The layers of rationalization for prejudice.

In this entry, I gave a series of stages which, I’ve now realized, represent the layers of rationalizations that support prejudice. These layers are not the same for each prejudice, though. In the case of gender, I presented the following five layers:

1. Gender is innate.
2. Gender is so ingrained in the fabric of society that it cannot be eliminated.
3. Gender can be abolished, but the results would be catastrophic.
4. Gender can be abolished, but it would destroy individuality.
5. Abolishing gender is bigoted because it would go against people’s self-identification.

I think you could make the case that replacing gender with race would yield a pretty accurate account of racism, except for point 5 (or at least, we haven’t gone to the insanity of self-identifying as other races yet). But in this case there are notions of ethnicity and culture complicating the picture, and this mono-concept list can’t convey that.

In general, we can say that there are levels of justifications that exist in all prejudices: first the biological level, then the social level, then the individual level; bigots will argue first that their prejudice is a biological fact (an innate property of the individual), then that it is necessary for society to function, then that it exists for the individuals’ benefit. Before the intellectual impact of the Renaissance, religious dogma would have been the first step (“God made women to serve men,” “God created the black race as a curse”).

[M]ost people are susceptible to the argument that if a difference between men and women has a biological basis, it is inevitable (‘you can’t argue with nature’), desirable (‘what’s natural is good’), and the world should be organized around it.

Deborah Cameron, The Myth of Mars and Venus

These levels are not separate and individualized: they form a self-reinforcing network of justifications.

Take the example of genderism again. As a form of linear logic, the belief that women are inherently passive, emotional and caring leads to the belief that society is best organized along gender lines with men being the leaders and women being nurturers. This belief, in turn, leads to the belief that women are better off when they follow instead of lead, when they have lower-paying nurturing jobs, when they busy themselves with children. It also leads to the secondary benefits of women subordinating themselves (e.g. they don’t have to succeed, they are supported by a husband, they are admired for their beauty, and so on and so nauseatingly forth).

But the logic also flows in the reverse fashion. When a man observes a woman who follows her gender role, runs a “successful” family (the large family being of course the end point of genderism, the black hole where all individuality is absorbed), and seems to live a happy life, he therefore concludes that society is better off when men and women follow these gender roles, and that there must be something innate in men and women to make them happy in these roles.

Racism follows the same linear logic. The belief that black people are inherently deficient in intellect and inherently violent leads to the belief in physical and intellectual ghettoisation (and its moneyed cousin, gentrification), which leads to the belief that it is right for black people to be underemployed and underpaid, overrepresented in prisons, brutalized by police, executed, and so on, that this inequality is the result of individual (innate) flaws and not of systemic capitalist oppression.

Likewise, any instance of a black person being brutalized by police serves as “evidence” (because of the belief in obedience) that black people deserve to be treated as second-class citizens, and this must be because they have some innate moral deficiency.

I have previously highlighted three main lines of rationalization for childism:

1. Children are not physically developed, therefore they are not mentally developed and are incapable of moral reasoning, decision-making, figuring out what’s true and what’s not, and so on.

2. Children are dependent on adults for their survival, therefore children are inferior, therefore children must be controlled for their own good.

3. Children are inherently gullible and believe anything their parents say, because evolution made them that way.

Each of these rationalizations can easily be translated into layers of rationalization:

Biological necessity: Children are not mentally developed/ Children are dependent on adults for their survival/ Children are inherently gullible.

Social necessity: We must have a system whereby children are under the control of some (arbitrary) adults.

Individual necessity: Children will thereby be taught how to become moral agents/ Children will develop “correctly”/ Children will be taught the “correct” beliefs (whatever these are supposed to be).

Because there have been no widespread criticism of these claims, we are still at a stage similar to that time when everyone accepted the claim that women were made by God to serve men, or when the belief that black people had inferior craniums and were best served by slavery was accepted in slave countries. Although there are movements against schooling, and there are laws against physical violence committed by parents, childism has not yet been put into question.

If emancipation can be defined, dixit George Fredrickson in Racism: A Short History, as “the process of elevating the civil and political status of an entire ethnic or racial group from legal inferiority to equal citizenship,” then emancipation takes a whole new meaning in childism (even though children are not an ethnic or racial group, they are a discriminated group), not simply to be reserved for individual children: children as a dispossessed class need to be emancipated, given equal citizenship, but this will not be possible until they are first given equal humanity.

The natural sort of attack to make on these rationalizations is to argue that the so-called biological necessity is quackery, based on the flimsiest pretense of science. Certainly this was a fruitful line of attack against pseudo-sciences like anthropometry, IQ racism, sociobiology, and against our current enemies, evolutionary psychology and innate (brain) gender.

However, the layer model points to the fact that there are many possible vectors of attack, not just one. We know this is true because people have testified that knowing gay people have changed their opinions about homosexuality. I don’t know what influence this really had on gay rights, but it doesn’t seem negligeable. Seeing the evidence that women, POC or gay people can be better than the dominant classes can be as salient as the rejection of biological necessity.

The problem for childism is that children are virtually never encountered in a context without control. We almost always see children when they are either under the direct control of their parents (or guardians) or teachers. Prejudice against children and women shares one crucial property: the victims generally live with their oppressors, although there are many more single women or lesbian couples than there are emancipated children.

This is especially problematic because individuals from oppressed groups need independent safe spaces in order to first become aware of their status as a class, and then to develop theories and solutions about their oppression. Without this process, oppression remains normalized and there can be no systemic understanding of its nature.

3 thoughts on “The layers of rationalization for prejudice.

  1. Miep June 11, 2015 at 20:26 Reply
  2. Independent Radical June 13, 2015 at 07:50 Reply

    “…(or at least, we haven’t gone to the insanity of self-identifying as other races yet…”

    I fear we might be taking steps in that direction though. I see people online using the term “white” to refer to personality traits (like being excessively conventional.) This is the first step towards erasing the recognition that people are being harmed and discriminated against based on visible physical traits that they cannot control and replacing it with the belief that there is some innate “blackness” or “whiteness” that exists in people’s minds (or souls or whatever) and that prejudice against non-whites is really prejudice against a set of “black” personality traits (e.g. subversiveness, angriness, etc.) You are right, liberals have not reached that level of insanity with regard to race, but I fear that is where they are going.

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