Tuesday, April 12, 2011

1. Prejudice

Prejudice: the beginnings

Two men, Plato and his student, Glaucon, discuss the prejudice formed by projecting one’s emotions into another object; they say what it is, how it begins and how to prevent it.
Glaucon: Today, I would like us to talk about prejudice. How would you define prejudice? What is it? When did people start being prejudiced against one another?
Plato: Well, let’s start with a definition; prejudice is the production of ready-made, simple notions about complicated concepts. We talk of labeling this way too. One man describes another with one word.
G: But that is impossible, no man can be fully described by one word.
P: Exactly, but that is what happens when someone is prejudiced against another. As for its beginnings, it starts the day we are born; the new-born babe feeding at its mother’s breast distinguishes between the bad breast and the good breast.
G: But why? Surely both are equally beneficial to the baby.
P: Of course they are. There is nothing wrong with either. They are alike in every way, except to the child.
G: Then why does the child do that, if there is no difference between them?
P: Because of its propensity to project. The child projects its feelings, the beginnings of its emotions, if you prefer, into the mother’s breasts.
G: But surely the child grows out of such childish behavior, doesn’t it?
P: Mostly, yes, but remnants of that behavior exist throughout its life, in one form or another.
G: So projection is something that we do as adults too.
P: Yes, but most people learn to control it.
G: How?
P: By learning that what they are doing does not represent reality. In effect, they are making errors of judgment when they do that – when they project their own emotions into another person, even another object.
G: A fundamental error, I would say. But yet we continue to do it, don’t we?
P: Yes, we do, but like I have said, we also learn that it is wrong – an error of judgment – something attributed to our own feelings rather than the object of our derision.
G: And the person who projects less and less..
P: Is someone we call an enlightened person – a person made lighter, if you wish, though that is playing with words.
G: And has two meanings; light as in the opposite of weight, and light as in the opposite of darkness.
P: That is well said. The person who refrains from projecting his or her emotions into another is thereby released from a weighty burden, and also walks in pure light rather than the shade created by the shadow of his own emotions – in the light of reason. For it is reason that prevents us from projecting; reason overcomes the prejudice formed by our projecting our emotions into another. Reason allows us to see things as they really are, rather than as we allow ourselves to think they are.
G: And would you say that such a person lives a better life?
P: An infinitely better and much happier one, yes!
Robert L. Fielding