One of the first posts I published on this blog looked at the purported rise of Christianophobia in the UK. Polls of churchgoers indicate that 74% of them believe that Christians are the most discriminated against faithgroup in the UK. Yet the evidence for this is utterly negligible. For example, while there are an unfortunately large number of hate crimes that target Muslims and Jews, those against Christians are rarer and by and large perpetrated by other Christians.
A similar phenomenon is the so-called Men’s Rights movement with its strange lack of perspective. For example, they argue that the problem with rape prosecutions is that there are too many of them.
These movements were called to mind last week when I read an article in The Atlantic on how different groups in American society perceive discrimination. Essentially, every group think they are more discriminated than the general population does. Blacks, Evangelicals, Hispanics and Catholics all think they are the most discriminated against.
The author’s conclusion is “that our personal experiences have a huge effect on how we perceive discrimination. On the flip side, very few of us have the same kind of window into the daily lives of people who aren’t like us.”
I take away from this – a point I’ve made before – that our personal experience is a poor guide to broader social phenomenon. We need the social sciences because we can’t just intuit our way to a proper understanding of social problems because our intuition has developed only in our very small part of society. As implausible as it might seem the path to greater empathy is often going to be through polls, data, structured interviews and the like.