Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My minor prejudice of the day

Ever since I read Blink last year, I've tried to keep an eye on my thoughts to see what assumptions I make based on superficial qualities. If it's an unfair judgment, I try to avoid it in the future. On the other hand, some of them pan out in practice. F'rinstance, I tend to avoid enormous SUVs (of the Hummer/Yukon/Excursion class) on the road; I don't know if they have poor sight lines, or if their drivers just don't quite realize how big their vehicles are, but they tend to pass way too close to bicyclists. I might be wrong on occasion, but I err on the side of caution. Occasionally, though, I'll catch myself making snap judgments that I won't even realize I've made until they're contradicted.

I did this yesterday. I was talking with a Russian guy, and it hit me after a few minutes that the guy was about as sharp as a sack full of hammers. And a little voice in the back of my head said, "how can he be this stupid? He's Russian!" Apparently, I've been carrying a prejudice that says that Russians are smart. I think this is based on experience; I've known a fair number of Russians, but I've never met a dumb Russian before.

On a similar note, I've also been noticing that I've got a stack of professional prejudices. I've got a whole set of prejudices about disc jockeys. I can look at a DJ's gear and tell everything I need to know about the show he's likely to do. Now that I think about it, this is less of a prejudice, per se, and more of a professional judgment. I make a lot of these. As another example, certain things about a drum kit are marks of a bad drummer, and other traits are marks of a good drummer. I've never seen a bad drummer with a tiny drum kit. If a guy shows up with a kit that looks something like bass-snare-hat-tom-ride, I know I'm in for a good show. Real experts know what they need to sound good, and they don't bring any more than they want to carry from the car. Bigger kits can mean anything, but a small kit is the mark of mastery. This kind of snap judgment isn't really prejudicial; it comes from lots of experience, and you don't conduct any sort of analysis. It just soaks in over time, until one day you see a complete stranger setting up a five-piece drum kit and catch yourself saying, "hey, this guy's gonna be good!"

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