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Are stereotypes really as wrong as implied? We are told by our omniscient media and peers that stereotypes are wrong because not everyone in a group resembles them. But could it be we are misinterpreting stereotypes -- that instead of trying to summarize individuals, they symbolize the meaning of a group?
For example, Nationalists. Our perception of the nationalist is a tattooed soccer fan whose main activities include brawling, offending people, and periodic hate crimes after bouts of alcoholic madness. These people tend to be socially oblivious and paranoid, fixated on conceptions of a conspiracy and mainly inclined toward offending others with their opinions, then accusing them of failure to comprehend. For them, generally, everything of their race is OK and every other race is garbage if not outright evil. Most come well informed with diagrams of skull shapes, crime statistics, intelligence and of course, the all-knowing veil of history. Why do people not consider Nationalist parties? Because the stereotype of the Nationalist conforms to what they see on TV, and is reinforced in real life whenever they meet a Nationalist. "Come, join the party of angry losers!"
Another great example are Greens. Our public perception of them is Birkenstock-wearing, long-haired, slightly stinky people who go around tightening water faucets to shut off excess lossage, recycling tampons, and shouting angrily that the world doesn't understand their crusade. They view the rest of us as unenlightened and selfish, pursuing the almighty dollar and first world lifestyle when if we all just returned to the trees, things would turn out just fine. We need to stop eating meat, testing on animals, and driving SUVs. This stereotype, like that of Nationalists, doesn't apply to every individual who is Green, but it sure does symbolize the group: social dropouts without any broader solutions, but plenty of irritatingly involved band-aids which while not fixing the problem will occupy our time and give us something to talk about while drinking ethical organic coffee from non-authoritarian regimes.
We have a similarly bitter stereotype for Democrats, and it's just as accurate. They tend to be from East or West coast cities, and be hipsters in that they dress trendily and spend their time in coffeeshops or reliving the greatness of 1970s rock; they usually work for big industry, but that's okay because they complain loudly about it so no one things they are with the conspiracy. And for them, just as with Nationalists, there is a conspiracy: a vast right-wing conspiracy that not only unites secret elites at Bohemian Grove and the Bilderberg conference, but inducts new members in Skull and Bones so they can someday join the Carlisle group. Of course the VRWC forged 9/11; they also killed Christ, undoubtedly. Democrats are unique for their dedication to personal wealth, comfort and socially hip position while talking a good game and yet doing nothing about it outside of the voting booth. This is why for generations they've been called "limousine liberals": wouldn't it be great if someone helped the poor, if someone stopped genocide in Darfur, if someone helped the spotted wood-owl... I'll sign a check, but you won't find me wasting my time with political activity; that's for underlings, and I'm an assistant manager!
Stereotypes give us a cariacature of a group through its individuals. They are not meant to be universally accurate, but they summarize what the group means to us in daily life. Nationalists beat people up and do nothing; Democrats whine and buy lattes; Greens use energy-efficient microwave ovens and live in hovels. Why are these stereotypes accurate? None of these groups have a solution, and thus stand out as delusional social failures. If for every minute they spend talking about the "conspiracy" or how people "just don't get it," they spent enhancing their own balance, they would go much farther.
All of this just puts into context the remark of Mahatma Gandhi that "You must become the change you seek in the world," but that's only part of the story. You must find rational changes in the world and not become a social dropout fixated on one hot issue; then, you must put those solutions into action instead of becoming another modern bigmouth "activist." I suppose that is why sometimes articles on this site are delayed because our writers are out there collecting trash, starting businesses, publishing books and participating in community activities that reinforce healthful values. We'll never be popular, but we might be effective.
May 2, 2006