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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

All generalisations are wrong

As you may have noticed, over the last few posts I have been ranting against people who make sweeping generalisations. In this post, I'm looking at it from the other side. So is it really such a bad thing to jump to conclusions about people?

Miss Marple did it, and solved murders. All she had to do was think who the dramatis personae reminded her of, and presto - you had your murderer.

This brings me to the first issue. In the USA, the police have recently been facing a lot of heat for treating suspects of different races differently. A black man who is speeding in Hyde Park will almost certainly be pulled over and seacrhed. A white woman in Evanston will probably get a friendly warning. Its also not just the police - many people, including Indians will walk the other way if they see a young black man walking towards them at night. These incidents do indicate a degree of racism present in American society - specifically the police. Critics point out that its things like this that are dricing a wedge between the blacks and the rest of the population.

But I'd like to look at it from the other side. If you are a policeman patrolling Hyde Park, you'd know that the chances were high that the driver of the car you pulled over had a gun on him. If you'd seen enough criminals, you'd also know that a large number of them were black. The cop's reaction is only natural given his instincts and his training.

Its unreasonable to expect cops not to work from generalisations like these. By pulling over old white ladies in Evanston, they'd most likely be wasting their time. If they need to be effective, they need to know which arrests are most likely to (not necessarily certain to) catch real criminals.

Again, the Indian guys who avoid all black men on the street after dark may be racists and will probably grow up to be bigots, but they'll most likely get mugged less often.

So do we really want to be policed by open-minded, racially sensitised, liberal thinking men? Or would we be happier knowing that trigger-happy mavericks were gunning down people based solely on their skin colour?

Its one of those nasty questions. But I think most people, if they were honest, would choose option 2. Ultimately when our lives and property are at stake, we can give high thinking a miss.

Probably what Joy Adamson thought, just before the lion's claws connected with her vital organs.