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Now in Audio Version
In Defense of Prejudice

M&Ms [1]2,588 words / 16:05

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Translations: Danish [5], German [6]Slovak [7], Spanish [8]

Years ago, a friend told me a parable about a species of hominid that did not live to inherit the earth. These hominids regarded each and every entity as entirely unique. When a tiger leaped out of the darkness and dragged one of them to his doom, this did not prompt any generalizations about tigers as a group. Thus when a new tiger began to prowl the shadows at the verge of the firelight, he was not judged on the basis of the other tiger’s behavior. Indeed, if the first tiger came back, they would not have judged him on the basis of his past behavior either, because that was then, and this is now: two unique, individual moments in time.

But even though tigers are not always man-eaters, and man-eaters are not always hungry, these poor creatures still went extinct, because their problems were not limited to tigers. They could not learn from any experiences at all. They were just too dumb to survive.

Survival, you see, requires the ability to learn from past experiences so that one can predict and even control future ones. To do this, however, one must recognize that there are not just individual beings, but kinds or types of beings. Individuals belong to the same kind if they share a common nature. And, since what we can do follows from our nature, we can infer that if a tiger is dangerous once, it will probably be dangerous again. And if one tiger is dangerous, it is probable that other tigers are dangerous too. Thus if one of us is killed by a tiger, we can take reasonable precautions to make sure that it does not happen again.

Drawing conclusions about kinds based on individuals is called inductive generalization. Induction allows you to infer that all members of a kind are “like that” based on one’s experience of individual members. These purple berries made me sick today, so they will probably make me sick tomorrow, since their nature and mine will probably not change overnight. And since you have the same nature as me, they might make you sick too. And since the purple berries on this bush are the same as the ones on the first bush, they’ll probably make us sick too. The flesh of this animal tastes good to me, so it will probably taste good to you too, since we have the same nature. And other members of its kind will probably taste good to us as well, since they have the same nature too.

However, induction also teaches that natural traits tend to graph along bell curves, with a large number of typical cases in the middle, and small numbers of atypical cases on each end. Typical purple berries will make us sick, but on every bush there might be some that have no negative effect and others that are downright toxic. Thus, inductive generalizations hold “not always, but for the most part.” In terms of any given trait, “Not all X are like that.” But most of them are.

Inductive reasoning is, therefore, probabilistic. There is always the possibility that one is not dealing with a typical instance of a kind. But it is not likely, since the atypical is by definition rare. Furthermore, as we experience more particulars, it becomes less likely that we are dealing with outliers, and our generalizations about a type become increasingly fixed. We even come to have a sense of what outliers are typical.

Although this is not common parlance, one could refer to a well-established inductive generalization as a “stereotype,” which comes from the Greek stereos (στερεός), “fixed” or “firm,” and the Greek typos (τύπος), or “type.”

Inductive generalization does not just allow us to learn from past experience, which would be of merely theoretical interest. Induction also has important practical implications, for it allows us to predict future experiences based on past ones, thus allowing us to act advantageously, even intervene in the course of events and control natural phenomena.

Another word for predicting future experiences is pre-judging them. Another word for a pre-judgment is a prejudice. Now, some prejudices may be utterly baseless and irrational—e.g., prejudices rooted in bad inductive generalizations, superstition, or mental illness—and acting on them may lead to disaster. But well-founded inductive generalizations (stereotypes) are the basis of well-founded prejudices that can be highly advantageous—for instance, helping us to discriminate between dangerous breeds and gentle ones, poisonous mushrooms and edible ones, etc.

Induction, by giving us the ability to predict future events, is the foundation of practical reason, which is the primary human means of survival. Induction is also the basis of science and technology, which allow us to more deeply understand nature and thus to predict and control her better. Induction is thus the foundation of the ongoing conquest of nature that we call modernization and progress.

Stereotypes and well-founded prejudices may be a triumphs of inductive reasoning and the foundations of common sense, science, technology, and progress. But today, when it comes to judging human beings, we are told that stereotypes and prejudices are evil and that each individual should be judged on his own behavior, not on the basis of the past behaviors of his kind. We are told that it is an injustice to judge individuals based on group membership.

This viewpoint is a kind of perversion of individualism. I myself defend a kind of Aristotelian individualism. I hold that the purpose of life is the actualization of our individual potentialities for excellence. In terms of politics, a well-ordered society should encourage individual self-actualization and excellence, as long as it does not undermine the common good of society.

The perverse individualism I reject, however, has nothing to do with individual self-actualization. Indeed, it basically amounts to a moral imperative to be stupid, since it is an attack on inductive generalization as such, which is the foundation of practical reason, science, technology, and the modern world. Perverse individualism demands that we behave like the hypothetical hominids discussed above, which were simply too stupid to survive.

False individualism is really an applied form of nominalism, which is the theory that there are no natural kinds in the world, only individuals, and all concepts of kinds are merely social conventions or “constructs [9].” According to false individualism, justice requires that we ignore all groups — except, somehow, “humanity” — and judge each individual as an individual, without any preconceptions based on his membership in any merely constructed category, such as race. Nominalism, however, is metaphysically false. There are real natural kinds. Individual members of those kinds share natural traits that allow us to make probabilistic predictions about them based on what we know of their kind.

An individualist could, however, reply that even though nominalism is metaphysically false and there are natural kinds, we should still set aside our well-founded stereotypes and prejudices and judge each and every human being as an individual. In effect, we have to treat every individual as a potential outlier, even though most of them are not. Why? Because, apparently, every individual is of infinite value, so rendering justice is an absolute value and committing injustice is an absolute evil. We must act as if nominalism is true, because otherwise there is a vanishingly small possibility that we might be unjust to a stranger.

This position is a moralistic absurdity, for it simply cannot be practiced. There are seven billion people on this planet. It is impossible to treat each and every one as a special snowflake, and if one tried it, even with the limited numbers of people we encounter in our individual lives, it would consume all one’s time and make it impossible to pursue one’s own goals, i.e., to actually live. Because the purpose of life is self-actualization, and the time we have is short, we just cannot get to know everyone we deal with.

One of the ways that civilization advances is by giving us means of dealing with greater numbers of people than we can ever know as individuals. The market economy, for instance, allows individuals to interact with millions of others around the globe through a largely anonymous symbolic medium that, at least in theory, allows all participants to pursue their individual self-actualization.

Psychologists have observed that the human mind cannot deal with more than 150 or so direct personal relationships, which means that if we could deal only with people as individuals, civilization would regress to the complexity of a hunter-gatherer band or agricultural village.

Well-founded stereotypes and prejudices make possible highly complex societies by allowing us to size up individuals at a glance and to choose to embrace or avoid them. Since natural kinds are limited in number, we actually create artificial kinds with visible distinctions — accents, clothing styles, even uniforms — that allow us to chart a course through complex social situations at a glance. For instance, a black man dressed in a ghetto clown costume signals danger, whereas a black man dressed in a police uniform signals trustworthiness.

Furthermore, if stereotyping is wrong, why do people go to great lengths to stereotype themselves? We all want to find like-minded people, and dressing in a certain way is one means to communicate the group we belong to, e.g., hipster, preppy, metal, redneck, businessman, career woman, slut, prole, gay clone, black thug, etc. Blacks go to great trouble and expense to dress like thugs, in order to communicate that they are dangerous, or that they aspire to be. Why do white liberals think it is disrespectful to take their signaling seriously?

The idea that we should always treat others only as individuals also undermines one of the greatest gifts of modernity: privacy. It is fashionable to bemoan the impersonal and mediated nature of modern society, but in a smaller scale, more personal society, everybody knows everybody else’s business. Thus it can be liberating to live in a society in which most people only know you by the persona you project and the money that you spend. Years ago, a student of mine told me that she grew up in a small Georgia town full of prying, censorious Baptists. She said she could hardly wait to move to Atlanta. I’ll never forget her reason why: “so I could sin.”

Under what conditions do we want to be judged as special snowflakes? We all want a fair shake when we are applying for a job or are on trial for our lives. But even then, chances are we are trying to conceal as much as we reveal. Moreover, we know that employers often can look only at the most superficial criteria simply because they lack the time to dig deeper. But we hope that we can at least expect justice from the criminal justice system. Beyond that, when nothing really crucial is at stake, we are content to navigate with prejudices and stereotypes, i.e., to play the odds with others and accept that others do the same with us.

Since nobody can judge each and every person as an individual all the time, it stands to reason that people only trot out this imperative to use as a weapon against others. Universalists of both the Left and Right typically deploy it against any form of racism, nationalism, tribalism, or antipathy to various religious groups or categories of sexual deviants. Of course, if you prod these universalists just a little, you find that they have some rather poorly formed and emotionally charged stereotypes and prejudices about their opponents.

“Not all Xs are like that,” the universalists say, implying that it is a mortal sin not to appreciate the uniqueness of every special snowflake. And since group membership can never be a basis for excluding someone from our society, there can be no racially and ethnically homogeneous societies, and we cannot uphold any norms of social and sexual behavior. Thus perverse individualism is just a tool to make us incapable of resisting ethnic dispossession and social decadence. What kind of people preach (but do not practice) “blindness” to race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual identity as a moral imperative? Obviously people who are up to no good.

If you propose discrimination against pedophiles, you will be told that they aren’t all child molesters, and you can’t do anything against them until after they have been caught. If you propose discrimination against blacks or mestizos because of their propensity to criminality, you are told that they are not all like that, and we can’t do anything against them until they actually commit crimes. If you propose discrimination against Muslims on the grounds that their religion mandates lies, rape, terrorism, murder, enslavement, and the overthrow of all governments, you will be told that not all Muslims are like that, and we can’t do anything against them until after they have committed a crime. If you propose discrimination against Jews because they are a hostile elite working to corrupt our politics and culture and destroy our race by promoting white guilt, miscegenation, and race-replacement immigration, you will be told that they aren’t all like that, and it would be collectivism to treat them simply as an enemy group. We have to treat all members of problem groups as if they are innocent, until proven otherwise. It is immoral to try to separate ourselves entirely from problem groups. Instead, we need to give them a chance, which boils down to a chance to harm us. And that means no borders and no standards.

These perverse individualists might even try to argue that the soldiers of an invading army are not all out to kill us, so it would be unjust to kill them just because they carry arms against us. But at that point, we would see what they really are and stand them against a wall. Of course by then it might be too late.

I am a nationalist because I believe that racial, ethnic, and religious diversity within the same political system are not strengths but weaknesses. They are constant sources of simmering tension that frequently boil over into hatred and violence. Thus the best guarantee of peace and harmony is to create separate homelands for all peoples. A healthy society also requires norms regarding sexuality, marriage, and child-rearing. Thus a society has to practice discrimination. We have to discriminate between who is us and who is not. And within our group, we have to discriminate between the normal and abnormal, the optimal and suboptimal, the law-abiding and the criminal.

We can freely acknowledge that there are some good blacks, Muslims, and Jews. There just aren’t enough of them for our tastes. But even if these groups were equal or superior to us — and they are bound to be superior in some ways — in the end they are simply not us, and we wish to create societies for ourselves and our posterity. We are not creating a team for a sporting event or a spelling bee by recruiting exceptional outliers from a wide range of different groups. We seek to create homogeneous communities with full ranges of both average specimens and outliers, i.e., organic white communities, which are one in blood and culture but diverse in abilities, opinions, and interests, so that all of our people have places to call home.