What's your sign? I'm a Virgo. That means I'm hypercritical, a perfectionist, an elitist, super-neat and... well... acquaintances might tell you otherwise.*** :)
I'm also half Italian. This implies I'm temperamental, clannish, and vengeful if wronged. The other half is German, which adds a dash ofoverbearing seriousness; Scots-Irish which makes me feisty and stubborn; and French -- which explains why I often feel self-defeated. :-P
Thanks to pop "news" blurbs we can now learn about other "classifications" as well. I'm a firstborn sibling, which mean I'm more achievement-oriented and feel my proper place is higher in the pecking order.
(That was the "nature" part. Now for the "nurture" part:) I was also born and raised an American, which means I'm kind of privileged and obnoxious with a sense of entitlement a mile wide.
Classification (and stereotyping) is nothing new. People have an inborn tendency to classify -- not only others, but themselves as well. It's an economized way of info-processing: place X number of attributes in a folder for easy reference. This meme-receptor most likely originated back in the days when no individual could really afford the time to stop and analyze a situation. In our distant past, to hesitate could have very well meant the difference between life and death. Fight or flight? Friend or foe? (This is probably the origin of dichotomous "thinking" as well, which I'll address in a later essay.) :-)
Some of the classification-ability -- especially with regard to basic mechanisms such as avoiding danger, finding food and reproduction -- seem to be so time-honored and ancient as to have become instinctual. As the brain and environment became more complex, greater memory capacity enabled more association between attributes and potential consequences, and learning certain associations was often useful in terms of survival strategy. (e.g. "yellow and black stripes = stings, so must avoid")
Humans -- having the most memory and processing capacity of any other creature, so to speak -- have advanced their categorization-ability to include abstract concepts --including the development of language. This ability to create more complex categorizations has enabled our highly advanced and complex social realm. Paradoxically, the ability to economize thought may be a time-saving means of efficiency, but it can also lead to non-thinking if left unchecked and unchallenged.
For the readers who don't know me, I won't reveal too much more about myself for the time being. Should it matter? This blog is about ideas, but the perception of the ideas themselves can often become tainted by the perceiver's own prejudices towards those who originate them. It can be a two way street: people will often assign attributes based on someone's appearance, gender, race, age, etc. or conversely, they will assume something about a person unseen, based on the ideas they've expressed.
Back in the days when I posted to newsgroups, tossing out ideas just for the hell of it, there were a few certain other posters who didn't understand my motives, instead interpreting them on a more subjective and personal level. It was actually kind of funny, as I was attacked by some as being "right wing conservative" and by others as a "left-wing sympathizer". My gender was even called into question. (Of course the logical fallacy in these instances would be the ad hominem [placing focus on the person instead of the idea or argument]).
On the other hand, there have been those in the "real life" realm who are only familiar with my superficial appearance, making assumptions based on stereotypes presumably associated with said superficialities. ...Or, they make preconceived judgments based on their experiences with other, different individuals who happen to share similar attributes (e.g. age, gender, race, etc.) And often they're flat-out wrong, too. As the saying goes, "cliches [and stereotypes] represent lazy thinking." (Although much of the time, I wouldn't even classify this as "thinking", but feeling or "conditioned response".)
For all our crowing over our advanced brain capacity, the "ancient" is still with us: as primates, we are a highly visual species, we still tend to judge individuals based on more on the physical and the superficial.
This is all intuitive, no-brainer stuff, of course, and we're all guilty of it to a degree. But remember that this is one of the favorite tools of the mediocrats -- be they pundits, advertisers or politicians -- who use stereotyping to good effect -- selling their ideas through manipulation
of the mind's untrained weaknesses. What is especially ironic is that, despite our living in a more advanced and technological world, the amount of information, the overwhelming numbers of other people we might encounter each day and the fact that our lives are busier in general make us all more susceptible to reverting to this "mental shorthand." When we're overwhelmed with too many other tasks, it's easier to be drawn to the products, pundits, people and slogans who use the quickest and most appealing shortcuts that aren't going to put a strain on the brain too much. (See my earlier essay on McMemes).
The critical thinker, on the other hand, knows how to recognize the difference between thinking and conditioned response.
The Symbolic Species by Terrence Deacon
The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science by Steven Mithen
How The Mind Works by Steven Pinker
List of Cognitive Biases (Wikipedia)
Do First Impressions Matter?
Can A Dog Be Racist?
Carl Jung (Wikipedia)
***( For the record I don't believe in astrology at all (I see it as a silly relic of the late '60's), and I'm amazed that newspapers, magazines, etc. still devote substantial space to it.)