Tuesday, 10 July 2007

On Double Standards

I want to expand on the fundamental theme of this weblog, namely that there should be no double standards.

Now a double standard is to disportionately judge a view based on whether it or the persons making a claim are, on some basis, similar or different to your views and/or yourself. You judge those that are more different to you, harshly and those that are more similar to you, sympathetically. The difference between such harsh and sympathetic judgement means one is applying two, rather than one, standard to analyse, criticise, support or condemn these views and people.

There are a number of questions to be dealt with here.

  1. The basic question is, is there in fact, a double standard being applied? Something may appear to be a double standard but it is not. The recognition that a purported double standard is false can be as useful as finding out that it is the true.
  2. Given one has identified such a double standard one then asks why should one group or set of views have a lower standard of criticism or analysis and the other have a higher and more difficult to achieve standard? (Indeed this type of question can also help identify a double standard in first place.)
  3. Given we have identifed a double standard and elicited or extrapolated the arguments and claimed justifications for it, what do we do about it? Now we cannot assume, in advance, that all double standards are necessarily wrong, although the default position is that this is likely to be the case. We need to examine these on a case by case basis.
This is the basic skeleton of a framework with which I will chose to analyse topical events in the blog in the future. Now why I am motivated to do this rather than anything else?

Double standards have always existed and likely always will. It seems quite "natural" or "normal" to trust (usually) one's family members over strangers and there are many other groups one can identify such as what colleagues, friends, family, "class" , culture, vocation, interests, sports, drinking preferences, health habits, ethnicity, beliefs, language, education or nationality that one is or has and where the "other" is outside whatever group one is identifying with at that time. There is a simple justification for trusting more one's own group over the other, as there are likely more common grounds for mutual understanding and how each other thinks. This is a quite practical argument and one which we operate within, mostly being unaware of it too, and probably every day.

We even have evidence that there is a biological/psychological basis for this and this has been tested to discover people's political biases amongst many studies.This way of thinking is a basic heuristic - rule of thumb - that we have probably previously evolved when we existed as social animals in small groups, tribes and communities to ensure the survival of those small groups against adverse conditions, including and, especially with regard to this heuristic, other similar groups.

Given what I have just said, is it not futile to campaign for no double standards or rather a single standard? Well I am focused on the public space or sphere of discourse within a nation. The common ground within which all different types of individuals and the various groups they are variously members of share, inhabit and interact within. The best way to create a fair and equitable public space is to eliminate double standards - to generally eliminate special pleading, rights, dispensations, benefits and needs. This is is a two pronged approach dealing with existing imbalances due to the status quo - tradition - and also from outside - dealing with the currently disenfranchised or maltreated - without creating new double standards.

But how can this be done if, as I have just made out, double standards are endemic and possibly "natural or "normal"? We have long learnt though cognitive psychology and other disciplines that heuristics, which we use when we have little or no time to deliberate and are mostly effective, can also become deleterious to one's well being and can be overcome. On an individual level this is what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) treat, heuristics that one chronically (mis)uses and that one has, prior to treatment, failed to modify or reject. In general we can indeed both recognise and overcome many of these heuristics, when they fail us. This equally applies to the double standard heuristic, it might be inbuilt but it is still malleable.

When it comes to the public space there is an additional obligation on those who purport to be professional representatives of these disparate groups. Whilst individuals may not have the time, resources or space to overcome their heuristics they all need to rely on those "experts" or "professionals" who do have the time, space and resources to transcend these sometimes deleterious ways of thinking. If they did do this properly, then these leaders could be working on behalf of their groups to ensure they are not adversely treated in the public space and that they are neutrally treated - that is like everyone else. Instead, in fact, they mostly argue for creating new imbalances that would adversely effect other individuals or groups. They take advantage of and pander to everyone's inbuilt but malleable, and hitherto unconsidered, double standards.

Now in some areas this has been largely dealt with (certainly not entirely and things can regress too...) in the public sphere, such as racism, sexism and homophobia. However one of the underlying mechanisms, that of double standards, has not really been highlighted. What I would like to see is the general condemnation of double standards in the public sphere regardless of the aspect of society that is under focus. This would both help existing causes such as these mentioned in this paragraph and many others beside. As I have already noted, individuals and groups can seek to remove injustices and inequalities without needing to endorse double standards and so can avoid removing one and replace it with another.

How is this to be done? Well this weblog is my attempt to clarify my ideas on this matter and my contribution to making this a valid topic of debate over public issues.