Prejudice and other considerations
February 27, 2021
Popularly the word ‘discrimination’ is used synonymously with ‘prejudice’. In actuality, in lapsed, but at least at one time recently, and in more proper, usage, it indicated towards the opposite meaning to ‘prejudice’. Not that I’m too bothered about that slippage but I am using it to show here how slippages regarding what is called ‘prejudice’ are current and busy at work in the common ideas circulating in British society.
In general I’d suggest that the commonplace idea of ‘prejudice’ attaches to what are more or less taboo areas for our society to be openly in discussion about.
An example of this is seen perhaps in ideas and in attitudes of many non-white persons towards white-persons, which show in them certain trains of thought which parallel quite closely with ideas in the outlooks of some white persons upon non-whites, and these same ideas in the outlooks of some non-whites when set beside our proclaimed and generally accepted social mores are considered generally unacceptable.
This kind of reciprocal, maybe residual, mutual antagonism showing in some white and in some non-white persons, and in regard to one another, is a tricky topic and because of this it is scarcely raised in public conversations. As I was saying it is a taboo topic to raise. No-one wants to be labelled, whether or not justly and appropriately, by the tags we use as shorthand labels, by which we maybe sometimes too readily pin a stigma or similar on a person foolhardy or brave enough to open up such conversations.
Maybe some good comes out of this refusal to publicly acknowledge certain aspects of our social life, which to bring to open discussion might indeed cause more harm than they remedy in social relations in general? But if this is the case, then the harm that arises, given that the public conversation raised on such topics is otherwise reasoned, reasonable and in order, is in fact arising out of a lack of understanding of the issues and discussions being aired. And of the aims for having raised them.
But even to get a reasoned, reasonable and in order conversation going on such a topic is not a guaranteed assumption. Too often there will be people entering into such conversations who patently are not being reasonable and in order, and regardless of their nationality, race, religion, ideology, and in regard to all and any of the kinds of bugbear we allot to the trash folder of social discussion. These are topics which are felt to be too ‘risky’, no-one easily able to predict whereabouts they might lead, but there will come indeed a number of dissensions which again are patently based on a certain amount of prejudiced thinking.
Although some of these dissensions might well arise not from an off the mark proposal or proposition, but as a response to a fairly reasonable proposition or proposal, which indeed might generally be true, but is showing the subjects of the remark in a light thought unfavourable by those subjects.
Now we get into fear, ill-judgements, and sometimes paranoia, and into times and situations when society, or a part of society, in large part goes a little berserk about a statement or a response to one that someone has made.
There is often a lack of proper understanding of what is being said on such issues; this misunderstanding can be in the shape of a jumping the gun condemnation, or the opposite, a smart recommendation for a measure which if put into practice would clearly issue in deleterious consequences, or there might be a misconstruction published of what was said; whether deliberately misconstrued or not and whether intentionally published or not- as well as there being many other bear traps and sink holes into which we fall into so often in these regards.
All this said and accepted, there leaves still another large area, whereabouts within serious, and close to evenly-weighted, but conflicting to contradiction propositions, might be put forward; each having some validity, each having something spurious, and very difficult to separate out and so get to any foundation for agreement between them, even when there might be just two propositions in conflict.
These types of propositions are almost always generalities; they are therefore at best only representing that there is a majority instance of their contention. How big is a majority? Is 51% acceptable when labelling a class of persons x, when x is deleterious to that whole class? How might one design a public poll by which to discover such a 51% majority? Whom does one ask, the subjects of the proposition, or the people with no association with that class of persons who are to be labelled? Will the persons in danger of being labelled tell the truth in their replies? Will the persons not associated with them answer all without expressing prejudice? Will the persons not associated always have any depth of personal experience on the issue in hand, so that their answers are based on that experience and are not out of the air and hypothetical? Will the persons awaiting labelling see the proposal or questions put to them as a slur? Maybe not? Maybe the issue at hand is a part of that culture which is celebrated by that class of persons? Maybe it is not understood by the unassociated group of people? Maybe the persons not associated with the group of persons who are the subject of the poll find distasteful what is accepted by the subjects and celebrated by them? Maybe the same non-associated people will just never have gotten close to anyone or anything appertaining to the lives of the class of people who are the subjects?
The first Christians in The Roman Empire commonly were accused by outsiders to the faith of being cannibals and of throwing orgies in their worship. Simply because the bread at the table in the Eucharistic rite was called by those Christians and is called still today ‘The Body of Christ’. And because the Christians spoke of ‘agape’ meals, which when (poorly) translated into Latin from Greek meant to those outside the fold, ‘love’ feasts, but to people outside of the fold it was assumed to be ‘love’ in the Greek sense of ‘eros’; a human bodily love-making.
One is able to see misconceptions in play like these in our society today; and they throw up prejudices and antagonisms out of simple lack of precise knowledge.
The word ‘prejudice’ means ‘to have judged beforehand and without having taken due care to have inspected the evidence’. Sometimes it is called ‘a gut’ response or reaction – and the gut concerned is the gut of a person unwilling, unable, or who neglectfully has not availed himself of any available evidence before having taken a side on a matter.
This tendency to a snap blind judgement can get to be thought of by some of the persons prone to using it, as indicating an apriori status for their opinions and beliefs. (‘apriori’ means in fact that the understanding of a point in a discussion is innate to a mind, and able to be concluded upon definitely, without a mind having to refer outwards to circumstances, evidence, or the senses. An example is that some people believe the arithmetic 2 plus 2 equals 4 is an item of apriori knowledge)
In other words, no other person is able legitimately to argue against the apriori position. This is how some prejudiced people tend to believe their ideas. Of course it’s nonsense in such people in terms of reasoning, but psychologically it represents in them a closed and barred door to further discussion and to their changes of mind or heart.
The fact is that prejudices are based on and thrive upon difference; whether or not these differences are merely perceived or more substantially evident. By our native reasoning powers as humans with minds we make many differences so as to help us, and make living easier. There are different brands of sugar, flour, potato, rice, all these are staples and in the main one batch of them is as near as matters the same as the next, and the differences are close to being so small that only people more choosy, or better off, or both, really will be a stickler for a particular type or brand of them.
This demonstrates demarcating difference that is close to being unnecessary. However a coxes apple and a granny smith are two very different items, by comparison. Difference here is more valuable to have distinguished between them. So difference is the basis of classification and language in major part is a system of classifications. By use of difference and through language we are enabled to communicate in speech and writing, one of us with another. So this useful facet of our reasoning is at work when we speak, when we make decisions, choices, and our natural tendency is to separate, segregate, mark and note differences – doing this helps us get along tremendously. Babbage called his first computer a ‘difference engine’ because it was a form of mechanical reasoning.
But like any tool, how one uses it is the nub of the problem of consequences. To establish and maintain and maybe promote a difference which is skewed without just cause towards stigmatising a class of items or persons is an attempt to establish an untruth as acceptable truth, and whether or not the person attempting believes it is true.
We have the criteria by which to test any statement of difference which has been asserted, and which will establish likelihood for us either that the statement was made in prejudice, or else was a viable candidate for serious consideration.
Does the statement as framed make deductive and/or linguistic sense as a proposition?
Has the speaker of it considered any evidence?
If so what evidence?
Is there other evidence which has not been considered by him?
Does the statement made tally with the evidence?
Has the speaker just misread evidence, or made another kind of artless mistake, in his procedure?
The same criteria can be used to consider and weigh differences asserted of any kind.
You cannot easily see from this list of criteria that a prejudiced statement can be true, or shall we say can be substantiated by evidence, but that the speaker of it was prejudiced because he did not, had not, examined any of the evidence available on which to base his claim. He might appeal to ‘intuition’; it is likely he was just fortuitously lucky.
You need to use the various criteria in particular orders of their application; orders which act to eliminate possibilities not straightforwardly obvious to be seen from you using them one by one and by assuming that each one is a discrete complete test in itself.
The answer to the criterion – does the evidence tally with the statement? - on its own will not be 100% decisive, although if the evidence very clearly does not tally, this is a strong indicator of a possibility of prejudice.
And now use the criterion – has the speaker consulted any evidence? - if the answer is ‘no’ then there is hardly stronger proof of prejudice, once the answers to your two criteria you used have been harnessed together.
I won’t go on - if your mind needs some exercise work through the possibilities yourself.
One has evidence invented sometimes, evidence which is invented solely to convince, and without regard to a thorough examination of the item to be spoken about; which is to say this is not evidence, it is propaganda.
Is a statement which is propaganda a prejudiced statement?
I guess not, but why not? The person who uses propaganda is not necessarily emotionally ‘behind’ what he says, he may well be calculatingly cynical, maybe knowing pretty well the truth of a situation or event, but saying differently simply for the sake of his nefarious purposes? Propaganda then is nearer to deliberate deceit of others than it is near to a prejudiced statement, which tends moreso to entail a self-deceit living within the speaker of it.
Propaganda is used by some people with intentions which those people feel to be good intentions. A white lie is like this. The Tooth Fairy. Santa Claus. Fairly innocuous stuff. But sometimes this can have bigger repercussions. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Bottle Feeding.
Bottle feeding of infants is a case where the people who proclaimed that it was better than breast had convinced people who were in a position to proclaim it as a believed-to-be-true statement, and to see it implemented widespread. The complications gather.
One even gets sometimes persons or companies or statesmen who end up believing what some years previously was their own propaganda. It even gets into history books as if it were truth. The evacuation at Dunkirk comes close to being a candidate.
This piece of writing of mine seems to be heading towards being all about the various mind games we play with ourselves and with others?
Propaganda can become prejudice. The Englishman’s idea of his superiority above other nationals of other nations. He often believes it’s innate, inbred, that history proclaims it, that Britain ‘still punches above her weight in the world’, and that this country is where ‘that Countenance Divine’ walked. This is a bolster to his identity, a soother to the morale and a foundation on sands on which to base one’s outlook. It has become hard to shift and still its echoes stir hearts and cross ballot papers up and down the shires.
The naturalised Briton, Amercian-born, poet said:
“Humankind cannot bear very much reality”
The rage of fashion right now is for ‘the story’ or as the more erudite like to say, ‘the narrative’. These two terms act at least psychologically to disconnect the words which follow and which are the alleged story, from any firm basis in fact - ‘the story’ is a term which has power to fictionalise peoples ideas for their lives and the things that they really do, and say, to one another. That novel title ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ always comes into my head when I consider the post-modern obsession with telling, speaking of, and in, ‘narratives’ and ‘stories’. The aim and wish seems to be to disconnect with real constraints, the real boons of constraints, and the benefits of having them; so as to set free, let loose from actuality, the minds of those enamoured by the theorists and the critical studies ranters.
The whole shift of society, as seen in telling ‘stories’ about ourselves, appears to be going ever further towards jettisoning accountability for one’s life, ones choices and actions; of kicking into touch sobriety of conscience, and of scotching regard and respect for people of other persuasions. At present one can ‘out’ an old man and have him sacked from a career of dedication, and have him lose his respect with his associates and the public, simply because he has not adjusted to the post modern view of life. Whereas on the other hand one is not able to say a word of critical but truthful observation on topics of national respectability, or about outrageously pampered and lost the plot diversions and capers which are being pushed as the thing to be or be done – rip down statues, reparations for the descendants of the victims of The Bubonic Plague to be had from The City of London Livery Companies – the case is in The UK Supreme Court now and being decided there – ha,ha,ha!
Of course how far this post modern putsch we are living through is prejudice or is propaganda is a mixed and muddy query to address. I do know that those caught up in it are fiddling while Rome burns. Our lives are swayed and jerked about all over the place – by the academics and their claims to unofficial governance, by the official government which itself is the product of a bloodless propaganda putsch and coup d’etat, which is leading us all into a more general hardship and misery – by the corporations and large companies who interfere gladly, wantonly, in our personal lives, in their adverts and with their products, calling us all their buddies, but in fact getting an iron boot in our front doors, so as to be a force in our living rooms.
And by ‘movements’ of which no word of criticism, whether constructive or not, but of worthwhile import, can be raised – for instance getting junior school children out ‘demonstrating’ against ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ with placards and shouting in the high streets – what does this do? It tells children that to shout and make a fuss is a useful thing to do. That some how shouting and fussing achieves, will achieve, an object. Better had the children been bussed to a local nature reserve or conservation area or scheme, and there had done a day working beside the people there working in a small way to counter problems we foresee.
But that’s Britain today – pipe up, stand and shout and protest, push for someone else to do something you want doing, everything is answered with handing out money or sympathy or slapping a tax on ‘pollutant’ goods and services, and saying ‘the private sector is to deal with the environment’ - we, the government, just want to make as much extra revenue out of plastic and petrol and diesel and energy and aircraft flight and on and on and on – whilst the party lasts.
Our watchword is to do little, but if you can, get someone else to do it for you, and for free. Get a grant, Get an award. Tap this place. Pump that. The daffodils in Cornwall are not being picked this year. The gardens companies are writing off this year’s crop. Millions in recent years, in the course of three months in spring, have been picked by migrant workers from the EU. Because daffodils are not edibles they are not covered by the exemption which allows migrants from the EU still to come and pick our crops. So they rot. The people of Cornwall don’t want the work, they prefer a furlough or Universal Credit. The company guy said locals come and last two or three days and the work is too much for them. Honest energetic labour – too much. That’s us. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”