Just because you don’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there.*
You don’t see everything there is to see. I don’t, we don’t, everybody don’t.
By the same token, just because you do see something, doesn’t mean it’s all there is to see. (That’s the same thing really.)
Jeffrey Saltzman cites Daniel Kahneman on the subject.
Daniel Kahneman coined the acronym WYSIATI which is an abbreviation for “What you see is all there is”. It is one of the human biases that he explores when he describes how human decision-making is not entirely based on rational thought.
Traditionally, economists believed in the human being as a rational thinker, that decisions and judgments would be carefully weighed before being taken. And much of traditional economic theory is based on that notion. Dr. Kahneman’s life’s work (along with his co-author Dr. Amos Tversky) explodes that notion and describes many of the short-comings of human decision-making. He found that many human decisions rely on automatic or knee-jerk reactions, rather than deliberative thought. And that these automatic reactions (he calls them System 1 thinking) are based on heuristics or rules of thumb that we develop or have hard-wired into our brains. System 1 thinking is very useful in that it can help the individual deal with the onslaught of information that impinges on us each and every day, but the risk is when a decision that one is faced with should be thought through rather than based on a knee-jerk reaction.
System 1 decisions are easy, they are comfortable, and unfortunately they can also be wrong. But wrong in the sense that if one learned how to take a step back and allow for more deliberative thought prior to the decision, some of these wrong decisions or judgments could be avoided.
One of those would be items like thinking about whether there is a lot of sexism or racism or homophobia or classism or xenophobia etc in your society. You think about it – nope, not much comes to mind – you conclude that there isn’t much. Now imagine that the you doing the thinking is male and white and straight and securely middle-class and native-born. Do you see the problem? What comes up on the screen when you think about whether there is a lot of sexism or racism etc is going to be what you see, and what you see is going to be a product of what you’ve been in a position to see, which will be different from what women and people of color etc are in a position to see. See what I’m getting at? You can’t tell, just be flicking quickly through your experience, how prevalent sexism and racism and the rest are. You can’t. Your experience isn’t universal; it isn’t all there is.
WYSIATI is the notion that we form impressions and judgments based on the information that is available to us. For instance we form impressions about people within a few seconds of meeting them. In fact, it has been documented that without careful training interviewers who are screening job applicants will come to a conclusion about the applicant within about 30 seconds of beginning the interview. And when tested these initial notions are often wrong. Interviewers who are trained to withhold judgment about someone do a better job at applicant screening, and the longer that judgment is delayed the better the decision.
Relying on what you have yourself seen for your view of how much sexism and racism there is in your society is not a good way to figure that out. You need to delay judgment and gather more information.
*Ever noticed what a…grammar-free construction that is? Yet it works anyway? I use it all the time; I’d be lost without it; but it’s grammatically…eccentric.