A man was visiting Belfast for the first time. An Irish friend warned him that it could be dangerous to be the wrong religion in some neighborhoods. He described which places it would be best to claim to be Catholic if asked, and which places to be Protestant.
The visitor found it confusing, and reached a neighborhood where he realized to his distress that he didn’t know which answer to give. Worse, a rough-looking young man had fixed his gaze and was bearing down on him from across the street. “Now then! Are you Protestant or Catholic?” he asked, grabbing him at the collar.
“I’m – I’m Jewish” came the answer.
The other man smiled appreciatively, drawing his fist back. “Begorra, I’m the loockiest Palestinian in all Ireland.”
The joke only partly intersects with the topic, which is that we are not supposed to make generalisations about groups of people. It's an American rule, or it was. Insulting generalisations are supposed to be right out. It has been gradual. Comedians made jokes about "women drivers" on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was young, but people only do that ironically now. (I think. Maybe somewhere...)
It was perhaps naive of me to absorb the rule and think that it should apply generally.
I am not talking about mere name-calling, which I think is self-defeating. When I see the word libtard, Shrillary, or Dhimmicrat I just pass on to the next comment. Low chance of anything worthwhile surrounding it. I first encountered that kind of thing in 6th grade, when Norman Ranfos said "Goldwater in '64. Bread-and-water in '65," and even then sensed it was relying on accidentals about the person rather than anything real. Even when done cleverly, it pales rapidly.
Yet it persists, and I get the same pattern whenever I point it out. People who would cut their tongues out before they would call a black person shiftless or even an Oriental person the more-neutral inscrutable will very off-handedly refer to supporters of a candidate or cause with some terrible insult: that many of those are meth-using child-abusers, or uneducated boobs, or hypocritical haters or -ists of many sorts. The pattern is 1) someone makes a general comment about a group, 2) I call that out as unfair, 3) The claim is dismissed as ridiculous 4) I am accused of making the argument personal. I actually do see some of the point of that, but still believe the argument is strong - and necessary. Yes, you were making a general comment, without thinking of anyone in particular, and I did indeed laser focus back on you in specific. It certainly feels like an escalation. But only to people to already agree with you, who are similarly oblivious. That general comments can and should be taken personally has been established for decades by blacks, Jews, elders, and women drivers who happened to be present when offensive remarks were made.
Weeeellll, people get their backs up when go at them personally and sometimes don't acknowledge the justice that they should. Yet I have seen people instantly and sincerely apologise over some stereotypical attribution (often clumsily and making it worse - it's not all that gratifying to be considered some equivalent of "one of the good niggers" - but one has to appreciate the humility of making the effort). I don't often see it now, and it is far worse this election cycle. I'm seeing insults about even-up against Trump and Hillary, but it's not close in referring to their voters. I am seeing really bigoted stereotypes about Trump supporters, who are in fact a pretty varied group, so far as I can tell. When I challenge these (and I usually make only a mild comment publicly to create a little social pushback, reserving my sterner comments for private or at least more circumscribed audiences) I get some version of the pattern response. Most commonly, the excuse is "But you clearly don't understand how really, really bad Trump is," or "but the generalisation is true, they really are like that."
All of you can fill in the blanks from here where I would go with this as a logical argument. But I don't really expect anti-Trumpsters to be all that logical, any more than the Trumpsters, or the Trump-neutrals, or anyone else. So I step back and look at what else is happening here. Most people accept the American rule of no stereotypes. Talking about it would lead to instant arguments and disagreements, but those would occur precisely because Americans now generally accept this principle. Why then, do people believe that some of their statements, which to all logic should fit under the rule, are exempt from the rule?
I don't think I ever considered that. In my OCD/Aspergery/simple stubbornness way, I stayed focused on the mere illogic and my annoyance with that. While true, it isn't likely to lead to any further understanding. A moment of stepping back, and three or four theories came to me quickly.
My current favorite: the need to make tribal declarations and signaling that one is a nice person overwhelms logic instantly. Observing that, I can think of quick examples where that applies to others as well, from other political points of view. Birds chirp to indicate where they are. Dogs urinate to mark their territory. It has actually been a main topic around here that human beings do much the same, largely without noticing it.