One of the most gobsmacking brainfarts on the part of the conservative side of America is the inherent contradiction in their positions on a) tax cuts; and b) social welfare. In a nutshell, it says that if we give the rich more money, they will work harder (with undoubted benefit to all of us), but if we give the poor more benefits (even if temporary, as is the norm), they will just get lazy. We laugh, but the right wing believes it.
How, you might ask, is this even possible? The answer is essentialism, a term I encountered recently in this Slate article. As amateur philosophers, we all recognize that things can be grouped into categories, and often we base those groupings on the essence of the individuals. For example, as the article says, dogs are “doggy” and cats are “adorable, fluffy little jerks.”
The philosophical trap we fall into, however, is that we start to believe that many surface attributes are in fact essential when they are not. This would include some physical traits, such as sex, race, etc., but it can also include social traits or abstract traits, like gender (not the same as sex—see what I did there?) or religion.
Or economic status.
The researchers in the article devised statements to test peoples’ sense of essentialism with such phrases as ““It is possible to determine one’s social class by examining their genes.” In other words, that’s just the way “those people” are—they were born that way.
Rich people were found to be much more likely to believe that their class status and that of others is determined largely by essentials. Poor people are poor because they’re… you know… poor people. People like us, on the other hand…
None of this surprises me at all. I’m just glad to have a name for it. Now if we could just find a cure for it…