I just published this on Medium and in full here: https://medium.com/@Frode/you-are-a-prejudice-machine-64ecd95a8219#.gfjwxxdds
You are A Prejudice Machine
In our turbulent era, one thing is crucially important to keep in mind everyday and that is that we are Prejudice Machines. Everything we know about the world is a result of prejudice. Every sensory impression is processed through what we have received before and is processed in terms of how the new impression fits. Without this we could not even get out of bed in the morning.
This is not an obscure or esoteric point, this is at the heart of who we are and how we relate to each other. If we do not keep this at the front of our mind every single time something seems odd to us and someone seems ‘wrong’ then we are failing our most basic literacy – the literacy of our minds – and we then stand very little chance of advancement in a field, at any scale.
‘Seeing with your own eyes’
Those particles of light landing at incredible speeds at the back of your retina after having already had their paths bent by your pupils are processed then and there, on impact. The pattern they create is analysed for force, colour, shapes, movement and more – and the amount of ‘raw data’ from these collisions is reduced by a factor of 10, sending basic interpretations from your eyeballs to be further interpreted in layers towards the back of your head. The black lines against the glowing background which you are reading now becomes words and as you progress down the sentence some meaning appears from the neural net in your brain – all the knowledge (read: prejudice) you have which ‘rings a bell’ becomes involved in activating or suppressing neuronal firing and so it goes, for everything you read and everything you experience, not just what you see or hear – sensory impressions are processed for ‘meaning’.
It is not just about what you see; That feeling you get when someone with strongly different political, social, moral or ethical views starts speaking is your social pre-judged filter or well-worn neural nets having fired together to become the ‘grooves’ of your perspective of what the person will say.
Our very cultures are socialised prejudices, teaching us how to be and what to approve off. Our cultures highlight somethings and deride other – from something as incidental as whether we eat with a metal implement, a piece of wood, plastic or our hands. Our cultures socialise us to feel a part of a group of people based on a behaviour, look, speech or location, while reinforcing differences with ‘others’. While this can create a strong sense of ‘community’ it can also alienate those who are not part of this community and this is what active considerations of the process of being we develop understandings of the world through experience and that experience colours future experiences.
The Benefits of Prejudice
There is no way to remove this prejudice and even if you could come close, building a picture of the social, physical, political (etc.) worlds to move around in, would become prohibitively expensive as you try to generate with a ‘fresh’ perspectives at ‘every turn’. This is not a problem, this is simply a reality, but it is a reality tightly ‘ingrained’ in our neural nets, our mental processes, selling itself as a ‘truth’. – the system’s very reason for existence is to present it’s end-result to consciousness and subconsciousness (all of our executives basically) as persuasively as possible – whenever it fails to be utterly convincing we suffer from cognitive dissonance and that is unpleasant.
There are some who strive for ever more ‘objective’ views on ‘reality’ and this is a valiant effort, but we must accept our mental illusions as much as we accept that when we watch TV the scenes we are watching are not ‘really there’.
But what if I run into a wall – is it subjective whether the wall is there? No, I’ll stop and hurt and fall down. Reality is not subjective. Of course walls exist and of course our prejudice is useful in alerting us to the wall, what I am discussing here is are social and emotional realities, how we see each other and issues and ideas and philosophies and think we are looking at something as basic and solid as a wall, when the way we look at each other will be coloured by very different programming of our neural network, through life experiences, context and decisions we have made.
Embracing Prejudice To Tackle Prejudice
What matters most is not the sensory machinery we have going through the world with, what matters most is cultivating an acceptance and embracing that what we perceive as reality – what we think is ‘objective’ – is more poetry than prose. What matters most is how we accept that mentally we are all dancing with severely limited vision and when we bump into another one of us human beings we don’t punch them for bumping into us, but we use our most powerful faculty – imagination – to try to establish means to communicate our different ‘perspectives’.
This can only happen once we accept that we are Prejudice Machines – both of us – and that at the very basic, the very core and very fundamental, we need to seek togetherness based on our mutual blindness and join forces to clarify what we see, based on the real, deep understanding of the importance of love for all people of all ‘labels’. Only then can we make hope to develop our prejudices to the point where they become more like ocean waves to navigate through, not mountains which rigidly enforce only the paths pre-trodden.
This is not always possible, nor feasible. It is however, crucial for the future of our species that we make the best possible effort to develop a powerful literacy of our internal prejudices.
In terms of how we physically move through the world we do actually continually update and develop our prejudices in one fundamental aspect: When we are born we don’t have an instruction manual for even the most basic features of our limbs – we don’t have a schedule of how moving our arms feel like and what controls to issue for when we are infants to when we are teenagers and when we become elderly – instead we continually use our limbs and adjust our expectations. Our prejudice of how our arms behave is continually adjusted throughout life, changing as our physical abilities change.
Imagine if we could update how we mentally and socially move through the world as well – imagine the huge strides we could take as a species.
First we accept the interpretative nature of our neural-net minds, then we accept the power of the illusion of ‘reality’ the neural net ‘re’-presentation of our sensory inputs and only then will we have the perspective to question and update our prejudices and make them work in our favour, in all of our favours.