Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Those People -- They're All Alike"

     Or so it it seems; and it seems that way to a whole lot of "us's" when they look at even more "thems."  It turns out this is true any time you have an "us" and a "them." It's called "out-group homogeneity," meaning you can tell your cousins apart a whole lot better than tourists from Micronesia can -- and vice-versa.

     The Unwanted Blog was marvelling at the sameness of a bunch of Korean beauty-pageant contestants; on closer inspection they're really quite different to one another, or at least as different as any group of beauty pageant contestants ever is.  Still, in the official photos they're been filtered multiple times for general First World standards of "beauty" (nice smile, glowing complexion, neither too thin nor too plump, straight teeth, cute noses, pretty hair, etc. etc.), applied the very standard makeup and then, for those of us who don't happen to be Korean, run smack up against the out-group homogeneity effect. Bingo, at first glance they're peas in a pod -- even though they're not.

     It's interesting (or, if you happen to be doing business or swapping gossip across a social-cultural-political-racial gap of much significance, frustrating) and one bit of fallout is that it's also a lot harder to read out-group facial expressions and body language; time and familiarity will wear such barriers down but it's not fast.

     Which leads to an interesting conclusion: "bussing" schoolkids for the express purpose of establishing "racial balance" in schools may've been social-engineering voodoo that ended up with a lot of kids attending schools miles away from home -- but giving little [stereotyped first name A], [stereotyped first name B] through [stereotyped first name Z] a chance to look one another in the eye and spend a some time tryin' to figure out what the kids from the far side of town were getting at was probably time well spent; as adults, they'll be that much less likely to mistake a joke for a threat -- or a threat for a joke.

     And maybe "those people" won't seem quite so much alike.  Might even have to start treatin' 'em as individuals.

     (I've already had a couple of the "You don't know.  Those people were/are dreadful," responses.   A quick read of Tom Brown's School Days, set in early 19th-Century Britain and written within a few years of the setting with very little embellishment of reality -- or, for less-challenging fare, the "Flashman" novels, written in the 20th Cent., set in the 19th and featuring the chief bully from ...School Days with flashbacks, will show that children are all little savages, some a good deal less noble than others.  While it would be nice if one could identify the worst of the lot by the set of their ears or the color of their skin, that's not how it works; and meantime, having gone to school with a student body including persons unlike yourself, you'll at least be all the better at identifying your tormentor in a police line-up.  As for me "not knowing," my Junior High was one of two and my High School the one and only in a town of some 40,000 with a substantial nonwhite population and a history of segregation and lynchings; the most recent race riots at my high school were within two years of my delightful three years there. With over a thousand kids in each class, it was impossible to supervise closely. Imagine what a nice place it was to be shy, gawky, bookish and nearsighted.  I'm not arguing that social engineering was necessarily a good idea, only that it was not without some individual benefit.)


Anonymous said...

And here I was thinking that bussing was the State telling parents that they're going to eat it and like it. School bussing was a huge victory for the Left, and whatever social justice might have been achieved, at the expense of those who were given no say in how their children were to be educated, it stands as a monument to centralized, top down decision making.

And so far as race relations go, it looks to me as if it achieved jack and squat.

I'll bet there's a body count associated with it too. Gee, I wonder if juvenile crime demographics match the adult ones?

Well, at least those who came out the other end have been improved. They'd be worse for not having had the experience. It's not as if they would have made the correct choice left to themselves, the little Americans.

I hear the chocolate ration's been raised to twenty grammes.

Mike James

CapitalistPig said...

My experience with this social experiment wasn't full of rainbows and unicorn flatulence. It created the opposite effect, but my situational awareness did dramatically improve.

Try imagining something more along the lines of the state housing paroled violent felons in your neighborhood. It would give the parolees an opportunity to see how the law abiding live and maybe learn how to respect other people enough not to victimize them.

Roberta X said...

These are valid points. They're not quite the point I was making, which is that the outcome was not entirely negative.

It achieved more than "jack and squat."

It did not usher in some era of universal peace'n'love'unicorns; but both of you are more able to distinguish real threats from generalized B.S.

Historically, this has not always be the case; even groups as strange and distinct as the Irish were once widely regarded as savage, subhuman brutes, lacking in the finer feelings. We forget this to our *individual* peril.

perlhaqr said...

Imagine what a nice place it was to be shy, gawky, bookish and nearsighted.

Well, not nearsighted, but rather than imagining I can just remember instead.

Still, compared to middle school in Hawaii, high school in New Mexico was a placid lake of racial harmony.

perlhaqr said...

Still, to your larger point, it does work. I left Hawaii nearly 25 years ago, and New Mexico doesn't have a large population of any asian subethnicity except Vietnamese, but even now those girls don't look alike to me.

(Likewise, the "they all look the same to me" in reference to various subethnicities in general doesn't happen to me either. I know a lot of people here who couldn't tell Chinese from Japanese from Korean from Thai from Vietnamese and so on down the line, but being able to do so was definitely a survival trait in the Salad Bowl of Hawaii, where the ethnicities mostly didn't mix, and different groups had a different probability of trying to kick the tar out of me.)

Another interesting side effect of my upbringing (engineer community in Northern Virginia) and transition to Hawaii, I've always had a number of black friends, and didn't even realise that was supposed to be a thing until after a few years of college or so. In NoVA, ethnic discrimination wasn't modelled by anyone's parents or teachers or soccer coaches or so forth, so none of the kids picked it up. In Hawaii, "black" vs: "white" was vastly less of a difference than "Hawaii local of some ethnicity" vs: "military brat mainlander of any ethnicity". So, there were some asian kids I hung out with in HI, but they were military brats, so, their asianness didn't count. Or something. The hierarchy was... convoluted. But if the Japanese-Hawaiian kids wouldn't accept the Japanese-American-military kids, then the rest of us American-military kids would, because hell, more allies.

Man. I really didn't care for Hawaii at all.

Able said...

Interesting! As someone brought up in a rigidly homogeneous area (someone from Lancashire was seen as 'exotic') who then went to Uni in ethnically diverse Oxford, and then much more so London, I can't say I ever noticed the 'distinguishing' effect.

So, is it that we have to define 'them' as 'other' for the effect? (serious question)

Oh, and ethnically homogenous or not, short-sighted, bookish geek still had problems (well until he started with a geeky interest in martial arts, and never in your league I guess) because... well when major divides don't exist, we seem to create them. Divides existed amongst villages, not more than two miles apart, and even different areas in the one 'towm' (pop. 50000) - but... those 'people' from Tow Law all DID look alike!

CapitalistPig said...

I think I understood your point and agree with the intent, but not the method.

My school was ethnically mixed and fairly socioeconomically homogenous. The 'us' was quite diverse and had been blissfully unaware we needed be divided by race or ethnicity. The social engineering "benefits" were really just a cover for a developer's land grab, aided by mostly well intentioned people.

I believe our foreign exchange student programs did far more to achieve the goal of demystifying, and encouraging interest in, other cultures.

Sabra said...

Back when I was in elementary and junior high and part of the 20% of the "other" portion of the student population, I was wishing for bussing. My high school was much more ethnically diverse and much better for me as far as being bullied goes.

To the best of my ability, I have sought out diverse schools for my children. All the happy leftist "we're all alike" lessons won't do half as much for racial harmony as, y'know, being around people of other races.

Ian Argent said...

There are times I'm glad I wasn't raised in America, but raised by Americans; though the culture shock at returning to the US and finding it a foreign country was fierce. Perlhaqr is a little older than I, if I can count on my fingers proper, but I'll echo his opinion of NoVA, at least among the middle class (and, particularly, the GS12-GS14 and O4-O6 subspecies).

Ian Argent said...

Also, no link to We and They?