PROFESSIONAL BIAS AND POINTS OF VIEW.
In looking out upon society, whether of the past or the present, we perceive individuals and classes each with claims of its own more or less plausible, contending for an adjustment of affairs according to plans that baffle one another. Truth is said to be here, or there, or somewhere else. While all are in general satisfied that it exists – that truth is, whether we have found it or not – all feel equally well assured that discordant statements of its character cannot i.e. alike true, but must give place, in silent acquiescence, to someone statement which alone accords with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So also is it with right and wrong, virtue and vice. Whatever a few speculatively paradoxical minds may think truth and right and virtue live somewhere it is believed; even although inquirers and moralists may differ as to their nature and whereabouts. Unless we are fortified against general skepticism, by being forced to commit ourselves, without much hesitancy, to certain great maxims of live which secure its ongoing, we should run a sad hazard surrendering life to chance, esteeming one thing as true as another, and all courses of action equally virtuous. But a result so lamentable is impossible, so long as men are men; for however some striking folly in speculative sceptician may perplex even the bulk of mankind for a time, sooner or later it is expelled from the mind as untrue, while the daily life of everyone gives it the denial, and puts it out of countenance by a perpetual experiment. On this account, notwithstanding the confusion and hubbub and clamor that are ever filling the world 'through controversy, men have always something to hold by; something beyond the reach of polemics and brow-beating, volubility; something which survives every shock, however seemingly disastrous; a world to each in which he 'lives, and moves, and has his beings.'
Yet, true as this is, how few believe it; how may fewer act upon it! Each one looks out upon society from his own 'point of view'; and forgetting that his station is a point and nothing more, he infers freely concerning men and things at a distance just as if they were at hand. The point which he occupies is constituted the center point of the universe and round it with the compasses of ignorance and vanity, he draws a circle, which is vainly imagined to include everything at a glance and to bring everything into such a relation to the observer as will enable him to pronounce infallibly upon it. In this way; many most benevolent people torment themselves with the thought of an amount of misery which does not exist. With faculties, temperaments, pursuits professional biases, and circumstances differing from those of others, they cannot understand that there should be happiness found in anything which presents no delectable aspect to themselves. It would be well, indeed, if this habit of mind were confined to the class whose pulses beat with love of their fellowmen; although even such often times retard the objects they are seeking, by obtruding on others in one set of conditions what would be appropriate in a different set only. But the truth is, that individuals of every style of character are guilty of this mistake; nor are any so often so as those who are most clamorous in their outcries respecting their fellows; questioning the reality of religion unless it wears a cloak of a special shape and coloring; even going so far as to suspect the presence of a genuine human affection, if its methods of manifestation be not of a particular sort and description. In fact, no man whatever is free of more or less of this tendency of mind. Everything in one's circumstances conspires to form a medium through which all men, opinions, politics, religious sentiments, habits, and amusements, as well as whatever else enters into the substance of life, are obliged to pass before the mind forms its judgment of them. And thus we 'see but in part,' because we see all things in relation to ourselves – in relation to our imperceptible point in the circumference of being, supposing it to occupy the center.
In considering this matter, one might almost think that the mistake is impossible of correction, since no man can transport himself out of his circumstances and at a leap reach the center of being. It is certainly true that, as men, we are ever subject to some influence or other which will narrow or pervert our opinion. But it is wonderful how much can be done towards the rectification of this evil. A careful survey of the causes of danger; a perpetual vigilance respecting the operation of the passions which often of themselves lead us astray in our judgments; a combination of various means, so that the defect of one may in some measure be supplemented by another; and the frequent use of the imagination in order to suppose circumstances which may materially differ from our own, these and such like exercises will go a far way in assisting us to perfect our estimate of men and things. But no influence, in blissing our judgments, is more general and efficient than the professional element; and none, therefore, demands greater attention to it, in order to allow for it. We find men of precisely the same description of mental character differing from one another in some point, from no other apparent cause than professional bliss. A man's opinions are thus in a great measure formed by his business; as if truth were not truth, and right, whether a man be a lawyer or an engineer, a mechanic or a merchant, a philosophy or a poet.
It may somewhat tend to stimulate mutual toleration towards one another and to direct attention to one of the most influential sources of error and wrong if we take a rapid glance at a few of the professions, looked at in a general way, and by no means implying that exceptions never or even infrequently occur to the description of classes which our survey may suggest to the notice. The select spirits of the world are found in all professions; they survive every untoward influence to which their circumstances may expose them; piercing with keen vision into the heart of things, however disguised by convention and the ceremonies of familiarity and custom. For illustration, then, let us begin with the point of view which may be called the Mercantile. From banks and counting-houses, from ledgers and day-books; from importing and exporting of goods; from the godowns and the shop tables; from whatever is best fitted to accumulate money in an honest but skillful way, the merchant looks out upon society, and on everything which relates to life and futurity. If liberally educated, and with his mind expanded by warm and generous affections, he will not be sordid in his ideas. But he will be practical – thoroughly practical – meaning by that term in his own sense, a man who adjusts the worth of others by their power of realizing something which can be valued according to a common standard of Rupees, annas, and pies. He is willing to have school masters and priests, philosophers and even poets for society. But their labor must be seen to be more or less related to social utility. It must fit the individual who comes within its influence for being what is called good member of society, an active social unit; not a dreamer, nor a frivolous connoisseur in the fine arts, as the speculative thinker or the man of taste is sometimes termed. If it produces industry, good morals, cleverness in an honorable profession, or any other obvious benefit, it is valued. The apothegms of didactic poetry thus find their way into his category of useful commodities; and for the same reason, all forms of poetry which do not embody in so many words, a moral precept or two, are excluded from the privileged position. It is easy or less how opinion on every topic should be more or less affected by circumstances in themselves so peculiar, and differing in so many respects from those of other people. Religious views, political opinions, ideas of books and works of art will all be modified, in the case of such a one, by the special class of influence with which he is surrounded. An opinion which is very general or abstract in its enunciation or which seems to jar with some authorized maxim of good morality, will be doubted as to its truth, or unceremoniously dismissed to the domain of the trifling, the fanciful and the useless. Facts tell strongly on such a mind. Everything that is plain practical, supported by manifest reasons of policy and social safety, finds ready access to it; whatever appears fine-spun, farfetched, bookish being set apart for the exclusive use of gentlemen who have nothing to do or whose delicacy of health unfits them for taking their share in the practicalities of life.
Otherwise, however, we should expect it to be with the teacher – him to whom the education of their rising life of the world is entrusted. Doubtless one so learned as he, who inspires 'gazing rustics' with a growing wonder 'that one small head can carry all he knows' is posted on the central point of view, and looks not partially, but in a whole way, on things as they come within his comprehensive scope. But here, also, the mode of a profession indicates the universality of influence which circumstances exert over the opinions and sentiments of mankind. If one were adequately acquainted with modifying forces, it would be the easiest matter in the world to select from among a thousand the special man who wields the authority of Schoolmaster over the little community who daily receive their portion of mental aliment at his beneficent hands. The teacher of youth, when his failing leans to the virtuous side of over-fondness for his profession, is apt to square everything by the rules and maxims prevalent within the territory over which he has been set to resign. Precision, system, and authority, are his darling ideas. All flights of imagination within the region of plain life he despises; they are not reducible to law and calculation, or at least he does not very clearly see that they are. Truth thrown out in lumps, and lying in irregular insubordinate masses, wants those marks of verity which with him are indispensable in order to compel confidence in its claims. Quite otherwise is it when truth comes in the form of a regular graduated system broad at the base and beautifully tapering at the apex. A system so orderly is respected, if it be not adopted. It is scholar like; and whatever is so fulfills the preliminary conditions of truth. In like manner, as authority is interwoven with all his ideas of progress and good management, he dislikes, in general speculations, all innovations, unless they approach gently, curtseying as they advance to old use and wont, and propitiating a hearing by making it possible to join in hearty union with what is, without expelling or overthrowing it. Yet his tastes and sympathies are much more liberal than those of common men. Beneath his straitened and monotonous manner there is often a genuine relish of the exquisite literary and philosophical remains of antiquity, and a refined sensibility to the proprieties of writing in whatever form they appear. But, then, a grammatical blunder, or a foreign expression, or a special usage of construction, or any liberty which is justified by a law that is above all technical law, runs a hazard of damaging, in his estimation, the contents of truth which may form its freight and the freight of the context. His liability on the part of the pedagogue to take offence at such misadventures of authorship, does not arise from any inherent finicalness of disposition which distinguishes him from other men, but rather from a professional bias, which leads him to associate truth with certain kinds of excellence habitually present to him, and to pass judgment against truth of opinion when it comes robed in a tattered literary garb, pieced up partly with the author's own barbarisms, partly with those of writers not advanced into the role of legislators, and partly with a wanton mannerism which violates it should be observed, is to test one sort of truth by the criterion of another sort of truth; namely, truth in itself by a truth of style. The daily life supplies a coloring matter through which everything else is seen, of whatever sort or nature it may be, modifying the point of view, and communicating much of its own tinge to the objects on which it rests.
If the schoolmaster is chained to his special point of view, nor can reach the center, however fain he would if he could, not less so has the lawyer his stand-point, on which he is located, and from which he looks out upon the busy theatre of life, where all the transactions are performed which yield him employment. Although his habitual duty seems especially suited to sharpen the wit and to communicate a power of seeing through the false appearances of things, yet somehow or other, by a law which ever rules all the many laws that he finds himself daily directing, he too is biased by profession, and he too must acknowledge that his point of view is indeed but a point. Truth and right with him are apt to become mere matters of fact, having no independent existence, no force or obligation which authority has not defined and communicated. Cases of conscience also, or the nice scruples of an eccentric, but religious mind, are very likely to be misconstrued by the lawyer if they disturb the equilibrium of society and he subsides into a mere limb of the law. Unused to appeal from what is to what Ought to be, he looks at everything through a professional glass. If the letter be violated, no matter that the spirit be preserved; at last he takes care of the one, and feels no urgent necessity for concerning himself with the other. Surmounting his special culture, he may indeed glance with his eye in the direction of the abstractly just and equitable; but unless his professional bias be counteracted by a very general education, how feeble is the interest which the one inquiry awakens in his mind compared with the other! How seldom will it detain him for more than a moment or call forth other than a passing wish that such a law should be so and so, indeed of something else which it is, and which has made it ineffective in some case that had unusually attracted his sympathy.
We come again, to the priest, and ask whether more than a point is occupied by him – whether he also be an exception to the general rule. Alas, no; he is one with others in subjection to a professional bias. The credit of his form of religion, and especially of the special section of it which he himself professes, is only too apt to supersede with him the general interests of religion's truth and sincerity. The external services of religion, as they are the chief employments of his life, perhaps almost the only ones, become prominent in his estimation to the exclusion of other services which nature and general considerations enjoin upon mankind at large. Religion, instead of being made the grand regulative element and force in character degenerates into mechanical observance of ceremonies the significance of which he neither understands nor cares to understand; and it is distorted into a panacea for all necessities whatever. Religion thus, to a great extent ceases to be religious, and becomes the fabrication of the priest, not one with nature and truth, but contrary to and subversive of them. The torch of religious truth grown dim, and the priest shakes it but to quench out the feeble flickering flame. The priest too has his professional bias and that of a wide-reaching influence for evil.
Is not the philosopher free from it – the man who stands on the mountain-tops of knowledge? Indeed no, any more necessarily than others. He discredits common sense or the general intelligence of mankind; the universe and all it contains evaporates into a thin nothingness, a less than a dream in a dream in his estimation; and he vaunts himself as the possessor of an insight which the rest of men do not possess. He begins system-building; and rather than bring his brick and chunam from nature, he will fashion the whole thing out of the materials of his brain.
What, finally, of the post? Must we give him up too? Yes, if he yields to his tendency. Dwelling in the airy realms of fancy, he waxes bold and puts shame on the senses of men. Everything is gross which is not visionary; what is not exalted into the ideal is supposed fit only for the common herd of men. No, the pulse of the post must beat high in sympathy with every form of humanity, so far as it develops itself in a genuine manner; or he must be pronounced partial, one-pointed in his view, having a 'local habitation' and a limit.
We return, therefore, to the position from which we set forth, and reassert that everyman has a point of view from which he looks out upon the world and society. The illustrations which have been given are, of course, only a few of what men afford; all classes and descriptions of persons, as we said before, being under more or less of the partialness of view. It must also be added, that the cases selected for illustration have been made descriptive of the tendency in its most conspicuous form – rather as it has appeared, or still appears now and then, not as it needs to appear. For it is a glorious truth that thousands of all professions have in every age bravely fought with their professional bias, restricting its force where its annihilation was impossible. In particular, it should be noticed that the profession of the schoolmaster or the educationist is in itself one of the most dignified in the whole range of task works, and that the individuals who discharge its honorable functions are everyday rising in general culture and health of sentiment. What is true of this profession is true more or less of all the others. The lesson, however, which this discussion illustrates is twofold, referring to one rule by which we are to form our estimates of one another, and to the implied precept it contains concerning our duty in the evolution of our personal character. It is certainly impossible to test opinion without considering from what point of view it has been formed. An account of something may be a true one, as taken from a certain position; and it is necessary, through imagination and otherwise, to attempt to place ourselves in the same point before we pronounce it true or false. A point of view, it should be always remembered, may admit of indefinite improvement. The less partial it is the better, the nearer it places as to the center-point of the universe, the fitter would it serve to enable us to form adequate beliefs. At best, indeed, we must ever remain infinitely far off from that center; for our faculties and range of view are, in the nature of things, limited. Instead of vainly dreaming to escape the bounds of ourselves, we must be content to be what at best we can become and we must make the highest use of the powers appointed us towards this end, since in the words of the poet, the powers denied concern us nothing."