Thursday, December 24, 2015

Do You Believe in Stereotypes?

In the Church of the Liberal Pieties all people are equal. Not just as moral or political beings, but equal in all abilities and capacities. Anyone can do anything as well as anyone else.

If we make distinctions based on gender, race, ethnicity or sexual propensity we are trafficking in stereotypes. We need to mount a crusade against these stereotypes. Once they have been removed from the culture and from everyone’s mind they we will become utterly and totally equal. 

Or, as the old saying goes... be careful what you wish for. Can anything be more boring than total equality?

Once a group is stereotyped as good or bad, smart or dumb everyone treats all members of the group as such. This expectation causes members of the group to act so that they fulfill the expectation.

Surely, it is convenient. If whites do better than members of other ethnic groups we can attribute it to privilege. If Asians do better than members of other ethnic groups we can also attribute that to privilege. If some cultures do better than others, that too must be the result of privilege.

Sometimes I imagine that the whole white privilege meme is an effort to dumb down America. In that it might very well be succeeding.

Privilege was created in order to maintain the power of a certain class of people and to exploit and oppress other classes of people. Unequal achievement can only have been caused by unequal treatment. There is no such thing as earned privilege, the privilege that might accrue to someone for having succeeded in life or the privilege he might enjoy for being the spawn of someone who has succeeded in life.

Of course, the belief in stereotypes is not limited to the Church of the Liberal Pieties. Social psychologists have produced a mountain of research showing that all stereotypes function as invidious caricatures that serve to oppress certain groups. They have also producedseveral other mountains of research demonstrating that orthodox progressive beliefs are scientific fact.

As it happens, a Rutgers psychologist by the name of Lee Jussim has shown that most of this research is biased. It tends to skew the outcomes in order to confirm the articles of liberal faith and cannot be replicated. As you know, scientific results that cannot be experimentally reproduced are not science.

Take an experiment that has usually been recognized as unassailable. If you tell a teacher that her students are all brilliant she will teach in a way that causes them to perform better than they would have if she had been told that they were all dolts. Ergo, performance is produced by expectation. Moreover, expectation is often the result of bigoted stereotypes.

Claire Lehmann describes Jussim’s crisis of faith:

Very early in his career, Jussim faced a crisis of sorts. An early mentor, Jacquelynne Eccles, handed him some large datasets gathered from school children and teachers in educational settings. He tried testing the social psychology theories he had studied, but consistently found that his data contradicted them.

Instead of finding that the teachers’ expectations influenced the students’ performances, he found that the students’ performances influenced the teachers’ expectations. This data “misbehaved”. It did not show that stereotypes created, or even had much influence on the real world. The data did not show that teachers’ expectations strongly limited students’ performances. It did not show that stereotypes became self-fulfilling prophecies. But instead of filing his results away into a desk drawer, Jussim kept investigating – for three more decades.

It is true, Jussim posited, that people sometimes use stereotypes. If you are meeting someone for the first time and have no information about him as a particular individual you will begin by making assumptions based on your interactions with others who are just like him. It is hardly invidious. It is a normal part of human psychology.

If an individual possessing certain characteristics commits a crime, the police do well to limit their search for people who possess the same characteristics. Some say that the police are profiling and go into high dudgeon over their stereotyping. And yet, these same blowhards never criticize the criminal whose actions have caused the police to seek out potential suspects who resemble him.

But, Jussim, continued, when you get to know the person better many of the unfounded stereotypes disappear, replaced by more certain knowledge of the person. It doesn’t mean that we never use stereotypes. It does mean that we allow reality to overrule some of our stereotypes.

Lehmann writes:

… people apply stereotypes when they have no other information about a person, but switch them off when they do.  It appears that descriptive stereotypes are a crutch to lean on when we have no other information about a person. When we gain additional insights into people, these stereotypes are no longer useful. And there is now a body of evidence to suggest that stereotypes are not as fixed, unchangeable and inflexible as they’ve historically been portrayed to be.

In the largest sense, stereotypes are not distortions imposed on groups of people. Often stereotypes portray groups accurately, even if only up to a point.

In Lehmann’s words:

Jussim and his co-authors have found that stereotypes accurately predict demographic criteria, academic achievement, personality and behaviour7. This picture becomes more complex, however, when considering nationality or political affiliation. One area of stereotyping which is consistently found to be inaccurate are the stereotypes concerning political affiliation; right-wingers and left wingers tend to caricature each others personalities, most often negatively so.

With the exception of stereotypes that involve political affiliation, stereotypes are not imposed on groups of people in order to diminish or demean them. They are often the product of accurate and objective observation. So, while we tend to modify stereotypes when we get to know certain people, the fact remains that our stereotypes are not lies and falsehoods, but are often correct conclusions about different people and groups.

Lehmann explains:

To talk about stereotypes, one has to first define what they are. Stereotypes are simply beliefs about a group of people. They can be positive (children are playful) or they can be negative (bankers are selfish), or they can be somewhere in between (librarians are quiet). When stereotypes are defined as beliefs about groups of people (true or untrue), they correlate with real world criteria with effect sizes ranging from .4 to .9, with the average coming in somewhere around .8. (This is close to the highest effect size that a social science researcher can find, an effect size of 1.0 would mean that stereotypes correspond 100% to real world criteria. Many social psychological theories rest on studies which have effect sizes of around .2.)

In the world of psychic economy it is impossible and dysfunctional to consider each separate individual on his merits. No man is an island, the poet said, and no one is seen or judged entirely as a disconnected human monad. Were we to be obliged to judge each individual individually the amount of time and energy required would make it impossible to do anything else.


Ares Olympus said...
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Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: In the Church of the Liberal Pieties all people are equal. Not just as moral or political beings, but equal in all abilities and capacities. Anyone can do anything as well as anyone else.

Do you believe in strawmen? Maybe this is an Animal Farm argument - we're all equal, but some more more equal than others?

And in the Church of Conservative Pieties all human being are equal under God. So the life of a 5 week old fetus is equal to the life of a 18 year old unprepared mother-to-be. At least until the 5 week old fetus becomes a new born baby. Then the now 19 year old is a "Welfare queen" and becomes a sterotype who deserves our contempt. And if the teen mother was also an alcoholic, its okay for the baby, because she can just have it adopted out for someone else to care for. Stereotypes are great fun!

At least Walt Disney helped clarify the nature of sterotypes in Mary Poppins, and the song Sister Suffragette, and the line of individual discernment "Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they're rather stupid."

Apparently reputations matter and its a long hard fight to let individual reputation supersede steretypes. So if you want to scapegoat someone you don't like, you don't have to destroy their personal reputation. You merely have to destroy the reputation of other like your hated foe, with any sort of lies and deceptions that suit your person, and you can depend on the fact that your "home team" audience won't fact check, and they won't listen to fact checkers that come up with different conclusions.

So apparently the problem isn't that we use sterotypes, but that people use our sterotypes to help us avoid thinking and if its our "home team", we gladly support the deception against people we're not supposed to like, so whatever individual virtues we miss, that's our loss.

And yes, I accept this is a bipartisan man-made disaster of our collective immaturity, a stereotype of humanity that seems a safe bet, at least until you're forced to take sides between two sides that are not your own, and see assuming we're all equally dishonest makes it really hard to do anything.

I think Jonathan Haidt did a good job to try to bridge the gaps. The realy problem isn't trying to decide if stereotypes are accurate or not, but trying to find how you can see through your own stereotypes, your own home team's blind spots.

How do you see the world in a way that doesn't bias you towards your own self-interest? It's amazing humanity has done as well as we have, trying to create justice that can treat us all equally under the law, while trying to recognize divergent challenges of individuals and groups, and help all sides mature to their best selves, despite themselves. Objectivity is not our natural state. It is only an ideal we're guaranteed to fail no matter how hard we try, so the best we can do is to fail less badly over time.
Since the 15th century, Lady Justice has often been depicted wearing a blindfold. The blindfold represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be meted out objectively, without fear or favour, regardless of money, wealth, power, or identity; blind justice and impartiality. The earliest Roman coins depicted Justitia with the sword in one hand and the scale in the other, but with her eyes uncovered. Justitia was only commonly represented as "blind" since about the end of the 15th century.

David Foster said...

"In the Church of the Liberal Pieties all people are equal. Not just as moral or political beings, but equal in all abilities and capacities. Anyone can do anything as well as anyone else."

They don't actually believe any such thing. Does Obama his core supporters believe...that a Harvard Law School graduate is only "equal" to a Texas A&M graduate? Of course not.

Partly, the "equality" show is theater to fool the rubes; partly, they believe in equality across certain dimensions...gender, for example...but not others, such as credentials or US region of origin or patterns of speaking.

See my post Jousting With a Phantom

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. Reminded of Jonathan Haidt, I found this September 2015 article.
Posted by Jonathan Haidt in Civility, Social trends

I just read the most extraordinary paper by two sociologists — Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning — explaining why concerns about microaggressions have erupted on many American college campuses in just the past few years. In brief: We’re beginning a second transition of moral cultures. The first major transition happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor (where people must earn honor and must therefore avenge insults on their own) to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it.
B) A Culture of Dignity
The prevailing culture in the modern West is one whose moral code is nearly the exact opposite of that of an honor culture. Rather than honor, a status based primarily on public opinion, people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others. Dignity exists independently of what others think, so a culture of dignity is one in which public reputation is less important.
) A Culture of Victimhood
Microaggression complaints have characteristics that put them at odds with both honor and dignity cultures. Honorable people are sensitive to insult, and so they would understand that microaggressions, even if unintentional, are severe offenses that demand a serious response. But honor cultures value unilateral aggression and disparage appeals for help. Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all. Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.
The emerging victimhood culture appears to share [dignity culture’s] disdain for risk, but it does condone calling attention to oneself [as in an honor culture] as long as one is calling attention to one’s own hardships – to weaknesses rather than strengths and to exploitation rather than exploits.

It's worth a read. So perhaps when the left talks about "equality" they really mean "dignity", although whatever you call it, its problematic, leading to covert power wielded by your ability to appear weak and powerless to act in your your own behalf.

Sam L. said...

Stereotypes are useful as a first approximation, when recognized as only a first approximation, and that data must be collected and plugged into that first approximation to get closer and closer approximations.