Chainsaw Logic: Racism, Bigotry, and Prejudice Part I

Originally Posted on June 23, 2015 by jim shaul


Bob has owned three gas powered chainsaws.  All of the gas powered chainsaws that  Bob has owned have ended up having carburetor problems and even after taking them to the repair shop, they still had issues. His threw his last one off a bridge because he was so frustrated with it. When Bob needed another chainsaw, he decided to buy an electric chainsaw because Bob concluded that ALL gas powered chainsaws were trouble. He also had other friends of his tell him that they had the same experience.

Bob has taken the intellectual position that ALL gas powered chainsaws are trouble (a general conclusion about the entire group) based on the experience of only a few gas powered chainsaws (a sample of the entire group). He intellectually projected the characteristics of the known individuals onto the unknown others within the group.

Let me ask you this initial question:  have you ever done similar things in the past?  The answer is duh… of course you have (although not necessarily with chainsaws, possibly you have with restaurants, car dealers grocery stores, and etc.). We all have. We all use this type of reasoning (inductive logic = arguing from specific test cases/examples to general conclusions) to live our lives. We have from our first experiences. You learned to expect relief from your discomfort of tummy hunger when you heard your mother or father’s voice because you had experienced this repeatedly in the past.

We all organize our lives by creating generalizations about the unknown based on separate and discrete experiences in our lives. When you drive down the street and approach an intersection with a green light, you see cars on the cross street driving toward the intersection, you assume, based on past experiences that those cars will likely stop because you have a green light and therefore they must have a red light.  You do not know they have a red light. You do not know any of the other drivers and certainly do not know what is going on in their minds and what their intentions are – yet, you proceed. You check those cars as you get nearer, but you proceed.

What you know is that your past individual experiences have followed a certain pattern and you have created in your mind a set of generalizations that tell you what to expect in brand new situations involving previously unknown individual entities.

The second question is this: is there anything wrong in doing this?  Of course not! We cannot travel through life without picking up experiences, creating generalizations with which we organize and understand our universe, and then using those generalizations to inform and direct us.

My first conclusion: the making of generalizations is normal operating procedure and necessary and has no intrinsic moral value – it is not wrong or right.  It is normal life and necessary.

Here is the rub: racism, bigotry, and prejudice are all forms of making generalizations – and yet many – if not most – reasonable people consider these three activities of generalization as wrong and bad.

How can this be, logically, and how can we wrap our heads around it?

Check back tomorrow for Part II.


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For His glory,


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