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On Being Right, Them, Us, Prejudice, Oppression, and What Can Be Done

January 22, 2011

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, neurologist, sociologist or anything ending in ologist. This theory has been built out of nothing more than observances of human nature. I may have completely the wrong end of the stick on theory of mind – it’s a known hazard of being an aspie.

In the beginning, we as individuals believe we are the only conscious beings. Most of us realise that other people think whilst we are still children, but to begin with we think that other people think just like us. As we grow up, we come to realise that other people have different opinions to us, though it seems like they are presented with the same initial data. This leads to three possible thought processes.

  1. They’re wrong.
  2. I’m wrong.
  3. There is more than one way to do this.

I don’t know what proportion of these realisations head towards options 1, 2, or 3, and it can vary for opinions on different topics by the same person. 3 is quite complicated, and is less likely to be an initial reaction than someone stopping and thinking that they should hold a more balanced opinion. 2 is most likely when someone is of a minority that is either hidden from view or only shown as an incorrect choice. This leaves 1, which I believe is the way most people think – though I could easily be wrong, I believe the simulation below demonstrates the data I’ve seen from hanging about on Tumblr quite well. 1 is supported by stereotypes, but even if there were no stereotypes, 1 wouldn’t go away. Here is how 1 leads to prejudice

  1. I am good / right / intelligent / moral / compassionate / generous
  2. They are bad / wrong / unintelligent / immoral / callous / greedy
  3. They do not deserve respect / human rights / things they claim they deserve / their opinions listened to / freedom

This, I would suggest, is the basis of most prejudice – setting up an us and them dynamic which is based around the fact one group is “better” than the other. Internalised prejudice and phobia is based on following this argument starting from opinion 2, and coming to the conclusion that there is an us and them, and to be one of them is to be a better person. Where things go from here depends on the local system of privilege. If the us for an issue has more privilege than the them for that issue, the them is more likely to suffer than if they were privileged. For example, I am a member of an us that has the them as bankers. Many people in the lower classes in the UK think that bankers are greedy and immoral. However, because they are much wealthier than us, and are most likely to be cis white straight men, anything the working classes tries to do just bounces off. We don’t have the firepower, as we are not privileged compared to them on pretty much any scale you could think of.

Compare this to the yoyo that is USA health care reform. It appears that the Republican party believes that people who cannot afford health care do not deserve it, though I can’t quite see the line of reasoning. Because rich people are privileged over poor people, and the currently healthy are privileged above the chronically ill, the Republican party has a much larger arsenal than the people who think they are greedy, corrupt, or immoral. Poor and chronically ill Americans die because of lack of health care. No British banker is going to die because the working classes dislike them (or if one does, the government will firmly side with the banker. You can’t complain to the government that your health care is non-existent, because they already know.)

So, what can be done? There are two places the argument can be attacked. I’ll start with the one that won’t work.

Assimilation will not work. We cannot pretend that all people are identical, because it’s easy to see differences between people. Even if five days a week person A behaves exactly the same as person B, but person A goes to a religious service on a Saturday and person B goes to a religious service on a Sunday, there is still a big enough difference that an us and them dynamic can be built. If we were to set out to disprove every stereotype in the world, new ones would spring up before we finished the list.

What can work is promotion of option 3. There is more than one way to see every issue. There is more than one way to be correct. But most people think I’m wrong in thinking that.

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