I have prejudices. We all do. If we didn’t, we would have a very hard time carrying out our daily lives. When I say this, I am using the word “prejudice” in its etymological sense of a decision made without a prior reasoning. “Judicare” means to decide, and “pre” means before. So I choose all kinds of actions in my life without going through a reasoning process each time. I have food prejudices, architectural prejudices, weather prejudices. I have religious prejudices, political prejudices, literary and philosophical prejudices (can’t for the life of me bring myself to read Nietzsche).
I have people prejudices too. I am older, and so I was raised in a time of overt prejudices against African-Americans and Asians and Hispanics and women. Still, after all these years, and having lived with, befriended, been instructed by and been amazed by people from all these various groups, I still find in myself the vestiges of those prejudices.
It is a part of achieving wisdom to examine our prejudices, and to rid ourselves of those we find to be bad, improper, contrary to right reason, whatever, and to foster those prejudices that are good, rational, that foster community, etc. It’s probably a good idea to have a prejudice against snakes and spiders, to foster a prejudice for vegetables and non-fatty foods, to develop a prejudice against indolence, etc. It is clearly a good idea to examine our prejudices against people based on irrational things like the color of their skin or the shape of their face or their sex or, for that matter, their height or weight or any other physical feature.
When, however, we look to review prejudices, particularly those which have done so much damage in the history of the nation and the world, I suggest that we will find a main root or cause of that prejudice. That root is self-interest. There must, after all, be a reason of some sort for a prejudice, and there is absolutely no sense to the judgment that one person is better than another because of the color of his or her skin or the bare fact that one has a penis and the other a vagina. So why do we have such prejudices?
Somewhere along the line some wise man (see? I told you I had prejudices) taught me that there are two ways to see yourself as valuable. One is to improve yourself, and the other is to hold other people as somehow less or lower than you. I once hear a comedian tell a story on himself about his history as an alcoholic. He was in the emergency room in the throes of alcohol withdrawal. The attendants had put straps on his arms and legs, something that is called “four-point restraint.” While he was there, another alcoholic was brought in, with five-point restraints, the additional strap being around his neck. The comedian said he looked over, and said to the guy, “Loser. I only have four.”
That is, I suggest, the basis of all prejudice. A bigot says, “Whatever I may be, at least I am not a (fill in the blank: nigger, chink, kike, bitch, polack, kraut, wop, spic, faggot, dike, etc.).” At its heart, every prejudice is a kind of escape valve, allowing me to grant myself worth by downgrading those around me. From world-class bigots like Trump to the lowest of white trash, the source of prejudice is the same: I am better because these others are worse.
For the life of me, though, I cannot figure out my prejudice against rutabaga.