Why does “prejudice” seem so sinful?

The conviction that there’s something odd and repellent about making distinctions on grounds of religion, race, sex and the like calls for explanation. How come no one used to think it’s a problem and now everyone does? And why are such distinctions so much worse than distinctions based on the fact that someone’s a fundy, ’phobe, rural southerner, used car salesman or community college dropout?

I’ve suggested that the bureaucratization of life and in particular education has a part in the matter. If we’re all factory-produced cogs in the machine then the traditional distinctions do seem aside the point. What matters is whether we accept the system (which we don’t if we’re fundies or ’phobes) and how we’re graded (used car salesman, lawyer or Harvard graduate). Electronic mass communications also seem a factor. TV is what constitutes our public life today, and it turns us all into unconnected individuals surrounded by the same cloud of persons, thoughts and events. Since we all occupy the same position in the same world, with minor distinctions resulting from the particular channels we happen to choose, what grounds could there be for the feeling that membership in a particular traditionally-defined group could matter publicly?

1 thought on “Why does “prejudice” seem so sinful?”

  1. I think many Americans are
    I think many Americans are reluctant to make distinctions because they don’t know what to do with them or how to organize them. Americans know that distinctions have been made, on an institutional level, in the recent past, and that sometimes injustice has resulted from these distinctions. Therefore, they throw up their hands and conclude that it is better not to make distinctions at all—at least not in the public square.

    Furthermore most Americans lack the philosophical and religious formation to properly evaluate various forms of discrimination. When is it OK to discriminate by race? By sex? By religion? By “sexual orientation”? Distinctions matter, but they don’t matter equally in all circumstances. Discriminating by sex is entirely just when hiring a police force, but entirely unjust when distributing food stamps. Discriminating by race is entirely just when looking for bone marrow, but entirely unjust when punishing lawbreakers. Discriminating by religion may be just when hiring employees, but unjust when collecting taxes. Etc. A doctrine of non-discrimination permits Americans to avoid adopting a coherent worldview of any kind.


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