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Judging Your Cover

August 22, 2010

How is it that conservatives can simultaneously acknowledge that their people think Obama is a Muslim and yet claim that racism is dead in America (other than raw doublethink and/or blatant lying)?  Is this the product of a heuristic problem whereby one’s own racism is simply healthy skepticism that acknowledges “facts” and all other racial treatment is accordingly perfectly just and appropriate?  No wonder the GOP trusts Arizona to justly administer their “your papers, please” regulations.  They see their own racism as simply acknowledging the fact that illegal immigrants by and large come from Mexico.  Which they do, plain and simple.  But that’s not a good reason to promulgate the vastly greater infringements on freedom for the sake of minor convenience for the police.

The real point here is that no matter how large the kernel of truth or basis in fact, stereotypes and prejudices simply are not permissible criteria for any form of political action or behavior in a free society.  The whole point of freedom is that it is one’s actions that ought to control one’s fate, not one’s birth.  And exacerbating the polity’s fascination with race and religion (and other forms of identity politics) encourages just such a substitution because the actual bases for decisions are obscured and hidden behind the tabloid filth.  In that sense, the media exacerbates racism because the harm in racism lies in when it is substituted as a basis for decisionmaking and its obfuscation of valid bases for decisions.

The negative consequential effects are almost guaranteed by virtue of the fundamental reversal of causation that stereotyping relies on.  For example, take the simple logical observations that not all illegal immigrants are Latinos, nor are all Latinos illegal immigrants.  Using either as a basis for action is guaranteed to cast an ill-fitted net that bears a heavy presumption of creating more problems than it will solve.

For a more practical and/or frivolous example of one of ill-fitting labels in society, take this article on how you can tell if you’re a hipster.  For a piece of self-acknowledged stereotyping, it seems sound enough.  However, I didn’t identify myself with any of the purportedly telltale signs, other than “You can tell when a band sounds just enough like Joy Division, but not too much, you know?” and maybe “You could, if really drunk, explain when it is and when it is not appropriate to dance at a concert. If not drunk enough, you will trash the person asking you to explain this. But you will drink more and the truth will come out.”

In this way, you can see that the symptomatic mode of definition is not accurate or sufficiently inclusive. When treating stereotypical conditions and/or examples as though they are causes and/or definitions, that reverses the causality and obscures what the label purports to define and identify.  By all accounts, I should qualify as a “hipster” by virtue of my interests in music, fashion, art, and the intelligentsia.  But I don’t exhibit the symptomatic characteristics of the stereotypically blissfully self-contradictory and unaware–and therefore highly visible and noteworthy–version of a hipster.  Therefore, I seem to defy the definition, leading to a false negative result of using the stereotype as the definition rather than the example.  One can be a hipster without blissful unawareness, an illegal immigrant without being a Mexican, and one can be a Black Democratic President of the United States without being a Muslim, as intuitive as those connections might seem to a warped mind.

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