Death by Stereotype

First of all, Happy New Year to you! Thanks for being in the world, and here specifically to read this weblog.

Most of us survivors are genuinely delighted to be stepping into the world of possibilities called 2009. However, on boxing day, I had a gut-wrenching experience in which I watched myself die of an unnatural cause, namely political stereotype.

To keep it short, during a delightful holiday gathering of old friends, a wide ranging discussion eventually turned to politics, as well it should nowadays. However, I noticed that one of my old friends referred to me with a phrase like, “all you guys on the left”, in regards to a reaction to some assertion in the conversation. Actually, I am not enrolled in any political party, but I make active choices and support candidates by small donations and occasional volunteering. One person who knows me well calls me a Singularitarian, because I read the works of Ray Kurzweil.

Then it hit me hard, that we humans don’t try to remember everything, or even experience everything. EVERYTHING is much too big to truly experience, and definitely too big to remember in its entirety. So we naturally tend to remember, and then re-remember key elements or patterns in our experience. Although this is a very efficient way for us to survive, when stereotypes are used to subsume real experience about people, the other people in the experience are destroyed in the process. My personal experience seems to vary in many ways from what can be described in a two-dimensional array of politics such as left versus right. Politics is a multi-dimensional experience and the shallow analogies used, in the past, to portray political processes, such as left-right, will fail to adequately and logically describe the nature of politics. Over a decade ago, I abandoned the technique of 2-dimensional description of politics, or most anything, after reading Bart Kosko’s excellent books about logic and programming.

This is what makes political stereotypes so destructive that I could classify them as pathogens that destroy the very people who get labeled with the stereotype. And it’s also what I dislike the most about the hate-filled discussions that I hear on the syndicated radio talk shows supported by commercial messages. (tangential question: If a point of view is not supported by commercial messages, is that point of view unworthy of your consideration, and also unworthy of airtime?) Many of the listeners and participants for those shows, are plagued by the stereotypes, which are pushed out over the airwaves, by self-serving talk show hosts. As soon as they categorize me (or you!) into the stereotype, the action of categorization emphasizes within their mind the ways in which your behavior is similar to the stereotype. Unfortunately, it’s easier to remember the stereotype, than the real experience of the whole person. The application of the stereotype masks, or destroys, the individuality of the person labeled. That is death by stereotype, in which the unique, individual nature of each person disappears from view. I suspect that my old friends, with whom I meet only once or twice a year, see me filtered through the lenses of stereotype, lenses tinted by the color of memory. And the stereotypes put forward by the radio shows by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Ann Coulter are virulent pathogens, indeed.

Also, consider that once categorized under a stereotype, subsequent recall will reinforce that pattern, and the longer the period of reinforcement, the greater the difference between the recall and the reality of a total human being. Why? People gradually change their thoughts, opinions and behavior over time, but, unfortunately, the shallow stereotype has crystallized in the mind of the beholder.

In 2009, I resolve to avoid using stereotypes, and other forms of reasoning by analogy, to the greatest degree that I am able. In 2009, let the light of ubuntu shine.

Jay Fulton


One Response to “Death by Stereotype”

  1. Death By Stereotype, revisited « perspectives Says:

    […] I wrote about the day when I realized someone was viewing me through the lens of stereotype, at  The observation affected me powerfully, but I never had to worry that my friends would seek me […]

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