To call someone prejudiced is to relegate him to the lowest rung of intellectual life. But is there anyone who isn’t prejudiced? As Dr. Dalrymple argues in this brief and bracing rehabilitation of both prejudice itself and the necessity of prejudice, someone who walks out into the world completely unprejudiced is as helpless as a newborn babe.
In fact, as Dr. Dalrymple shows, prejudice is at the root of most virtue as well as of a lot of vice. To expect people to work out all their morals for themselves from abstract first principles is to expect far too much from them. It is not only unrealistic, it is harmful.
The pretense that we can be totally unprejudiced, argues Dr. Dalrymple, who speaks from wide clinical experience as a doctor in a slum hospital and the prison next door, is a pretext for licentiousness and lack of self-control, to the detriment not only of the individuals themselves but of society as a whole.
Prejudice is not just a matter of derogatory stereotyping of racial groups (though it may certainly include that). It is also the foundation of social virtue. To read Dr. Dalrymple is to let him destroy your prejudice against prejudice. (From the front flap)
Monday, December 21, 2009
In Praise of Prejudice
I have just begun what appears to be a very profitable read, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas, by Theodore Dalrymple.