in praise of prejudice

In Praise of Prejudice

The primary problem with inexactitude of language is that it breeds poor thinking.  An example is the shoddy use of the word prejudice, which has caused it to be overwhelmingly understood as a synonym to racism, sexism, etc.  This bothers me.

Because there is nothing wrong with prejudice, in the properly understood form of the word.

In fact, prejudice is as positive and necessary human trait.

Prejudice as properly understood is akin to the word discrimination in meaning, specifically similar is that there is a positive connotation (and denotation) to each word.  It is good to be discriminating, say, when you have discriminating taste in wine or food.  And it is good to be prejudiced when you are prejudiced against walking down dark, inner city allies full of large men in hooded jackets alone late at night.

Of course, it can also be bad to be discriminating and bad to be prejudiced.  But the words are not absolutes.  At least not when properly understood.

But language correctness never stopped a copywriter.  A new spot for Ogilvy whose key idea is captured in the line “Our prejudices. Our invisible walls. Isn’t it time to demolish them?” makes, if you understand the word, no sense.

Prejudice is necessary (is it really proper to figure out from first principles that perhaps you shouldn’t hire as a babysitter a convicted sex offender?  Well, if you hate prejudice it is because the aforementioned decision is prejudiced against sex offenders).  Prejudice is good (if you were to taste an olive and not like it, you are prejudiced against olives unless you try every new olive because, hey, every olive is different).  Prejudice is important (it is prejudiced to think that 13 year old kids are not mature enough to drive a car, but foolish to allow them to all the same).

So as much as prejudice can be bad, as it surely can, prejudice can also be good.

And demolishing prejudice is the last thing that I would ever want to do.


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