I have realized that I suffer from the age bias, and I suspect I am not alone in this.
When I come across a political or philosophical writing by someone who is younger than me, I subconsciously view this fact as increasing the probability that he is wrong. In short, my immediate emotional instinct is to correlate age positively with regard to wisdom. If I read something I disagree with and the writer is 19, I am likely to go — Ah he is inexperienced! If he is 28, I will probably still think he is wrong, but I would be just a teeny-weeny bit more likely to take him seriously. This bias sometimes manifests itself even when I am impressed with the writer, as happened earlier tonight when I discovered this excellent philosophy blog written by a Princeton student. When I realized he is younger than me, some part of my brain immediate kicked off subtle, fleeting ‘be-on-guard’ signals.
But what’s wrong with that, you might ask. After all, biases, when rational, can be useful agents of initial quality control. And it does seem reasonable to suppose that the older you get (up to a point) the more likely it is that your views are mature, wise and useful, considering that you have had so many more years to chew on them and so many more facts to weigh them against.
But here’s the problem, my age bias isn’t entirely rational. For one, I do not seem to attach a positive weight to those who are significantly older than me but instead tend to think of them neutrally (and indeed, may take off points if they are too old). If I am attaching a negative weight to someone being three years younger than me, it seems reasonable that I should attach at least that much of a positive weight to someone being ten years older. But I don’t do that!
Well, you might counter, things don’t necessarily have to be viewed that way. It is at a younger age that people are likely to make mistakes; after the brain completely matures and has a few years of experience, it is conceivable that little changes afterwards. So while the man of 25 is indeed likely to be more intelligent (philosophically) than a lad of 22, the same is not true five years down the line.
But there’s a problem with that too. My age bias shifts its goalpost according to my age. When I was 23, my bias extended only to those younger than me; when I will be 30, I am pretty sure I will not limit my bias to only those 25 and below.
Clearly there is something mildly irrational going on here. In my defence, I am aware of it, so all is not lost.