Fifty Shades of Gray

I was in a Facebook discussion where I commented that the other person only saw things in black and white. I told him there were many lovely shades of gray. A friend of mine, more liberal than I, commented, “Yes, 50 I believe.”

If anything sums up the main difference between liberals and conservatives, it is this. Conservatives seem to have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the idea that groups are not homogeneous, do not all act the same way, and have totally predictable behavior. Their statements to that effect sound extremely prejudicial. In fact, that is the meaning of “prejudice” – pre-judging, judging before there is enough information to judge.

We’ve seen all the arguments. A welfare recipient was caught buying a Cadillac, so everyone on welfare is scamming the system. Some scientists fudged data on climate change, so now all data is suspect.

Donald Trump recently made a comment in a speech that exemplifies this attitude. On June 16th of this year, he commented:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that statistics show his statement is wrong. He is basing his comment on a case in San Francisco, where an undocumented Mexican was accused of fatally shooting a woman. He is taking one case and extrapolating to include all Mexicans (or most, as he assumes some are good people). This is as unsound an argument as saying that all Republicans are racists because one candidate made one horrifically racist comment.

There is one main reason why conservatives (and these days, by extension many Republicans) see things in black and white. First, it is much easier to make sense of the world that way. Look at a Mexican, assume he is a rapist and a murderer, and move on. Having to consider other possibilities, or even taking the step to talk to the person and see what he is really like, would take too much time and would confuse the issue.

Now you might argue that I am making the same logical fallacy by characterizing all conservatives and Republicans as single-minded thinkers. You would have a point. In my defense, there are a great many issues where the conservative position is one of absolutes – gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, climate change, and gun control, to name some. Let me make clear I am not saying all conservatives are black-and-white thinkers. There is evidence to suggest that many conservatives do hold those beliefs, however.

I like to think that I am more open-minded than this, that I see many sides to every issue, many shades of gray, as it were. In fact, even though there have been a lot of negative reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, I suspect I will probably read it some day.

I welcome your opinions.


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