The only difference between superstition and knowledge is one is made by scientists. While there are countless beliefs that we can claim to be super stupid or superstitious or nonsensical, every belief sounds absurd at first. We live in a world where we cannot explain everything. We can never truly know all the factors that go into an outcome. We cannot logically deduce the results of any experiment without testing. We cannot hands down declare two things unrelated or uncorrelated.
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The whole field of statistics exists to test relationships between things regardless of whether it makes sense to do so. The link between good weather in a city and stock performance of the companies in said city should be tenuous to nonexistent, yet one hedge fund has found a connection. This is pretty much a superstition backed by evidence; but it works. Whether a belief that apples have healing properties is accurate, eating apples makes you healthier.
A defense of irrational beliefs is in fact a defense of stereotyping. To some extent, assuming things based on people’s observable characteristics (race, gender, clothing, etc) is simply the smartest decision. Being bisexual, the ability to gauge other’s sexualities based off of arbitrary factors is very useful. Straight men, for example, do not wear Doc Martens. Black converse with black laces are the bisexual shoe. Period. Being “open-minded” and “not assuming” would entail having to ask the sexuality of every other person I met (which straight people hate. And that’s not a stereotype. It is a fact.).
Stereotyping can even be lifesaving. Is it nice to assume that all cops are crazy murderers? No. Would you advise a someone with a firearm to take an attitude and make sudden moves with the cops, even if it’s within their rights to do so? No. Is it nice to assume every time you’re walking in the hood you’ll get jumped? No. Would you advise anyone you know to do so? No. Ignoring all of your past experiences and what the media tells you sounds very cute and progressive. However, it’s stupid. If queer people couldn’t figure out who was queer, we’d have had less fulfilling lives. However, if we couldn’t figure out who was or wasn’t accepting of queerness, we’d have all been dead. It’s not fair to stereotype every hardcore Christian as being a homophobe. However, if we didn’t, we could have gotten killed.
Many people argue that acceptance of stereotypes allows racism. However, that is only true if there are clear racial hierarchies. As I write this, a table full of very fit black people with Rutgers track gear is 10 feet away from me. Black people are taller on average. Being taller can give you a small athletic advantage. Where I to have the option to bet on a race (pun unintended) between two people, and all I knew was one was black, I would put my money on the black guy. Most of the time when people try to debunk negative stereotypes about any group, they do so not on the basis that those stereotypes are bad, but false. People like to dispel the notion that black people are criminals by saying that the statistics prove that black-on-black crime is as bad as white-on-white crime, or by showing that blacks and whites are about equally likely to do drugs. What no one ever says is what we would do if the stereotypes were true. There is the Charles Murray argument, that different races perform differently on IQ tests. Fortunately, IQ tests are, in statistical terms, “bullshit”. No one knows their own IQ, or ever has or ever will ask anyone else for their IQ. Despite its name, the IQ test measures approximately nothing.
Furthermore, stereotypes based off of false information are very unhelpful. Generalizations help us navigate the world accurately. When they are wrong, they just mislead people. That’s partly the reason representation matters in the media and entertainment. Women are not worse at coding, so only portraying male programmers gives the wrong message. It gives us false stereotypes. However, that women tend to be smaller and weaker on average is a fact. Telling people that men and women are biologically identical in that regard would be as facetious as saying they are biologically different in programming. There is a “brogrammer” culture that reinforces and is created by this cultural phenomenon.
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