Why Are People Bigoted, Even When It Costs Them Money?

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So there’s this interesting social justice question that has some people puzzled. Why do businesses and businesspeople continue to do things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, classist, etc. — even when it works against their own immediate, tangible interests?

I was thinking about this when I was listening to the Cracked podcast interview with Andrew Ti, of Yo, Is This Racist? Ti was talking, among many other things, about TV producers who are weirdly not cranking out a dozen “Empire” ripoffs — even though the show is hugely successful, and even though TV is one of the most derivative industries around. (Ti was mostly talking about the sad excuses given by network execs for why they weren’t making more shows like “Empire.”)

But this question comes up a lot. It comes up in discussions of why bakers won’t sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples — even in the midst of a same-sex wedding boom. It comes up in discussions of housing, and why landlords and homeowners are less likely, even flatly unwilling, to rent or sell to black people. It comes up in discussions of hiring, and why employers reject highly qualified job candidates who would contribute greatly to their company, simply because those candidates are women/ people of color/ transgender/ otherwise marginalized. It’s absurdly common for businesspeople to perpetuate bigotry, either consciously or unconsciously — even when it means the loss of immediate, substantial profit. And this cuts across a large variety of businesses.

Sometimes this phenomenon gets treated with bafflement. “They’re so foolish! Don’t they realize they’re losing money?” Sometimes it gets treated as cause for optimism. “This means we’ll eventually win! Market forces and natural greed will break down bigotry and oppression! Capitalism will prevail!”

I don’t see it that way. I think it says something completely different. I think it says this:

The fact that people keep doing bigoted things, even when it works against their immediate financial interests, shows just how valuable privilege is.

Even if you lose money by not making a dozen “Empire” ripoffs, you still gain by perpetuating white privilege.

Even if you lose money by not renting or selling to black people, you still gain by perpetuating white privilege.

Even if you lose money by not hiring talented women, you still gain by perpetuating male privilege.

Even if you lose money by not selling gelato to the hundreds of attendees at an atheist convention, you still gain by perpetuating religious privilege, and more specifically Christian privilege.

Even if you lose money by refusing to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples, you still gain by perpetuating heterosexual privilege.


Think of it this way. Think about affirmative action, and the arguments that are most commonly marshaled against it. “You’re lowering the bar! You’re diluting the talent pool! By going out of your way to look for qualified black people, Hispanic people, women, disabled people, LGBT people — you’re discriminating against all those super-talented straight cisgender able-bodied white guys!”

If we think about this “reasoning” for six seconds, it becomes clear how absurd it is. Expanding a job search to look for qualified people who might not otherwise have been considered — that’s not diluting the talent pool. That’s expanding it. That’s getting more talented people into consideration.

And that’s exactly the problem.

Affirmative action doesn’t lower the bar. Affirmative action brings in more competition.

If you only have to compete against straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied, middle-class men — you’re going to do a whole lot better than if you’re competing against, you know, everyone. And if you’re only okay at your job — which, let’s face it, an awful lot of people are — more competition means you won’t do so well. (To use just one example: When Major League Baseball began to racially integrate, a lot of marginal white players wound up getting cut.)

And jobs are just one example. This phenomenon plays out in pretty much every business where conscious or unconscious bigotry exists — which is to say, pretty much every business.

Privilege is profitable. It’s profitable in thousands of observable, well-documented ways. It’s profitable in the long run, in the medium run, in the short run. In the (usually) unconscious cost-benefit analysis of “bigotry” versus “equality,” privilege is so profitable that perpetuating it is worth losing out on large bundles of cash being dangled right in front of your nose.

So what do we do?

We need to keep putting on the pressure.

We need to make it a whole lot harder to be bigoted than it is not to be. We need to make bigotry more inconvenient, more time-consuming, more costly. When businesspeople say and do bigoted things, we need to make it result in a PR nightmare and some expensive lawsuits and a whole bunch of customers saying, “Screw you, we’re taking our business elsewhere.” Market forces are not going to do it on their own: we need to create the forces that push things in our direction. (Please note that when pundits decry the so-called “witch hunts” and “lynch mobs” consisting of a whole lot of people on the Internet saying, “That’s racist,” “That’s sexist,” “That’s transphobic,” etc. — they’re basically saying, “Please stop putting pressure on people to not be bigoted. Please stop making bigotry inconvenient.”)

Privilege is profitable. We need to make it a huge pain in the ass. We need to make the cost-benefit analysis skew on the side of equality. We need to make bigotry not worth it.

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Coming Out Atheist
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Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Why Are People Bigoted, Even When It Costs Them Money?

27 thoughts on “Why Are People Bigoted, Even When It Costs Them Money?

  1. 1

    Affirmative action doesn’t lower the bar. Affirmative action brings in more competition.

    This. So much this. I get annoyed when I hear white male liberal columnists supporting affirmative action who feel obliged to add: “even though I have lost out on jobs to less qualified individuals as a result”. The ultimate conclusion, even among people who support affirmative action, is that the people being hired are less qualified. This makes those liberal white male supporters feel better. They weren’t beaten out by someone more talented, of course not, because there is no one more talented. They were beaten out to try to level the playing field for the less qualified but worthy marginalized minorities we must be condescendingly nice to because we were nasty to them for so long.

    It never occurs to any of these people how many of us (in my case, woman) in those marginalized areas have often lost out to less qualified people simply because said less qualified people were white cis males. Affirmative action is about redressing that.

  2. 3

    Economic costs have been calculated:
    “Among the more striking findings cited are a U.S. Department of Commerce study estimating that minority purchasing power would increase from $4.3 trillion to $6.1 trillion in 2045 if income inequalities were eliminated. Research also indicated that “businesses with a more diverse workforce have more customers, higher revenues and profits, greater market share, less absenteeism and turnover, and a higher level of commitment to their organization.”


    “The researchers concluded that 15 to 20 percent of the productivity growth per worker in the US economy since 1960 has been due to the decline of barriers to employment like discrimination and systemic inequality. That’s up to 40 percent bigger than simple calculations based on wage gaps would imply.”

    I’ve seen businesses fail due to the bigotry of leadership, but I’ve learned that telling people how to improve their profitability is bound to fail. Even if you know where the problem begins and have a perfect solution in hand, humans only engage, take ownership and become accountable when they participate in finding problems, testing solutions and deciding how to measure success.

    I’m literally an Improvement Professional with a bunch of degrees and certifications and cool tools. However, the most powerful tool for fixing things that I’ve found is putting people in a room and getting them working on a problem together. Before requiring collaboration, everyone is quick to blame Those People (because that’s just the way They are). After, they have a more nuanced view about their coworkers in other areas. Will they generalize their experience? No. It usually takes years before an individual can connect the dots. I’ve noticed that the more privilege a person has, the longer it usually takes before they get a clue.

    Maybe being Otherized for being an Atheist is an opportunity for people to learn about the boundaries of Privilege? I’d like to think that some good can come out of our unpleasant experiences.

  3. 5

    “We need to keep putting on the pressure.”

    What I think we really need to fight for is better tools to more effectively put on that pressure. In case after case after case, when those in privileged positions act to flex their privileged status, the exact same pattern results
    1) Victims endure bigoted behavior (usually for long period of time)
    2) Some breaking point is reached: initial outcry about bigotry
    3) Backlash to #2 generates mass show of support of bigots (often in the form of additional bigotry aimed at victims)
    4) Time passes as victims build social support and/or legal case against bigoted behavior
    5) SOMETIMES, EVENTUALLY, threats of (legal or social) ramifications become sufficiently imminent to force bigotry to stop. Truly lucky victims might receive a token not-pology for their suffering (i.e. “I’m very sorry you suffered so much for choosing to speak up about this. Hopefully you’ve learned something.”)
    6) Bigoted outcry over #5 leads to after-effects of additional bigotry aimed at victims, not to mention positive reinforcement to original bigots (e.g. fund-raisings that more than outweigh any costs they *might* have endured from what bigotry they did exercise) .

    In so many cases, the only repercussion to the bigots is the low-cost of, eventually, stopping their behavior (or, more often the case, just shifting bigoted behavior to some new form until process repeats).

    I’m so sick of the story of High School football coaches preaching to their players until someone speaks out; legal threats are made, and the coach agrees to stop. What a victory! That coach sure learned his lesson!

    Can we even feign shocked indignation at religious science teachers for pushing Creationism given their options:
    1) Don’t push my religious beliefs at all.
    2) Push my religious beliefs until the administration tells me to stop.

    Can we really be surprised at the city council choosing to open meetings with prayer, given their options:
    1) Have zero meetings opening with prayer.
    2) Have as many meetings opened with prayer as possible, until legal threats force us to stop.

    Until the establishment is changed to give victims something with more “bite”, I suspect these battles are going to continue to be fought in perpetuum. If made at all, progress will only come with accumulated years, often decades of this shit; all while most suffering is endured by the victims of bigotry. I don’t think this is accidental. Deep down, for all their shrieking of indignation at being forced to sell cupcakes to gay couples, I suspect the privileged of society see these cases for what they are: we’re playing blackjack against the casino – sometimes we win a hand, sometimes we win a big pot; but until the rules of the game are changed, “the house” always wins in the end. And the cynical side of me… kind of thinks they may be right. For all the civil-rights victories of the 60’s – did blacks manage to level the playing field? Or did those in power just work out ways to retain that power?

    Unfortunately, I think *this* gets to the real heart of the matter: the only demographic with the power to make the changes which would REALLY shift the playing field are exactly those people who stand to lose that privileged advantage.

  4. 6

    One thing this all shows is that the rational actor theory of economics is just straight up false. That theory holds that people will maximize individual gain even at the cost of a larger group. Under that theory, no one would uphold the nebulous and immeasurable gains of white privilege generally by refusing to profit directly off selling a house to a black family. After all, one specific house sold will not topple white privilege. You, the white person selling your house, would be a free rider: You would get your money but continue to enjoy white privilege. No one even needs know who you sold your house to.

    Nor do I think many people are consciously thinking, “If I refuse to sell my house, that will help contribute to a larger social structure that benefits people like me,” especially if not selling the house means economic sacrifice.

    Bigotry works so well as a system because people don’t think it through, but just have knee-jerk emotional reactions to outsiders. But yes, it adds up to this whole.

  5. 7

    What you say about privilege fits well with my observation that businesses in the UK run by Muslims (who are usually also non-white) are not going out of their way to refuse gay customers.

  6. 8

    I think the explanation is actually a lot simpler. They do it because they think it’s the right thing to do (because they’ve been brought up privileged or bigoted or whatever). You or I would (I assume) not run a business in a homophobic way, even if it would make more money that way, because it would be wrong. They would run a business in a homophobic way because they think it would be wrong not to.

  7. 9

    this strikes me as apropos also to the idiot clerks in Tennessee. The county these three worked in has 22 percent poverty. But they found it necessary to leave their jobs in order to prevent the chance of anyone enjoying the same freedoms that they do.

  8. 10

    Many years ago, my sister had a favorite pair of shoes. A pair of slip ons decorated with rather gaudy beads and fake gems, with a small heel. As often happens with children, she outgrew them. She denied this fact. Instead of wearing different, somewhat less fashionable shoes, she jammed her feet into the pretty princess shoes and insisted they fit just fine.
    She walked in them for hours, and ended up with blisters and bleeding that caused us to cut a fun outing short.
    Because the other shoes weren’t as special. They weren’t her favorites.
    A few days later, she tried to wear the shoes again, despite what had occurred the last time.
    We eventually had to throw the shoes away to stop her from trying to wear them. She had a hysterical tantrum and swore she’d never forgive or speak to us ever again.

    Granted, she was six.

    But I see the parallels.

    She was talking to us again within a couple hours. She got new shoes. Within a few months, I doubt she even remembered what the shoes looked like. Life miraculously went on.

    The moral of the story? Sometimes you do have to make people stop being spoiled, selfish little shits, and it’s ultimately in their best interest.

  9. 11

    I think the explanation is actually a lot simpler. They do it because they think it’s the right thing to do (because they’ve been brought up privileged or bigoted or whatever). You or I would (I assume) not run a business in a homophobic way, even if it would make more money that way, because it would be wrong. They would run a business in a homophobic way because they think it would be wrong not to.

    Adam Pack @#8: In the case of the homophobic bakers, I think that’s certainly part of the picture (although I don’t think it’s all of it). But how do you explain the landlords and homeowners who don’t sell or rent to black people? The employers who are less likely to hire women, trans people, people of color? The TV executives who aren’t making a dozen ripoffs of “Empire”? They’re not (usually) being racist or sexist or transphobic out of principle. The opposite is usually true: they will hotly deny that they’re being racist or sexist or transphobic — even when you show them the evidence that, faced with equivalent applications from women and trans people and blacks and Hispanics and so on, they were more likely to say Yes to straight, white, cisgender men. (The TV executives that Andrew Ti talked about twisted themselves into knots trying to prove that they weren’t being racist.) How do you explain that?

  10. 12

    Of course, after Jackie Robinson, it was black players who lost out. As unstable, irregular, and uneven in talent as the Negro Leagues were, they provided work for both star and journeyman players.

    When the Majors began scooping up the star talent, the Negro Leagues declined rapidly. I think Hank Aaron was almost the last Major League star to have played in the Negro Leagues. Significant integration in baseball was NOT about having a black lead-off hitter or shortstop, or pitching ace. Real integration would mean having a black third-string catcher or utility outfielder/pinch hitter. And that has only begun to happen in the last decade or so.

  11. 13


    I’d bet dollars to donuts those vile clerks in Tennessee will find some asshole to hire them/give them money specifically for their self-imposed “martyrdom”. They’re not really likely to lose much of anything, and may be well aware of that fact.

  12. Pen

    Actually, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that individuals, including small business owners and private landlords are prepared to lose money for their beliefs. I do it all the time, don’t you? I spend more than I need to for products which I hope are made ethically. I refused to rent out our house as a kind of dormitory with 1 bathroom for about 15 people, even when encouraged to do so by agents. My whole professional life is 90% centered around my beliefs as opposed to making as much money as I could.

    The only thing which should surprise us here is that the people losing money for their beliefs have such nasty, spiteful, meaningless beliefs we find it hard to believe they can be that serious.

  13. 15

    Greta ‘#11 – yes, good point. I think they’d deny being, e.g., racist, but they’d follow that up with ‘but…’. Like ‘I’m not transphobic, but I don’t think this person is appropriate for the job because s/he’s mentally unstable’ or ‘I’m not sexist but if I employ a woman she’ll not have the same commitment to her job because she’ll have to take time off to look after her children’. So they think they’re benefiting their business, even when they’re clearly not. In much the same way that, in the US elections next year, a lot of people, I suspect, wouldn’t vote for Clinton because she’s a woman, and would rather vote for, say, Jeb or Trump, even though she is clearly very competent (if less liberal than most of us might like) and Trump and Jeb are both, to put it mildly, dangerously stupid.
    I think it’s a combination of people having terrible morals and people being idiots.

  14. 16

    Seems like a direct consequence of the bigoted belief to me. The employer pays women less because they value women less because they think women have lower ability. The landlord refuses to rent to black people because he believes them to be inferior, so he figures they’ll trash the place and/or fail to pay rent.

    In some cases they’re probably taking others’ bigoted behavior into account as well (blockbusting was a great example of that; it wouldn’t work without the white flight part). I suspect that’s in play in a lot of recent public refusal to provide service for gay weddings: they probably assume the publicity plus increased business from the anti-gay crowd will make them more money overall (and sadly are probably right). That *might* explain the TV execs’ behavior as well, they might be convinced few white people will watch shows with black casts (TV execs are famous for thinking poorly of general audiences).

  15. 17

    I think it’s a combination of people having terrible morals and people being idiots.

    Adam Pack @ #15: I think you may be missing the central point of this piece — which is that there is substantial, observable gain to be had from perpetuating privilege. The whole point is that they’re not being foolish. I mean, they are in a larger sense of course — but from a purely selfish, “screw you Jack I’ve got mine” perspective, the cost-benefit analysis of sacrificing immediate profit now for the sake of perpetuating privilege could easily come out on the side of being bigoted. Please don’t ignore the real benefits that come from privilege. It’s an important factor in understanding it.

    Also, FYI, many people are asking that people not use the word “idiot,” as they consider it ableist. Here’s an explanation on this Ableism Challenge.

  16. 18

    Seems like a direct consequence of the bigoted belief to me. The employer pays women less because they value women less because they think women have lower ability.

    cmutter @ #16: But the whole point is that, at least consciously, the employers don’t think that. They would deny hotly that they think that. Yes, I agree that there’s unconscious bigotry driving their decision. My point is that people benefit from this unconscious bigotry. And the fact people they benefit from this unconscious bigotry makes it harder to root out, and makes people less likely to work to root it out.

    That *might* explain the TV execs’ behavior as well, they might be convinced few white people will watch shows with black casts…

    The whole point of the “Empire” story is that they’re not making a dozen “Empire” ripoffs — despite the fact that “Empire” is a huge smash hit. The show has made it obvious that plenty of people of all races will watch shows with black casts. The execs are still not making lots more of those shows.

  17. 19

    Greta Christina @ 17: I agree of course that benefits come from privilege, That’s what privilege is. And I think (maybe) that it’s perpetuated because people who make use of their privilege do better than those who don’t, and of course much better than people who don’t have privilege. But I was trying to make a distinction between ‘X is doing bad thing A because he is aware that it supports his privilege’ and ‘X is doing bad thing A because he has been taught a moral system which (non-coincidentally) supports the system of privilege his social group benefits from’. I hope that makes sense.
    I am happy to stop using the word idiot here if you can suggest a suitable alternative for people who, like Trump, are really, really bad at thinking. ‘Buffoon’?

  18. 20

    Adam Pack @ #19: I agree that there’s an important distinction between perpetuating privilege consciously versus unconsciously. This piece was mostly about the latter: I thought that was clear, but maybe it wasn’t.

    Re the word “idiot”: My understanding is that people who are advocating for not using it are generally advocating for not using any words stating or implying that people are inherently bad at thinking. I’ve been using “fool,” since I think that implies more of a willful ignorance. I’m not the one to talk with about this, though. I’d read Ania’s piece on the Ableism Challenge, and ask her about it if you have questions.

  19. 21

    Greta Christina @#20 – I didn’t find that clear, but that could easily be my fault. I read the Ableism Challenge article – I’m having a think about it. But I’m happy with ‘fool’ (‘buffoon’ is quite similar, since they’re both names for old-fashioned clowns). Thank you for your time.

  20. 22

    I took a whole course on this! (It was called Economics of Poverty and Discrimination.) Political Economy theory was developed to explain exactly this, once it became entirely clear that Classical/Neoclassical Economics had a very poor model of human behavior that utterly failed to explain real-world observations like market-disadvantageous discrimination. This is a good summary!

  21. 23

    It’s not always a matter of irrationally going against their own self-interests., though You gave the example of housing. If someone genuinely believes that black people moving into a neighborhood lowers property values, because they know there is a certain percentage of people who won’t want to live near black people, then for a landlord or real estate agent with vested interests in property values in the same neighborhood, it may make economic sense to not sell or rent to black people, or only do so at a much higher price. Obviously, they may be wrong about the loss of property value, but it’s not necessarily irrational to act on it if they believe it to be true.

    Similarly, if a game development studio believes making games more attractive to girls will alienate more boys than it will attract girls, it might makes economic sense to them to keep the chain-mail bikinis. Again, they might be wrong (maybe more girls would play than they think, and maybe more boys don’t mind having more female characters than they think), but if they think this is true, it’s not necessarily against their self-interest to not listen to girl gamers.

    They don’t even need to be very bigoted themselves to make such a calculation. Even if you realize that there is a better global optimum somewhere, where people are not afraid of living next to black people, or where male gamers won’t complain about political correctness, there’s very little what they can do by themselves to change that. Until society changes, they’re stuck in this local optimum.

    On they other hand, they might be doing the calculation because they themselves don’t want to live next to black people, and therefore assume everyone doesn’t. Maybe they forgot to include black people in the category of “prospective buyers”, and thus vastly overestimated the effect on demand by racist white buyers. Or maybe they actually like having objectified women in their games themselves, and therefore assume everyone does. In which case, it might just be a bullshit post hoc rationalization that lets them think they’re not bigoted themselves, of course.

    Either way, it still perpetuates the bigotry. The solution is still to reduce overall bigotry, and to change the calculation.

  22. 24

    I don’t see a contradiction because I don’t actually believe the economic theory that asserts it should exist. People are not computers, they don’t perform precise calculations of their economic self interest before making decisions and it isn’t actually in their interest to do so.

    I have come to the conclusion that the decision to sell or not to sell cakes to gay couples is a ‘moral’ one, but for a particularly conservative form of morality. For conservatives ‘morality’ is simply an excuse not to care about people by blaming them for their own situation.

    The last time a member of the Bush family did an honest day’s work was sometime in the 1930s. But Jeb Bush still pops up to lecture everyone on the need for Americans to work longer hours. The reason he is doing that is that as a patrician his ‘morality’ tells him that he doesn’t have to care about every American, just the ones that meet his moral standards. This means he doesn’t need to worry about people who don’t have enough money to eat because it is obviously because they don’t work hard enough. The solution is in their own hands. Contrawise reducing taxes for people whose concern is making the mortgage payments on their second and third houses is important because obviously such people work hard and meet the moral criteria for being cared about.

    I don’t see this behavior as being unexpected or unusual. The theory of rational choice is a modeling assumption that turns out to provide results that are pretty close to observation in a wide variety of situations. But that does not make it true in every case, nor does it make it true in any case.

    Before getting into computer security I did a some work on computer simulation of chemical plants. The machines available at the time were woefully underpowered for the task so we had to make shortcuts. One of the shortcuts you can take is to build some assumptions into the model that you know are wrong but will produce the right result because the effects will cancel out.

    Rational choice is that type of assumption. We know that people are not rational individually. But if you take a million people and watch them for a long time, the ones that consistently act against their better economic interest will get poorer and poorer to the point where they really don’t have any impact on the sort of things people usually want to model.

    The flip side of your question is why do people participate in boycotts.

  23. 25

    I’m tossing this off, after reading the blog entry, but not the comments. I’ll come back and respond to comments if the muse so determines.

    To the question of why people stubbornly persist in doing things that seem obviously contrary to their economic good or perhaps their stated desires, two things:

    – everything has value – just because you don’t see the direct economic equivalent doesn’t mean that the other person doesn’t impute value in excess of what [it appears that] they are losing. Whether that perceived gain is the continuation of “white privilege” or not is another discussion.

    – people reflexively dig in when their belief systems are threatened, no matter what the cost.

    Let’s look at that first point a little closer. People impute value differently. The world in which we live could not exist if that were not true. It’s the basis of all trade and commerce. Every time you trade away some of your time and skill, you do so because you value the money that you get, in return, more highly than the time or skilled effort that you expended. That is the creation of wealth.
    Then, you trade some of that hard-earned money for goods and services that you value more highly than you value the money that you spend… meaning that you also value those goods and services more highly than the time and skilled effort you had to trade away. The money was just a marker that allowed you to more easily time-shift the trade with the employer to the trade with the food vendor or ISP.

    Importantly, the person who paid you for your time and effort obviously valued that time and skilled effort more highly than the cash and bennies that they paid you, AND the workplace, equipment, and services that they might have needed to provide, in order to get you to work productively for them. Similarly, the people who are selling you your food and electricity and internet service all value those things less highly than they value the money that they get from you.

    Again, each of those voluntary transactions creates more wealth in the world than existed prior. Everybody goes away from those transactions believing that they got something they valued in return for parting with something they valued less.

    Equally, we know that not all transactions and exchanges involve money, at least not directly. Money is not the only way of keeping score. It’s really, really handy, and widely used, but plenty of transactions occur without thought of the monetary value of the exchanged items (goods, services, promises), and yet the people involved impute great value to what they have, what they stand to gain, what they stand to lose.

    To expand the second bullet point (way above there): As the local radio doctor pointed out, when discussing the anti-vaccination crowd, he observed that he had no trouble finding plenty of trustworthy, verifiable evidence that vaccine side-effects are so minimal and so infrequent as to completely and utterly vanish against the historical devastation that has been caused by such “minor” “childhood” diseases as measels, mumps, chicken-pox, etc. Yet, anti-vaxers — despite some of them being actual, otherwise-intelligent human beings — simply dismiss all of history and all of science in the realm of disease and immunization. It’s almost like they are physically unable to see the evidence, and instead they rigidly lock onto the most questionable or outright fraudulent “evidence”.

    Possibly addressing both of my points at once, as eSkeptic pointed out in my inbox today, religulous people dig in their heels to a fatal degree, such as when some charismatic preacher persuades the flock to commit suicide. Or how about when the “religion” has a UFO component or a rapture component, and all the faithful gather on the mountaintop, to be taken up in the spaceships, or into the “kingdom come”… and then nothing happens? A few might wake up and wise up, but ever so many will just retrench and re-commit as the preacher explains away the non-event and revises his prediction for ascension… again. And of course, they keep working/donating to the cause and trying to convert new members.
    So now, combine the two effects – the fact that people impute value differently, and the fact that people naturally dig in when their world-view is cast into doubt.

    It’s a wonder humanity has made any progress at all. Yet the fact that we have should give us hope.

  24. 26

    @robertbaden #4

    My wife doesn’t feel that. But if she lived south of the border, she probably would have faced it all her life.

    A bit further south, and we would both have faced crap-mind from all sides, as a so-called mixed-race couple.

    Here, she’s Marie, powerhouse business woman, volunteer leader on the Board of Trade and other organizations. I get to be “Marie’s husband”. Cool.
    If it wasn’t for the weather, half the year, I’d LIKE living in Canada. 🙂

  25. 27

    With very few exceptions (relatively speaking) we are ALL inherently bad at thinking.

    I do some types of puzzles well, and others badly. I recognize and can apply logic, and I’m good at finding holes in arguments… well, other people’s arguments. I know that there are vast realms of intricate and powerful mathematics, but I topped out at basic calculus and middlin’ statistical math. I’m not quite a mathematical dunce, but even if I cared to devote the time and effort, I’d never be great at it.
    I also don’t reason quickly. I’m not who you want in your corner if the situation requires “thinking on your feet”. But give me hours or days, and I’ll devastate the other side… unless I find out that I’ve been wrong, in which case, I’ll start to admit it and I’m still not the guy you want on your side. If there are two sides to an argument, I’ll find a third.

    I would prefer not to air my modes of emotional cripplement (I made up that word, just now), but the point is that a thorough investigation would reveal a profile of my thinking abilities in many dimensions. For each of those dimensions, I would have something in common with every person writing or reading this thread – I would fall somewhere along a bell-like curve for that dimension.

    Not only that, but when all those dimensions of cognitive capability were totaled up, I would fall somewhere on an overall bell-like curve for the total. As would you.

    So, not only are some people much better than I at certain kinds of thinking (in the broad sense of thinking that includes emotional and empathic capability, as well as logical, mathematical, spatial, and other types of reasoning), a huge number of people very similar to me in ability in each and every dimension, and some substantial number less able than I am at virtually every dimension of cognitive process… you are in the same boat.

    Here’s the thing. If you can read what I’m writing, and generally follow it, and see some implications, of it, then you are way ahead of… what…. nearly a quarter of the population?

    There’s a concept of idiot-savant, but it’s rare enough to be remarkable. What is not so rare or remarkable is that many people who have enough of SOME type of smarts to carry a middlin’ average across all the dimensions combined, are distressingly poorly endowed in some areas.

    We could probably have quite the conversation about how certain politicians and even presidential candidates have sufficient intelligence of at least some types, that they graduated from good schools – never mind how they actually got in. Yet we look at how they’ve dealt with ever-so-many situations and can do nothing but shake our heads. What are they missing? Is there a moral or ethical component of intelligence?

    Now, just as we can look at the bell curve for (say) spatial reasoning, and find some people who are so good at it that we can barely fathom just how MUCH better they are, how much more scope they have in that area than we do, we can say the same thing about the curve that combines all the dimensions of intelligence. There are people who are at the skinny top end of literally every human capability. Not only are they brilliant thinkers, and have tremendous emotional scope (great actors, among other things), they are natural athletes, have superb balance, have sharp eyes with no out-of-round defects (myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism), have hearing that is sensitive across the board, with no meaningful deficits, have strong and resilient immune systems, have ideal mesomorphic body structures, are graceful, personable, and natural leaders, are intellectually curious, have tremendous empathy and compassion, … and I’ll stop now. Among all the billions of people on the planet, those people number in the thousands. And even they realize that somewhere is somebody, some one person, who is even better than they are at all things. Wierd to think about.

    But then that same train of thought goes just as far in the opposite direction.

    Our problems then are compounded.
    How do you educate, persuade, influence, shame somebody who is generally so smart and capable that they make you look like you are standing still while in fact you are dancing just about as fast as you can?

    How do you educate, persuade, influence, shame somebody who is substantially LESS capable than you are, to the extent that you can’t really grasp how very limited their world and outlook are, compared to your own?

    Now, ignoring the very extremes, there are still millions and millions of both sorts.

    And then there are those who fall within a standard deviation of “us”… whoever we are. Do we need a different approach (or ten) there, as well? After all, they are generally as perceptive and capable as we are, yet they disagree, or are under the sway of some meme that we want to abolish, but that they think is just fine.


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