TED Conversations

Gisela McKay

President and Co-Founder, pixcode

TEDCRED 30+

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Are you a bigot if you are biased against bigots?

Have you been told that you need to respect other people's right to be disrespectful?

If you turn up to counter-protest the, hmm, [insert diplomatic word here] from the Westboro Baptist Church or participate in Anti-racist actions, are you indeed intolerant of intolerant people?

Is it even a legitimate concept?

(I'm only leaving it open for 2 weeks in case it crosses into scary territory,)

Topics: Racism sexism
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    Aug 25 2011: Nietzsche said it best "when fighting monsters one has to be careful not to become one". One must never condone bigotry, yet one must not provide any future fuel for the hate to feed on.
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    Sep 3 2011: Copied, and slightly modified, from:

    THE RIGHT WORD

    An "enthusiast" displays an intense and eager interest in something (: a sky-diving enthusiast).

    A "fanatic" is not only intense and eager but possibly irrational in his or her enthusiasm; fanatic suggests extreme devotion and a willingness to go to any length to maintain or carry out one's beliefs (: a fly-fishing fanatic who hired a helicopter to reach his favorite stream).

    A "zealot" exhibits not only extreme devotion but vehement activity in support of a cause or goal (: a feminist zealot who spent most of her time campaigning for women's rights).

    An "extremist" is a supporter of extreme doctrines or practices, particularly in a political context (: a paramilitary extremist who anticipated the overthrow of the government).

    But it is the "bigot" who causes the most trouble, exhibiting obstinate and often blind devotion to his or her beliefs and opinions. In contrast to fanatic and zealot, the term bigot implies intolerance and contempt for those who do not agree (: a bigot who could not accept his daughter's decision to marry outside her religion).

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    So, I guess if you are biased against bigots, you are not really a bigot, unless you are intolerant and contemptuous of those who are not also biased against bigots.

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    QUOTE: "Have you been told that you need to respect other people's right to be disrespectful?"

    No. But I was once called dogmatic because I suggested science could disprove particular passages contained in a Holy book. (Apparently, I hold a dogmatic belief in science. Who knew?)
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      Sep 3 2011: I like this.

      It has always seemed transparent to me that when people say things like "you are not tolerant of my right to hold (and express) my opinion" (usually involving their superiority over "lefties", blacks, immigrants, whoever) they really aren't making a plea for you to be tolerant, just hoping to trip you up in their pseudo-logic as pertains your "hypocrisy".

      Despite the transparency, it's really hard to succinctly point out the reason their logic disintegrates.

      I think this works.
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      Aug 24 2011: i was like 11 when i first heard this argument, and now, more than 20 years later (i won't tell how much more), i still can't find any meaning to it.

      basically that statement denies the possibility of being a good person by choice. i bet 5000 dollars that it is false.
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        Aug 24 2011: Where's my right to thumbs up when I need it most!
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        Aug 25 2011: Out of thumbs up but Krisztian's logic and courage here are impecable.
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        Sep 4 2011: We see only what we know. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

        -----------------

        Like all "pithy sayings" this one has its limitations but it is actually very applicable - cognitively, psychologically, even physically.

        It is even practical in its application. There is a "rule of thumb" in advertising: If you are introducing a new idea or product, your target market must see or hear the message about 14 times before it will "register." Before then, it is not "seen or heard."

        Colin Blakemore and Grahame Cooper raised kittens in environments that had, either, only horizontal or vertical visual stimuli (stripes) - Kittens raised with only vertical stripes were never able to "see" horizontal stimuli. For example, they would walk into a stair, rather than ascend it, and so on.

        Apparently, we only see what we know.
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          Sep 4 2011: yeah, we can elaborate on it. here we go:

          "we see only what we know" is a denial of learning. another obviously false statement, which somehow strikes the audience as deep.

          this kind of "entertainment" wisdom is called "deepity" by dan dennett. deepity by definition is a phrase that has two meanings. one of them is true, but trivial and obvious. the other is very profound, but false. the mind first contemplates the first meaning, confirms its validity, then it grasps the deeper meaning, and wow, shock sets in.

          constructing such deepities is kind of expected from an artist. it is part of the job. however, citing such deepities in a serious context is an error.
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        Sep 4 2011: I doubt a cat walking into a step would qualify as a deepity.

        I find Mr Dennett's work to be ... deepity. Although to be fair, I haven't delved too deeply into his deepities.
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        Sep 4 2011: Not knowing doesn't seem to stop you from having an opinion.

        Now, lest I break a rule: Is there anything you would like to explain?

        Is there some reason you feel Goethe and Plotinus might have gotten it all wrong?

        Or does it all come down to the fact that you "can't find any meaning to it?"
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          Sep 4 2011: yes, and i already explained. in case you have problems finding them:

          "Like can only apprehend like" - denies the possibility of being a good person by choice

          "We see only what we know" - is a denial of learning

          (i didn't type these in. i copy'n'pasted from above.)
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        Sep 4 2011: QUOTE: ""Like can only apprehend like" - denies the possibility of being a good person by choice"

        How?

        QUOTE: "We see only what we know" - is a denial of learning"

        No, it's actually one of the foundations of teaching, and therefore, of learning: Start with something "known" and expand, extend, and extrapolate. It is also why we use metaphor.
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          Sep 4 2011: i believe these are quite clear. i won't put any more effort in it just to make your job easier. but if two other TED members request clarification, i will explain it.
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        Sep 4 2011: Why two?

        Don't worry Krisztián - I don't really see it as my job to understand you.

        So this is what we have so far:

        You have an opinion, well two, really:

        1) Like can only apprehend like" - denies the possibility of being a good person by choice. And:

        2) "We see only what we know" - is a denial of learning.

        And they are based on ... your opinion. (And they might be countering the dreaded deepity!)

        We also have two, relatively low-tier philosophers, Goethe and Plotinus, who have expressed a dissenting opinion.

        Advantage: Krisztián (I mean they're dead and things may have changed.)

        Now, we have research from education, marketing, and psychology (Blakemore and Cooper, 1970) that weighs in in favour of ... Goethe and Plotinus ... and advantage is ... OMG ... it's Krisztián.

        He has pulled out a surprise victory ... it's the classic shot: "i believe these are quite clear." Virtually unassailable.

        I resign.
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          Sep 4 2011: Argumentum ad verecundiam. You do realize that "appeal to authority" is a class of logical fallacies, right? Goethe may have been amazing, but it does not automatically make everything he says correct.

          As I already pointed out, the limitation of that first claim is that it implies that we cannot correctly infer intent - even in the face of explication.
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      Aug 24 2011: I had to mull this one over for a moment because while it is instinctively incorrect, I wanted to actually come up with why.

      A secondary effect of this argument would be that the recipient of bigotry would only recognize it as bigotry if he himself was also a bigot. Effectively, you are claiming that if you aren't a bigot, you wouldn't understand when someone walked up to you and called you whatever ethnic slur befits your background.

      That seems more like the inability to parse the intent of the person speaking the slur, which would a neurological failure (perhaps mirror neurons not firing, or something amiss in the communications centre) rather than a superior moral or other character aspect.

      It would almost imply that people on the Autism spectrum are superior.
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      Sep 4 2011: QUOTE: "Argumentum ad verecundiam. You do realize that "appeal to authority" is a class of logical fallacies, right?"

      I do. (And you will note - the authorities "lost" the round.)

      QUOTE: "Goethe may have been amazing, but it does not automatically make everything he says correct."

      I agree. And I do not accept everything he says as correct - in fact, I disagree with much of what he says. However, in this case, I think experience, and research, in education, commerce, and psychology, trump authority (but not opinion - in this particular instance, with this particular person, at this particular time. And I don't mean Goethe.)

      QUOTE: " ... the limitation of that first claim is that it implies that we cannot correctly infer intent - even in the face of explication."

      It is an interesting question. How would one infer intent in the face of explication - what would the process be?
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        Sep 4 2011: Consider, first, without explication:

        A developmentally delayed child being bullied by neighbourhood children.

        Like meeting unlike - but understanding fully the emotional import of the words, even without understanding the specific words. Adding the understanding of the specific words is simply further undermining the premise.

        One does not need to feel hate to understand that others do.
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          Sep 4 2011: QUOTE: "...understanding fully the emotional import of the words ..."

          The known: understanding fully the emotional import.

          The unknown: the (new) words.

          How are the new words given meaning? By association with a known (emotion.)
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        Sep 4 2011: I disagree.

        "Imbecile" has several definitions that are not the sum of the emotional import. One can understand that something negative is implied, and not understand the specific contextual definition.
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          Sep 4 2011: I agree.
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          Sep 4 2011: Hi Gisela,

          As a thought experiment: How would you explain the process of a newborn baby coming to an eventual understanding of the word "imbecile?"

          I have done a similar "experiment" (although I didn't use a particular word) and found the outcome ... interesting.
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        Sep 5 2011: First we have words for people, even before the emotions. Then objects, and not having children of my own, I cannot guess if emotion or concepts are next (the first two I have observed with friends' kids).

        I'm not even sure at what point kids fully understand the word, but I would suspect the best way to figure it out would be to work backward - through an understanding of intelligence, and through a (parallel?) understanding of hierarchy.
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          Sep 5 2011: QUOTE: First we have words for people, even before the emotions.

          This depends, to a degree, on culture. As far as I know the "first word" almost all of us learn is a noun - Ma Ma. Once we get past that, there is a "divergence."

          "Western" kids typically learn more nouns. "Eastern" kids learn more verbs with an implied emphasis on relationship.

          If you are game, take an "emotion word" and, as you suggest, work backwards until you find its root in your own psyche. This is not about etymology; it's about finding how we assign meaning to our own "primordial" emotion words.

          I found the exercise edifying.

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          EDIT: By the the way, though this might sound like an exercise out of the Esalen Institute (and might even have residual benefits befitting a new age retreat) my intention was simply to find out how we imbue words with meaning.
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        Sep 6 2011: It's amazing how many of them seem to involve cues from other people. Their facial expression.in specific.

        Mirror neurons, the area in the brain that allows even the blind (those with impaired visual cortices or routes to that area of the brain) to detect emotion on the faces of those who are present, this is something that is very hard-wired in us.

        How much is learned vs instinct?
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          Sep 6 2011: Interesting that the cues you noticed are visual. Did you get a sense of anything that came before that?

          [Because of a set of unusual circumstances, my earliest memories are from about 18 months of age - maybe earlier. The quality of the memory is quite unique.]
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        Sep 6 2011: I don't think my memory goes any farther back than that. Do you actively recall things before that point?
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          Sep 6 2011: QUOTE: "Do you actively recall things before that point?"

          Before 18 months?

          I'm not exactly sure ... even the 18 months is a guess. (I wasn't keeping a journal at that time!)

          I suspect my earliest memory is actually at about six months or so.

          I was hospitalized for most of the first five years of my life. The medical treatment I received was ... traumatic. The environment was extreme. As a result, I have vivd memories.

          Not all of them "bad" - gifts I received, the boy in the next bed (he died I was told later in life,) and so on. But there are a "deeper" set of memories that are harder to define; they were established when I was pre-verbal so they are not "word-pictures." It is these memories - "experiences" is probably a better word - that are at the foundation of my cognition.
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    Aug 24 2011: a person is not measured by the amount of tolerance or respect he/she shows. but rather if his/her tolerance is well placed. respecting an evil concept is just as bad as not respecting a perfectly valid concept.

    another question is manners. one might argue that even if you don't respect other people's views, you must talk in a polite way. but politeness is part of etiquette. it is similar to rules like don't swear, don't go to a wedding in jogging and tennis shoes. it is not a central issue in a debate. if someone starts to talk about such things too much, we can safely assume that this person is out of arguments on the real issue, and just drops in a red herring.
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    Sep 3 2011: I try to show kind or at least civil respect to a person, even if I strongly disagree on opinion. If there is a public debate I will try step up to confront the views of intolerance.
  • Aug 28 2011: Question itself is somewhat irrelevant and baseless, and answer itself is obvious. If your opinions are based on evidence while theirs are not , answer is yes you are a bigot by definition, but your bias is perfectly justified, as they are wrong. If your opinion differentiates from reality then your bias is unjustified and you are still a bigot, but in error.
  • Aug 25 2011: Aww come on!! A bigot is a bigot! A human accepts another human or that human does not! No wonder the world is going tits up. We are discussing manners? We all have RED blood. We are all still kicking the bucket because of famine, etc., etc.,! Do not let me get started on religion! "Procrastination",,, welcome to the world! With respect to your masters thesis! Good luck @ Matthieu!!
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    Aug 24 2011: the thing about people who hate is that they often need to let everyone else know, that they hate.
    i dont give them the chance and ignore them.
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      Aug 24 2011: It's a hard thing to do sometimes.
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        Aug 24 2011: right? seriously tho. i dont hate the WBC. i feel really sorry for them, and wish they diddnt exist.
        but i dont hate them.
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      Aug 24 2011: I don't know about this.

      How did smoking come to be less socially acceptable? How did racism, sexism, or any other ism that has changed?

      Certainly not by ignoring it.

      For something to become unacceptable, someone had to speak up first.
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        Aug 24 2011: but nothing would socially change if we banned the WBC. and WBC could care less if every person inthe entire world said they do not agree with what they do. its just hate fo rthe sake of hate, becuase its not mention in there book to do the things they do. i honestly think they would stop if everyone just tunred there back and stoped pointing cameras at them
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          Aug 24 2011: And the sheriff's and Klansmen in the little towns in the South in the 1960 didn't change either. But the society around them did and pushed them out to the margins.

          Which, to be sure, is where the member of the WBC already are.
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        Aug 24 2011: oh ya, easily. unless they do something dramatic they will eventually reatreat. or if they keep getting national media attention. which would just spread more hate.
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    Aug 24 2011: If you say that you're opposed to homophobia, most (sensible) people would see that as a good thing. If you say that you're opposed to religion partly because of its homophobic views (although the list of bigotry is much longer), all of a sudden people tell you that's discrimination. Somehow institution-driven bigotry is ok and should be respected. Not sure why.
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      Aug 24 2011: because you are allowed to to the craziest things in order to be a good member of your tribe. actually, you are expected to do everything for your tribe. so this is an excuse. i know it is crazy, but my tribe is such, what can i do?

      you know, it is hard to tell it to someone who fell between two tribes :)
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      Aug 24 2011: I have wondered about this myself. Having been raised Catholic (and having run screaming from the logical inconsistencies), I've encountered this argument several times.

      I have only come to one conclusion: maintaining a place within the structure requires such a massive suspension of disbelief and logic that they are perfectly capable of holding two diametrically-opposed concepts in their minds at one time - and they can't understand why others don't.

      You are both probably too young to get the reference to Star Trek (TOS) but I keep waiting for them to have a breakdown like one of Harry Mudd's femmebots once they start processing the logical ramifications.
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        Aug 24 2011: Gisela, I must confess, I didn't used to watch Star Trek because of the fact that I'm a die-hard Star Wars fan (a really religious attitude I'm not proud of now), but I've recently started watching the original series. Seeing as I've only just started season 2, I know exactly what episode you're talking about.
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        Aug 25 2011: Harry Mudd's Fembots! Wow, what a blast from the past and what a perfect capture of the concept!
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    Aug 24 2011: "A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs."

    so i think you can disagree with a bigot and not be a bigot. to disagree would lead me to assume that you thought about it, and then came to a conclusion. a bigot wouldnt, once they heard your opinion and heard it was not of there own, they would immediatly begin the shit storm of hate.
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      Aug 25 2011: I can't say that I ponder the merits of racist, sexist, what-have-you remarks when someone makes them in my presence, and then make a decision on it. I'm pretty sure that 'animosity' would indeed describe my feelings toward the people spouting said belief.

      I'm pretty obstinate and intolerant about not letting people get away with that crap in my presence as well. (In a business setting I have pointedly walked out of the room rather than just go off on someone - but it's had the same effect.)

      If the definition were a checklist, that would be "check. check. check." Does it make a difference whether it's a conscious decision to be that way? As in, I can't really expect other people to speak up about crap happening in their presence if I don't do it myself.
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        Aug 25 2011: "Does it make a difference whether it's a conscious decision to be that way"?

        i think there does. theres a level of intent at that point, imo.
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    Aug 24 2011: (Can you tell I don't want to finish this report?)