implicit bias and vaccinations
Question: Is having a pernicious bias analogous to not getting vaccinated?
Philosophers have been talking more about implicit biases recently. I was recently reading Payne's work on 'weapon bias'; here is the first couple sentences from the abstract of this paper:
"Race stereotypes can lead people to claim to see a weapon where there is none. Split-second decisions magnify the bias by limiting people’s ability to control responses."That is, if forced to make a snap judgment, people in the US today are more likely to identify a non-gun tool as a gun if they have just seen a picture of someone typically racialized as black than someone typically racialized as white. Also, if people had been under a heavy cognitive load before classifying an object as a gun or a tool, they are more likely to make this mistake. If subjects have plenty of time, and have not been under heavy cognitive load, then they make far fewer mistakes, and more importantly the rate of mistakes is the same regardless of race seen.
We typically say that people should be permitted complete freedom of thought: we should only be held accountable for our actions, not our beliefs. I think (and I could be wrong about this) the usual justification for this complete freedom is: one can always control which thoughts one acts on. For example, I can think 'I wish so-and-so were dead' without killing them, or even putting them at increased risk of being killed. If we did not have control over whether our thoughts issued in corresponding actions, then simply having certain kinds of beliefs would put others at increased risk for harm. It would arguably be a kind of negligence.
Cases like weapon bias suggest that the 'usual justification' above is wrong, and that my having certain (conscious or unconscious) beliefs does put others at increased risk for harm. The usual justification holds in good circumstances: when I have plenty of time, and am not under a heavy cognitive load, I can control which of my thoughts issue in corresponding actions. But sometimes I find myself in less than good circumstances (at least sometimes through no fault of my own). And in those circumstances, my pernicious biases are more likely to harm others.
A biased person in a social setting that includes people stigmatized by that bias seems analogous to me to someone who has not gotten a vaccination for a communicable disease who is not quarantined. If I don't get vaccinated, then it is of course possible that I will never get the measles, and thus never harm anyone. But my lack of vaccination raises the risk that others will be harmed. Having pernicious biases seems to be the same, if the weapons
Can someone talk me out of this line of reasoning? I think I have an obligation to get vaccinated, but an obligation to have a 'thought vaccination' (whether for conscious or unconscious thoughts) sounds like the Thought Police/ brainwashing -- a result I'm guessing most people want to avoid.