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.
… 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.
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.)