I remember watching a Kuwaiti comedy sketch a long, long time ago that went something like this…
A male employer was interviewing two women for a secretary job: one was a hopeless bimbo and the other was the closest human approximation to a troll.
He desperately wanted to hire the bimbo, and so made the interview questions a lot simpler for her. And with all the help he was offering, she still struggled to give the right answers. The troll, on the other hand, was very intelligent, and answered his questions with ease.
Towards the end of the interview he asks the bimbo about the number of deaths in some war (I don’t remember which): “Was it 10,000? Or 10,000? Or 10,000?”
After some thought, the bimbo hesitantly replies: “Ummm… 10,000?”
“That’s right! Bravo! You’re a smart girl!” He screams with delight. “And you,” he turns to the troll with a look of disgust: “What are the names of all the 10,000?”
The troll takes out a thick volume and says: “I have their names right here!”
I’ve noticed a similar bias in many religious and political discussions, where the “burden of proof” in support of one’s own opinions is extremely light, but enormously heavy on others.
“As we all know…”, “It’s obvious that…”, “Only an idiot would doubt that…”
These are the types of arguments we may present. But we expect others to present case studies, academic papers or physical evidence to prove their points. And even then we may question the evidence.
I noticed this biased burden a lot recently when talking about the politics of the Middle East.
Person A claims that the US is behind the uprising in Syria, because it wants to control the whole Middle East by removing the governments hostile to Israel. The argument? “It’s well known that…”
Person B claims that Iran is supplying Syria with weapons and fighters to quell the uprising. The argument? “It’s obvious that…”
Person A rejects Person B’s claim by demanding proof: “Name me one Iranian who was fighting in Syria. Just one!”
Even though Person A hasn’t given any evidence that shows US involvement in Syria, he wants much more proof from Person B than he’s able to give in defense of his claims.
And if Person B does give a name, Person A might ask for his shoe size and the color of his underwear.
That’s how the biased burden usually works.
The Solution? To present as much evidence in support of our views as we expect others to present in support of theirs.
Note: Please don’t start an argument about the example I used.