious bias?

I'll come clean: I am biased. I actually agreed with Gary Lineker when he compared language used to describe asylum seekers as "not dissimilar to that used in 1930s Germany."  You, on the other hand, might disagree. So we are both biased, you and me, but let's try and apply objectivity.

What Lineker did not say is that the government was like Nazis. Instead, he likened the language. People are too quick to say: "This is not like Nazi Germany," and of course, it isn't. Very few people think that. But Nazi Germany had a beginning (the Nazis came to power in 1933), but the mood which led to the atrocities that followed also had a beginning. The fear among those who share Lineker's sentiments is not that we are like Nazi Germany at its height of evil but of what might happen if we are not careful.  (Consider this danger in the light of higher interest rates at a time of record global debts and poor demographics. The economic prognosis is not good anywhere, particularly in the UK.)

And you must be careful how you describe minorities, whether they are immigrants, asylum seekers or minority groups already living here. This is why many people objected to calling Covid the China virus because they feared it might lead to discrimination against people of Chinese type appearance already resident in the West.

And this takes us to the nub of the matter. Is describing asylum seekers an invasion or talking about millions (or even billions) of potential migrants inflammatory language?

Because, be under no doubt, when inflammatory language of a sort is accepted, some people will push it and advance something worse. You must stop inflammatory language — even if you consider it mild — because it can mutate and lead to something worse.

What we can say is that mistruths are circulating regarding asylum seekers. Lineker said, "we (the UK) take far fewer refugees than other European countries." This is not an opinion; it is a fact.

There is also controversy over the use of the term illegal migrants. Once someone enters a country and claims asylum, they are not illegal

There is also an issue over the legal route into the UK. For asylum seekers in many countries, there is no legal route.

Criticism of language used to describe migrants is not new

As for the Gary Lineker accusation, it is important to understand it is now a new claim.

In 2016, the then British Prime Minister David Cameron was criticised for talking about a "bunch of migrants,"  and before that in the year 2015, use of the phrase "illegal migrant," came under criticism.

Unconscious bias changes


But consider this point.

Suppose Match of the Day, Twitter and Gary Lineker had been around in 1800, and in a Tweet, Lineker called for an end to "slavery" and called it cruel and evil.

Would there have been a backlash? Might it have been suggested he should keep out of politics? Today, we may laugh at the absurdity of such comments, but then bias is a strange thing. In 1800 there was an unconscious bias that slavery was just a fact of reality; to argue otherwise might have been controversial

To argue against slavery is no longer considered controversial.

For that matter, to argue that climate change is real, or even that the theory of evolution is a fact, is not controversial.

What is considered a controversial voicing of an opinion and what is stating something that is obviously true varies over time.

I just happen to think Lineker said something that was obviously true.

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