INDUCTION AND STEREOTYPES

And while we’re at it, let’s settle once and for all all this blather about stereotyping. A stereotype is just a run-of-the-mill induction, usually performed on a person rather than a more general causal relation. The sun has risen in the east and set in the west since before I can remember, so I continue to induce it will do so tomorrow. In fact the like-alike axiom sits at the very core of any cognitive system, be it humans, ants, or computer programs.

Many of our stereotypes, like many of our inductions, are inherited from other people. More often than not they’re reliable. And so we likewise induce their reliability. Can we be mistaken? Of course we can. Otherwise we’d be engaged in deduction rather than induction. So most of my stereotypes are also inherited. I knew nothing about albinos, so, albeit mistakenly, I had to take somebody’s word for it that albinos have pink eyes, and would probably have continued to believe that had I not just looked it up for the purposes of this example.

But how do I look up whether an indigenous job applicant will turn up at work as reliably as a white one? All I have, in fact all I usually have, are anecdotes. So absent the time or resources to investigate further, I hire the white applicant. Why? Because of the ill- or well-founded stereotype, I know not which. More to the point, I care not which. What I care about – all I care about – is whether I’ll have someone to help me move that log tomorrow morning.

Some people, in fact many people, care about whether their having stereotyped him does him an injustice. Other people worry that they’ve done him an injustice only if the stereotype is mistaken. And still others worry that they’ve done him an injustice only if the stereotype is mistaken in his case.

So next time you’re called out on having stereotyped someone, ask your accuser to tell you which of these three types of injustices you’re being accused of, and then, whichever she answers, reply with any of the thousands of tu quoques that come readily to mind. People don’t like to be called out on their high dudgeon. But sometimes, not unlike Jake and Elroy, one can’t refuse a mission from God.



Categories: Critical Thinking

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