Two Faces

Sometimes a person will appear one way in public, but another in private. He might be polite and thoughtful and gentle with one group, and cruel and paranoid and evil with another.

Sometimes that’s true of an entire country or people.

Now, this isn’t just because people behave differently depending on who they’re with — supercilious to those they deem inferior, ingratiating to those they deem superior — though that is one part of it. There is also a cognitive bias at work here.

Our minds work in such a way that we construct most of what we perceive from memory. When we look at a photograph of our family, we fill in much of the picture not from new sensory data, but by how we remember and anticipate them to look.

A similar principle is at work in news gathering and news consumption. Reporters with a certain notion of how things ought to be will focus on those details that they anticipate. And readers with a certain notion of how things are will pick out words, sentences, ideas that match their predictions. If you expect to see certain traits among a people, you will see them.

And so sometimes a place will appear in the media of one country as a paradise, and in the media of another as a hell on earth.

These biases and filters are more powerful than any form of censorship. That’s why I think it’s best to get your news from multiple perspectives: different countries, continents, systems of government, languages. And always remember that you may be wearing colored glasses yourself — you’ve just become so used to them that you never knew they were there.