On rearranging of prejudices
William James once said that a great many
people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their
prejudices. That’s a quote sent by my quote-provider, Errol Alphonso. I
think James was being ungracious
The thinking comes first, the rearranging later. Once you’ve decided
to rearrange prejudices, the only thinking required pertains to
modality. Such people might want you to believe they are in a thinking
process; the truth though is that they’ve finished with thinking.
The past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on the fact that people
change. They switch loyalties. They fall in and out of love and in love
again. The truths they believe in are junked and replaced with other
truths. Nothing wrong in any of these things. It happens all the time.
It is done all the time. You can believe something to be correct based
on what you know. Tomorrow you might unearth some information that
shatters your assumptions. The conclusions, naturally, collapse. You
have to build a new edifice of ‘truth’.
In some instances such processes and marked by absolute honesty and
integrity. You can, for example, conclude something based on incomplete
information and flawed analysis. Additional facts can subsequently
emerge. The new information can be processed in less erroneous ways. The
result is a different set of conclusions. One can be but is not required
to be humble about error and explain the logic of the new stand one
takes, except of course when the intervening ‘factor’ has nothing to do
with truth, additional information and superior analysis but the
factoring of unadulterated self-interest.
When self-interest overrides all else, the first casualty is truth.
Self-justification requires a quick and seamless burial of truth, along
with other casualties such as integrity, principles, values etc. No one
is perfect. I like to think that among those who err in favour of
self-interest the best are those who are upfront about it. ‘I did it for
the money’ such a person might say, for example. Now that’s ‘redeeming’
in my book.
Next there are those who have rearranged their prejudices but out of
embarrassment, don’t talk about it. They too are sufferable. One notes
patterns of course; they move out of old circles and inhabit new ones,
adopt behaviour patterns appropriate to the now preferred prejudices,
even if they don’t exactly wave the flag of the club they have obtained
membership from. They’ve made a choice. That’s ok. We all do. They can’t
really defend this choice given statements they’ve made earlier. That’s
ok too. In the very least they don’t embarrass themselves nor insult
others by trying to paint self-interest as sudden revelations that
require loyalty-shift in order to further some collective interest.
There are no laws against having prejudices or changing them. One can
say there are ethics pertaining to these things but then again these are
seldom powerful enough to impose limiting clauses. We have to accept the
reality that while it can be hard to forgive someone else, there’s
nothing easier than forgiving ourselves. Fooling others is difficult but
self-delusion is the easiest thing on earth. Especially in public.
Once you are at home, in bed for example, right and wrong come to
interrogate, haunt and torture. Out there in ‘society’, one has to act
virtuous. And, as is always the case when it comes to acting, you’ve got
to get inside the part, you have to rehearse ‘virtuous’ at least in
appearance since in substance you cannot (just like on stage; you are no
prince, but you have to look and act ‘prince’ in Hamlet).
Falling in love
None of this should bother anyone except when such prejudice-shifts
impact others, a whole lot of others. It is not about someone falling in
love, deciding that the object of love was not what he/she appeared to
be at first, falling out of love consequently and falling in love (with
someone else) thereafter. Such prejudice-change is understandable,
common and eminently defensible on all counts. Then again, there are
situations, where people assert certain positions, realize that the
costs of assertion outweigh benefit (to self that is, and not society)
and rearrange parameters to effect location-change. In other words, move
to a more comfortable and comforting place.
When the issue is public or refers to a larger collective than say
‘circle of friends’ or a love-situation, then others need to be wary.
They need to keep watch. They need to note argument-shift, the dropping
of names, the failure to mention certain things and the inexplicable
negligence of pertinent fact.
When prejudices promote certain policies over others, push for
certain outcomes over others, the privileging of particular social class
over other etc., their shifting/rearrangement need to be viewed soberly.
It’s not like lover-changing.
The interesting thing is that in appearance, the two sets of
procedure (lover-change and policy-preference shift) are similar.
There’s the classic and time-tested method of avoiding eye contact,
obtained best by absenting oneself from the object that is sought to be
avoided. If, on the other hand, you can’t be avoided, then one can
discern a certain dodgy-element in eye and conduct.
If you manage to buttonhole the person, a lot of babbling results,
typically with a slew of big words no one understands, a lot of
technicalities and verbal somersaults.
Once it is established that prejudices have been rearranged, it is
easy to operate. You have to know when and where you can get played out
and identifying the player is the first step in minimizing negative
fallout. The more important thing is to identify the shifter early. You
have to read the signs. You can tell, generally, when your lover is on
his/her way out of your life or when he/she is pushing you out of heart
Think about it. The signs are not too different. Avoidance. Blaming.
Justification of that which is unthinkable. Shift in hangout-choice.
Shift in vocabulary. Facial expressions. Degree of comfort in different
kinds of company. Difference in preferred distance.
When people rearrange their prejudices, contrary to what William
James said, they don’t think they are thinking, they WANT us to believe
that they are in ‘thinking mode’. When others rearrange prejudices, we
need to take note. We need to think.