“Life without prejudice, were it ever to be tried, would soon reveal itself to be a life without principle. For prejudices are often built-in principles. They are the extract which the mind has made of experience…” (essay by Richard Weaver)
Indeed. Prejudice, and its close cousin stereotype, does not exist in a vacuum. Prejudice, which simply means “prejudgement,” is most often the fruit of individual or collective experience – a recollection of and response to either one’s own experience, or that of those whom one has reason to trust, or both. It is a process of first learning, and then predicting based upon what one has learned.
Prejudices, like stereotypes, aren’t coming out of nowhere – they do not exist in a vacuum, and even basically false or incorrect ones have at least a grain of truth in them somewhere, else they would not exist. If one has no prejudices, one has either failed to learn from past experience, or one has consciously chosen to set those experiences aside. One may reasonably question whether either is a wise course of action!
This is not a radical (or reactionary) concept, nor is it anything remotely new in the human experience: as this article accurately points out,
“in the controversial literature of a hundred years ago—or even of a couple of generations ago—you do not encounter the sort of waving of the bloody shirt of prejudice that greets you on all sides now. Men did not profess such indignation that other men had differing convictions and viewpoints. They rather expected to encounter these, and to argue with them as best they could.”
In other words, the underlying assumption of socio-political argument – however vehement it may have been in practice – was along the lines of, “I understand that you have these beliefs, these prejudices, but I want to offer evidence to convince you that you’re wrong, or at least to offer additional points to be considered.” People were not, by and large, thought to be horrible human beings simply because they had – quelle horreur! – analyzed and learned from experience, and used that experience to make predictions about other people and events, which might or might not be in error.
Richard Weaver, author of this insightful article, argues that the shift in perception of prejudice as an innate human characteristic – and by and large a helpful one, although one must be open to having one’s presuppositions challenged by facts on the ground – to something unacceptable and anathema stems in large measure from the influence of communism, in its cultural manifestation: that is to say, cultural Marxism.
Weaver points out that this ideology (which, much as Islam is much more than a religion, is much more than an economic system) insinuates itself into a culture, a society, by inducing “a general social skepticism.” Not, he notes,
“that the communists are skeptics themselves. They are the world’s leading dogmatists and authoritarians. But in order to bring about their dogmatic reconstruction of the world they need to produce this skepticism among the traditional believers. They need to make people question the supports of whatever social order they enjoy, to encourage a growing dissatisfaction and a feeling that they have inherited a bad article…
“To this end, what it knows that it must overcome is the binding element, or the cohesive force that holds a society together. For as long as this integrative power remains strong, the radical attack stands refuted and hopeless. This will explain the peculiar virulence with which communists attack those transcendental unifiers like religion, patriotism, familial relationship, and the like.
“It will also explain, if one penetrates the matter shrewdly, why they are so insistent upon their own programs of conformity, leveling, and de-individualization.”
However paradoxical it may appear at first sight, he goes on,
“we find when we examine actual cases that communities create a shared sentiment, a oneness, and a loyalty through selective differentiation of the persons who make them up. A society is a structure with many levels, offices, and roles, and the reason we feel grateful to the idea of society is that one man’s filling his role makes it possible for another to fill his role, and so on…
“[T]oo little attention is given to the fact that society exists in and through its variegation and multiplicity, and when we speak of a society’s ‘breaking down,’ we mean exactly a confusing of these roles, a loss of differentiation, and a consequent waning of the feeling of loyalty [to one another, and to society itself]…
“The point is that their hostility to distinctions of all kinds as we know them in our society conceals a desire to dissolve that society altogether. And we see that practically all traditional distinctions, whether economic, moral, social, or aesthetic, are today under assault as founded on a prejudice.”
Go ahead and read the rest of the essay. It’s worth it!