The Biasing Effects of Personal Experience

One of the most common assumptions around is the notion that the only way to truly understand something is to be part of it. It is said that the best way to learn about life is to live it. This idea has tremendous influence–it causes method actors to attempt to directly experience what their characters experience, it causes people to go on trips or to do things purely for “the experience”, and most importantly, it has tremendous influence over how people think about politics, both for the left and for the right. The left scolds well-off politicians, who are assumed to have no conception of what it means to be poor and to suffer. The right scolds young people and ivory tower academics for not directly experiencing the welfare systems they praise, or the private systems they denigrate. There is a kernel of truth in both criticisms, but that’s about it.

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