Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The group's members are not all the same.

In introductory psychology class, we learned about outgroup homogeneity, which is the belief that people not in "our" group are all the same. "Our bowling team is comprised of unique individuals," the thinking goes, "but the people in those other teams are all the same."

I see this in political discourse a lot. For instance, when Pat Sajak talked about the opinions of "Hollywood," he was lumping members of an industry together and assuming they all thought the same thing about something. (Is Pat Sajak part of Hollywood? This is left as an exercise to the reader.)

The contradiction that arises is that individuals can be members of both ingroups and outgroups. Those people on those "other teams" that are "all the same" are still Americans and so part of the American ingroup, which is diverse (while French people, for instance, are "all the same.")

It's easy to accuse the group of inconsistency if you ignore the fact that the members might have differing opinions.

This kind of lumping happens with lots of groups. Political parties are popular targets. (See "Who, Exactly, Is This "Left" About Which I Hear Such Strange And Dreadful Things?" As always, Hilzoy writes better than I do on pretty much any topic, and often sooner.) People see organizations (such as corporations and Presidential administrations) as a single entity, not so much as a group of people, not all of whom agree with each other (or even talk to each other), let alone act in concert all the time.

I try to be careful not to look for contradictions in a group for this reason (but something like Michelle vs. Michelle is perfectly fair game). In general, it's not fair to the members of a group to lump them together that way.

(I apologize for the sub-coherence of this post; it was written by a committee.)
Post a Comment