objectivity, transparency, and reliability

There’s a connection, I think, between the furor over Sotomayor’s wise-Latina speech and the controversy over Dr. Gates’ arrest. Both controversies relate to the confidence shared by many (especially white folks, and especially white males) that laws and institutions are objective – meaning that it’s “just the facts, Ma’am,” and that personal biases, experiences, and perspectives can be bracketed and rendered insignificant in the face of pure reason or something of that sort. This blog (thanks again, Bob C) reflects “the epochal shift” that is underway (part, I imagine, of the postmodern/postcolonial transition) in our global culture … so that transparency (being open about your experiences, biases, perspectives, even limitations) earns more credibility than claims of objectivity (as if you had no vantage point at all … ).
Quotable quote:

Outside of the realm of science, objectivity is discredited these days as anything but an aspiration, and even that aspiration is looking pretty sketchy. The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark. Nevertheless, objectivity — even as an unattainable goal — served an important role in how we came to trust information, and in the economics of newspapers in the modern age.
You can see this in newspapers’ early push-back against blogging. We were told that bloggers have agendas, whereas journalists give us objective information. Of course, if you don’t think objectivity is possible, then you think that the claim of objectivity is actually hiding the biases that inevitably are there. That’s what I meant when, during a bloggers press conference at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I asked Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Walter Mears whom he was supporting for president. He replied (paraphrasing!), “If I tell you, how can you trust what I write?,” to which I replied that if he doesn’t tell us, how can we trust what he blogs?
So, that’s one sense in which transparency is the new objectivity. What we used to believe because we thought the author was objective we now believe because we can see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position. Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.