LESSONS IN LOGIC: The Value of Stereotypes & Profiling

Please take your time with this one.  It’s important.

I am going to ask the reader to work with me on this one, please.  This is because the subject is very important, and we all need to understand it, but I do not not how to set up the discussion.  We all know what I am going to try to explain because we have all heard someone try to shut down an opponents by accusing them of using a stereotype, or labeling or profiling.  The implied message is that these things are all ‘bad,’ therefore, anyone using them is bad or wrong.  The problem is that stereotyping, and profiling are not necessarily ‘bad.’  There is a reason that stereotypes and profiles are created: because there is often a great deal of useful truth in them.  Their value — whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ —  lies in how they are used.  I want to talk about when they are ‘good.’

As usual, let’s start by making sure we are all on the same page here:

stereotype

noun

Definition of stereotype (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a plate cast from a printing surface

2 : something conforming to a fixed or general pattern especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment

profiling

noun

Definition of profiling

1 : the act or process of extrapolating information about a person based on known traits or tendencies consumer profiling specifically

2 : the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behavior racial profiling

OK, before we go any farther, let me acknowledge that there can be a danger of prejudice or bias being attached to the notion of ‘stereotyping,’ but this is not necessarily the case.  In other words, stereotyping can be unjust, but they do not have to be; prejudice and/or bias are not ‘necessary‘ to the definition.  Please, do not go any farther in this post until you are reasonably sure you understand this point.  Once you understand that it is possible for a stereotype to be true, we can proceed — but not before.

 

Here is why I stressed the need to understand that a stereotype can be true: it is because ‘profiling’ is a specialized form of stereotyping.  If you will look at the bold parts of the definitions above, you will notice that a ‘stereotype’ is based on a general pattern.  Profiling is based on known behavior patterns.  They can be the same thing.  It is not necessary that a stereotype is equal to a profile, but it is possible.  This means the rational person will not dismiss something labeled as a ‘stereotype out of hand.  They will examine it to see if the stereotype is actually based in truth.

This leads us to another problem.  It has become common in our society to associate ‘profiling’ with ‘stereotyping.’  By this, I mean that we tend to think they are equivalent (i.e. the same things), and that both are ‘bad.’  This is not true!  ‘Profiling’ is part of behavioral science.  Yes, there is a science, or known, established method behind ‘profiling.’  That means, to dismiss profiling is to dismiss science; and to dismiss science is to dismiss a large part of everything upon which the Western world (and likely your own, personal worldview) is based.  This means that a rational person will accept a profile, then examine it to determine whether or not it is a profile and not a stereotype.  If it is found to be a profile, then the rational person will hold to it as useful because it is based in factual truth.

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OK, now, let’s put some practical application to this discussion.  If I tell you:

All fish live in water.

All fish are wet.

All fish swim.

All fish have gills.

That creature has gills, lives in water, is wet and swims.

Well, whether or not you realize it or not, that is a stereotype and a profile.  Now, be honest with yourself: is that a biased or prejudiced stereotype/profile?  Or is it just general facts about fish?  Well, if we do not quibble with each other, the honest person is going to say this is an honest stereotype/profile of fish.

Now, let us use this stereotype to understand ‘necessary.’

In the above stereotype about fish, it is possible that the creature in question is a fish, but it is not necessary that the creature is a fish.  Why?  Well, an octopus has gills, lives in water, is wet and swims, so the creature could be an octopus.  This means it is not necessary that the creature is a fish.

 

Here’s what I hope you will take away from this post:

Do not allow yourself to be ‘trained’ to dismiss someone because they are accused of using a stereotype or of profiling.  Instead, look at what they are saying.  Is there truth in it, or is it really a biased, prejudiced and unjust accusation?  In other words, don’t let people ‘train’ you to respond like Pavlov’s dog.  Think!  Think for yourself!  Prove to yourself whether or not something is true before you accept it as true.

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