"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Friday, February 10, 2006


The word prejudice has come to mean irrational bigotry; it tends to be employed as a synonym for unsavoury, reactionary or regressive views. To described as holding prejudices is usually meant disparagingly. But in a much less pejorative sense, we are all prejudiced, as essayist Paul Greenberg today reminds us:
"Among the many wise things in Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France" is a subtle and insightful defense of prejudice in human affairs. By prejudice, he didn't mean what the word has come to mean - a stupid bigotry. He was referring to the customs, traditions and feelings that we acquire almost instinctively.

No wonder Burke foresaw early on what a bloody experiment the French Revolution would prove, for it was not moored in the natural affections and experiences, but in abstract theories about society - theories that inevitably prove tyrannical when humans set out to remake the species according to some revolutionary's plan. Burke saw that we don't reason our way to our best and deepest beliefs any more than we talk ourselves into love or patriotism. We don't love a country or a painting on the basis of some theory. We just do. Call it a prejudice."
There is nothing wrong with prejudice when it means only that. And prejudice can also mean one's basic political touchstones. I favour democratic states, market economies; I am suspicious of centralised regulation if there is a viable decentralised alternative; I am what might be a called a fiscal conservative; I tend to support the notion of American leadership in world affairs; I have supported a lot (but not all) that George W. Bush has done in prosecuting the war against terror; I see free trade and globalisation as the paths out of poverty for developing states. At home, I favour the approach taken to date regarding immigration from the new EU accession states; I see social partnership as having outlived its usefulness; I am opposed to Sinn Fein involvement in government; I am not supportive of the planned military parade commemorating the 1916 Rising. These are my prejudices. The challenge for democrats is to constantly challenge one's own prejudices.


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