The neighbors are playing their stereotypes too loud
January 12, 2013 § 16 Comments
It is hard to believe that it has been fourteen years since the publication of Jim Kalb’s seminal essay on stereotypes. Contrary to the demands of the zeitgeist, stereotypes are inevitable. It doesn’t really matter what one thinks of them: being morally opposed to stereotyping is akin to being morally opposed to oxygen. Human life isn’t possible without them:
What is to be done? The simple and obvious answer is frank acceptance of stereotypes and discrimination. Such things are often oppressive, just as government, private property, social standards, individual self-assertion, and many other things are often oppressive, but in one form or another they are necessary and inevitable. Treating women as different from men, taking ethnic kinship into account, and treating a judge with special consideration should all be acceptable as expressions of legitimate principles of social organization. Abuses can be dealt with piecemeal; to reject stereotype and discrimination in principle, however, is useless, since we will rely on them in any case. The attempt makes serious political thought impossible, and benefits only those with something to conceal.
At the same time, it is important to understand that our various modes of thought have limits. In the manosphere, the term “apex fallacy” is just a specific invented label used to object to how women stereotype men without realizing the inherent limitations of the stereotype.
Now I could be a good conservative/reactionary and point out that this is not substantively different from feminists griping about the stereotyping of women, and I actually did point out that the more radically anti-women elements in the manosphere are engaged in their own version of the apex fallacy.
But the reality is that people who object to stereotyping (including the men who gripe about women committing the apex fallacy) do have a valid point: not that stereotyping is objectionable or avoidable, but that it does have its inherent limits.
One of those limits is that a stereotype loses its usefulness as one gets to know individuals better. I’ve pointed this out before: when talking about hypergamy or the Meyers-Briggs test or any other social model we are basically creating stereotypes. These are useful in understanding what things are happening in aggregate, and, absent more specific information, they are additionally useful in personal encounters with people, places, and institutions you don’t know (or don’t know very well). But that usefulness has limits, and it decays as specific knowledge replaces the stereotype. If I have worked with you for ten years and am still relying on knowing that your Meyers-Brigges evaluation categorized you as an INTJ it is probably a sign of something wrong with my ability to learn.
A second limitation on the value of stereotypes is the one called out by the apex/trough fallacy: that the stereotype is typically constructed based on the most visible members of a group, and therefore will provide a false reading about the less visible members of the group. Those less visible members will inevitably feel unfairly pigeonholed or ignored, and not entirely without justification.