Monday, December 13, 2004


Around 15 years ago, I went to the library at the University of Queensland and looked up their PsycLIT CD-ROM. The CD was published by the American Psychological Association and indexes what has been published in all the world's academic psychology journals. I entered the search terms "racism" and "ethnocentrism" and looked at the authorship of the stream of articles that came out. There was one author who had published far more than any other -- accounting for about a fifth of the articles concerned. So, by normal academic conventions, that author would clearly be the world's leading authority on the psychology of racism. I am that author. See here

No doubt the situation has changed considerably since then. I neither know nor care nor does anybody else. My research generally arrived at conclusions uncongenial to Leftists so has always been thoroughly ignored by my fellow academics and I have therefore long since stopped doing any of it. I mention the matter only to establish that I do know the subject exceptionally well and am not talking through my hat in what I am about to say. And what I am about to say I have set out in more academic terms, complete with references, elsewhere. I should also note that what I am about to say is in part a sequel to what I said yesterday on the subject of racism so if anyone reading this has not read what I wrote yesterday, please do so before reading any further here.

In psychology, a "stereotype" is the word used to refer to a belief that someone has about a particular group of people. A common stereotype would be the belief that blacks are lazy. Stereotypes are therefore in general greatly condemned. The grounds for condemning them are twofold: 1). It is argued that no group has distinct characteristics; and 2). That even if a majority of a group has some characteristic, not all members of the group will have so it is pernicious to judge the individual by the group to which he belongs.

The first claim is simply silly. Of course groups have common characteristics. Most people of African ancestry have dark skin, for instance. Even if there are some or even many exceptions to the rule, the rule still exists. To say that no rule may have any exceptions would exclude most rules we use in life. The second claim is of course correct. To say that a person has a characteristic that he does not is plainly foolish and unjust and any public policy (such as the Jim Crow laws or "affirmative action") that assumes characteristics in an individual because of some group to which he belongs is also therefore foolish and unjust. The United Nations charter says that each person should be treated according to his/her individual merits and that is probably the most uncontroversial pronouncement the UN has ever made. Whether people act on it, however, is another matter.

So there are intellectually compelling reasons why public policy should not take group membership into account. Enquiries can always be made about the characteristics of the individual who might be affected by a policy instead of assuming the characteristics of the individual from some group to which he/she might belong. If a policy is designed to help poor people, for instance, enquiries should be made about the income and assets of each individual concerned before they are helped rather than assuming that because he/she is a member of a generally poor group (such as blacks) he/she should automatically be helped.

Private life, however, is another matter. In private life we very often HAVE to deal with people on the basis of very imperfect knowledge about them. A landlord deciding on whether or not to let his property to someone, for instance, will often know very little about the prospective tenant. He will of course ask for references etc but as crooks often have the best references, that will not get him far. So he will necessarily use very imperfect rules in deciding what to do. If, for instance, he has had repeated bad experiences with (say) Korean tenants, he may well decide not to accept a particular prospective tenant who is Korean. He will undoubtedly make some mistakes in doing so but he will probably make fewer mistakes that way than if he had used no rules at all. But clearly, what he has done is "stereotyped" Koreans as bad tenants. So what is quite improper in public policy may be perfectly proper in a limited-information, day-to-day environment. Circumstances alter cases and to say that stereotyping is ALWAYS undesirable is in fact to stereotype stereotyping.

So the rational conclusion from realities such as those mentioned out above is that consideration of group membership should be outlawed in public policy but allowed in private life. Needless to say, Leftists advocate the exact reverse of that.

I have combined the above comments into an article here or here


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