Tuesday, April 12, 2016

 The psychology of prejudice

At least since 1950, psychologists have been associating prejudice with mental problems.  You are allegedly maladjusted if you are prejudiced about anything.  Although I sometimes do, I have a strong prejudice against driving through a red light.  Does that make me prejudiced?  I think it is apparent that not all pre-judging is bad and may even be wise on occasions.  So their psychologizing of prejudice has always been uphill for them and mostly now seems to have been abandoned.  For some decades now, many psychologists have accepted it as normal.

So I was interested to look at an encyclopedic account of what we now know about prejudice -- one published in a book called The Encyclopedia of Peace Psychology, in 2012.

The article was written by two very experienced researchers in the field --  Cohrs and Duckitt  -- and is generally moderate and cautious, as an encyclopedic article should be.

But because there is clearly "good" prejudice (such as opposition to the KKK) as well as "bad" prejudice, the authors soon hit a rock.  They recognize that value judgments intrude at that point.  Rather heroically, however, they avoid value judgments and define prejudice simply as a "negative attitude".  I hate to do this to two earnest people but my background in analytical philosophy immediately makes me get critical about that.  The definition overlooks the time element in prejudice.  It is something you do before you do something else.  For instance, I certainly have a negative attitude to ill health but does that mean I am prejudiced against ill health?  We are in deep waters there, I think.

But let me be indulgent and overlook that. I am pleased that they agree with something that has repeatedly emerged in my own research:  "Thus, while tendencies to favor and identify with one’s  own group may be universal, intergroup prejudice is not a universal consequence".  In other words, you can be patriotic without being a racist.

So is there a prejudiced personality?  Is the prejudiced person rigid, intolerant of ambiguity, lacking in openness and all that old guff?  Cohrs and Duckitt reject all that and say that there are only two real predictors of prejudice:  SDO and RWA.  Which is quite hilarious.

The SDO scale CONTAINS expressions of group prejudice so it is no wonder that it predicts it!  In statistician's terms, the correlations are artifactual.  I am disappointed in John Duckitt for not knowing that.  I am pretty sure I have pointed that out to him in the past.   In 2003 I put online  some fuller comments on the SDO scale.  It is a mess.

And as for the RWA (Right-wing Authoritarianism) scale, who knows what it measures?  In Russia the people who get the highest scores on it are former Communists, so it certainly is not a measure of anything Right-wing.  Our present authors describe it as measuring "a combination of traditionalism, support for authorities, and favoring coercive social control".

That's probably as good a description as any but it makes the RWA scale sound very Leftish.  Who are they who ignore the obvious facts and rely on appeals to authority to justify their belief in global warming?  It sure isn't conservatives.  And if you want to hear the conservative attitude to authority, just listen to GOP hero Donald Trump.  He rubbishes all the main authorities: The Congress, the political party organizations, the Supreme Court, the President, big business.  He trusts only the people, which is exactly right in a democracy.

Marxists have often talked about "the people" but have never represented them.  Trump does.  From Marx and Engels on, Marxists have always been low wattage bourgeois intellectuals  -- confirmed ivory tower denizens.

And as for coercive social control, who is it who wanted to "fundamentally transform" America?  Hint: His surname begins with an O.   So it is a type of Leftism  that engenders racism?  It fits.  Aside from the Muslims, all the antisemitism in both Britain and America today is coming from the Left -- particularly in Britain.  And Hitler was a socialist.

Cohrs & Duckitt did not draw that inference, however, perhaps due to a general political naivety.  There also seems to be an underlying political naivety in this statement:

"Simply categorizing people as members of one’s own social category or as members of another social category seems to automatically generate identification with one’s group and a motivational tendency to positively differentiate it from other groups"

So you are always positive towards your own group?  Hardly. Many  American Leftists HATE America and lots of Jews are very negative about Israel.  Even Leftist Israelis are very critical of Israel.

I think Cohrs and Duckitt need to get out into the fresh air a lot more.  There's a different world out there

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

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