As soon as you hear the word 'prejudice', you're prejudiced against it. Everybody knows it's bad to have it, and yet none of us would be able to function if we didn't. So I'd like to say a few words on behalf of prejudice in an effort to give the poor word a fair shake. Because ultimately it's not about whether or not we have prejudices, but about whether we have prejudices that are reality based.
We cannot start with our mind a blank slate every day. Our worldview is a network of interconnected prejudices that form a paradigm, and when we argue with one another it usually has less to do with the facts, and more to do with the paradigm that filters some out and others in, and which provides a template to help us interpret them. And so the real question is not whether it's good to have prejudices, but to ask what factors have contributed to giving us the prejudices we have. Is it possible to have healthy prejudices? Yes. Is it possible to distinguish them from unhealthy prejudices. Again, yes.
Some of our prejudices, and maybe even most (depending on the person), are originally developed from empirical evidence. Isn't that the point of the fable about "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"? It's a story about how a prejudice to trust was transformed into a prejudice to mistrust because repeated experience teaches that it's more likely the person crying wolf is lying rather than telling the truth. Nine times out of ten, you're going to be right if you think the person is lying. And so even when he's telling the truth, you have good reason to be prejudiced in your thinking that he's not. The burden of proof is on him to prove otherwise.
Some people just cannot be believed, even when they are telling the truth. To think so derives from a healthy kind of prejudice. But because these kind of healthy prejudices are formed from experience, they are open to be overruled by new evidence even if it has to be incontrovertible. A healthy set of prejudices inclines us to organize the world in a certain way, but it is not so rigid as to be unable to adapt when solid new information challenges it.
A second kind of prejudice derives from our cultural conditioning and perhaps on another level our innate psychological temperament. It has more to do with the a priori template that we bring to the world from childhood. These kinds of a priori prejudices can be either healthy or unhealthy depending on whether our socialization as children was healthy or unhealthy. I think it's fair to say that anyone socialized into a racist, fundamentalist, politically correct, or jingoistic family is likely to have prejudices that are unhealthy, and that such a person has a lot of work to do to overcome the handicap of his upbringing.
On the other hand, anyone socialized into a family that is respectful of all persons, intellectually curious about the mysteries of nature and the cosmos, skeptical of all groupthink, and a proud defender of his or her culture's highest ideals will have healthy prejudices. Not all prejudices are equal, and I hardly think that it makes one an elitist if he wants his kids to hang out with the healthy, broadminded people in the second group, not the primitive, narrow-minded ones in the first. If people are racist, fundamentalist, politically correct, or jingoistic, they deserve our respect as human beings, but how can anybody say that it's condescending to find their attitudes despicable? There is no defense to justify these social pathologies. Any attempt to do so is as absurd as defending the right of a paranoid to have his fears or of a chronic substance abuser to have his cravings.
For we as parents seek to cultivate healthy prejudices as habits of the soul in our children; the health and sanity of our children depends on the habits we help them to acquire. But any habit becomes a problem when it rigidifies, becomes an end it itself, and as such makes us incapable of adapting when the empirical evidence demands an adjustment. And so for me rigidity is the most important characterisitic that determines whether a prejudice is unhealthy or not, and that's what makes the attitudes fundamentalists and jingoists most unhealthful. Their prejudices are impervious to new information.
So we're back to the boy who cried wolf. Any normal, warm-hearted human being with healthy prejudices is inclined to believe and to trust what someone says unless there is good reason not to. It would be an unhealthy prejudice or habit of mind to assume that everyone was lying, that everyone had a vicious, hidden agenda. That would be for me the definition of hell. And yet we are fools if we refuse to acknowledge the evidence that some people have vicious agendas, and that often they are politicians, and that American politicians are no different from any other. And that if we trust them after they have repeatedly abused our trust, there's really something the matter with us.
So it follows that I should admit to another of my biggest prejudices: I do not trust people who make a career of acquiring as much power and wealth as they can. Call it a prejudice that derives from my taking the Gospels seriously. It follows, then, that I don't trust politicians because my empirical observations have led me to the obvious conclusion that wherever there are huge concentrations of wealth and power, you are likely to find, like flies buzzing round the pile, the people most interested in getting at it. The more money and the more power, the more attractive to those who want it most. Therefore, it is more likely than not that you are going to find people in politics, whether Republican or Democrat, whom we should be very wary to give our trust.
At this level we're not talking about political philosophy; we're talking about the fundamental motivations that drive people into politics. Politicians as individuals in either party have to be kept on a short leash. We have no reason to trust that they are doing anything except what is in their own best interest until they have provided incontrovertible evidence to make us think differently. We have reason to believe that they will do whatever it takes to get reelected, and that they will serve only those who will help them to stay in office. And the way the system is set up right now people with extraordinary wealth and power play a far greater role in keeping politicians in office and so have a far greater influence on most politicians than the will of the broad American public.
That does not mean that no politician is worthy of trust; some clearly are dedicated public servants with high ideals. But at this time, if ever, they don't define our political culture. And even politicians with integrity have to operate in a world where the buzzing of the flies drowns out their voices. So the integrity of the individual politicians we elect matters--how could it not? But I think we have to deal with the reality that few people who are attracted to public office have the integrity we would hope, and so our expectations of individuals cannot be very high. What matters more now is their party affiliation and their willingness to support their party's respective agendas.
And so I would add a corollary to this fundamental prejudice against politicians: I have learned to distrust more the Republican agenda than I have the Democratic one. And I think a big part of my reason for doing so goes back to the paragraph above: the GOP has devolved into a political culture where bigots, fundamentalists, and jingoists feel most at home. But for me more damning is that the Republican party is the party of Watergate, Iran-Contra, the zealots who forced the Clinton impeachment upon us, and now the Iraq fiasco and the Military Commissions Act. And those are just the most noteworthy. Don't let's get started about the School of the Americas and Operation Condor in the 80s. The GOP is the party that most represents the interests of power and wealth in this country and for that reason attracts more flies than the feckless Democrats. It has proved time and time again over the last thirty five years that it is unworthy of the trust of any decent American. And yet people continue to be conned by its traditional values, small-government rhetoric.
This is not a question of liberal vs. conservative. It's a question of right vs. wrong, healthy vs. unhealthy, concrete evidence vs. bubble ideology. So, yes, I have a prejudice against Republicans. And I would argue that it is a healthy prejudice because it's based on empirical evidence and experience. What I don't understand is how anybody who knows anything about its record can defend the GOP. I can only assume that such a defense is rooted in two possibilities: either, one, such people approve of the the party's power and money agenda and hope to share in its spoils--or, two, they have been conned by the power and money Republicans who have exploited their fears and prejudices. If there is any other reason to support Republicans, please let me know of it. But don't tell me that they are stronger on national security; just put yourself in the second category above.
But let me suggest another reason--an extraordinarily blindingly negative prejudice they have toward Democrats. I do not think that I am blind to the more woeful characteristics of the Democrats. But for all that is lamentable about them, what is in their record that even remotely approaches this shameful GOP resume of the last three decades? Listen, anybody who has been reading this blog over time knows that I'm no shill for the Democrats, but given the choice between Republicans and Democrats, there really is none. Not because the Democrats are so great, but because the GOP has lost all credibility and can no longer be taken seriously by anybody with any common sense or common decency. Voting independent or for moderate Republicans is a wasted vote if it might contribute to preserving either GOP congressional majority. Please, please, please. Think about it. Nothing is more important than taking the majority away from this nasty, thuggish group.
For all their significant faults and foolishness, the Democrats are not dangerous, and they are reasonably competent. It is the party that represents the most significant, positive accomplishments in the political sphere during the last century. For these reasons, a vote for them is the conservative choice. And so in this election it's not the resume of the individual that matters so much as the resumes of the candidates' respective parties. This about taking power away from a party that over three decades has repeatedly and egregiously abused it. Nothing could be more clear or more important.