Breaking stereotypes, part II

People are sometimes frustrated when talking to me about news or politics. They might express passion and emotions about an issue but, even when I fundamentally agree with their position, I tend to try to explain the other side and correct misunderstandings I heard from them. This is either interpreted as me always taking the other side, or as me being overly intellectual and aloof–or even worse, a smug know-it-all.

I believe Western civilization is too accepting of outside influence, and not invested enough in its own cultural continuity. But is my personal habit of empathy and nonjudgmentalism a micro level version of the same pathology? Perhaps I should evaluate which positions would, if given the power of influence, result in negative effects to me directly, and then take up a policy of always degrading those positions and antagonizing the people who support them. (That would at least make me appear as a more normal person, anyway.)

Yet I still have an incentive to respond with nonjudgment and rationality to just about any viewpoint, even (with a few exceptions) ones that in practical terms are calling for my demise: I am following my own advice about negative stereotypes. Essentially, the only way to shatter stereotypes is to do it yourself.

I am keenly aware of the negative stereotypes about my race/ethnicity/class, and I try whenever possible to deviate from the ones I don’t like or that I perceive as a source of problems for my race/ethnicity/class. One of the stereotypes about my ethnicity is that we are scornful and look down on other groups of people, especially one particular group for whom the scorn is not mutual, and so I try not to do that.

This is a kind of public goods problem though. Shattering stereotypes is unnatural for most people (that’s why stereotypes with predictive power persist in the first place), and it requires a critical mass of people doing it before the stereotype is actually changed or erased. (It can be done of course; there are stereotypes that were prevalent many years ago about, say, Irish immigrants or software engineers that are no longer true today.)

What we need is a way to incentivize masses of people to break negative stereotypes about themselves. For example, imagine a widely-circulated virtual tool that first collects basic information about the user and tells him what are the most common negative stereotypes about himself. Then it gives practical advice or options for how to break those stereotypes. Not all users would immediately do it, but the message and available courses of action would become more visible, and could enter the public consciousness as an alternative to the unproductive blaming of “hate” or “intolerance.”

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Seven ways to help ease up on phone use

  1. Buy an alarm clock. This way you can stop bringing your phone to bed. Also consider hanging clocks on your walls and/or wearing a watch so you don’t need to pull out your phone to see the time.
  2. Put your phone in a basket by the door when you come home. This will keep you from always having your device at the ready whenever your mind wanders an inch. Keep chargers in that basket too, so you can stay disciplined about keeping your phone by the door even when the battery’s low.
  3. Read more paper books. When you get an urge to read or look something up, you don’t need to turn to a device. Reading from paper media is also better for getting to sleep and for rebuilding your attention span.
  4. Turn off notifications on your phone. Most things your phone interrupts your life to tell you about aren’t important. Exceptions might be notifications about scheduled meetings and work emails—but there are other ways to be reminded of those too.
  5. Delete social media apps from your phone. Erecting barriers—such as having to open a browser, type in a web address, and log in—will make you more judicious about when and how often you use social media. And remember to log out when you’re done.
  6. Delete your social media accounts. Think hard about what kind of value you’re really getting from social media. Does it actually make you happy? Does it actually keep you informed or in the loop better than emailing or calling the people you care about? Is being in the loop actually important? There are a lot of good reasons to get off social media for good, but the simplest one is that it just isn’t necessary or valuable.
  7. Get a flip phone. Your smart phone can do a lot of amazing things, none of which you really need. Those few things you might need can all be done in other ways. A flip phone doesn’t require data, so you can pay a lot less for cellular service. Flip phones also have a much longer battery life, and most of them these days still have cameras and Bluetooth connectivity.

Website or platform?

By what process does a private space become a public one? One answer seems to be “When the government starts heavily regulating what goes on there.” Owners of these spaces have good reason to be complacent: as the regulation adds up so do barriers to entry, and soon competition becomes impossible. On the other hand, the loudest subset of customers may also end up dictating the space’s policy.

That’s what is happening with Facebook: in Germany, the government is ordering Facebook to commit to removing “hateful” content within 24 hours of it being posted. Meanwhile in San Francisco, gay groups are meeting with Facebook representatives to demand changes to certain features that will be more accommodating to members of these groups, on the basis that Facebook is a “platform”–not a private website.

To adapt Christopher Caldwell, one moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which there can be no private websites because victim groups are too weak to a world in which there can be no private websites because victim groups are too strong.