David Berreby in his book Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind illuminates our built in facility to see human kinds. As Kathryn Schulz set out in Being Wrong, “believing things based on paltry evidence is the engine that drives the entire miraculous machinery of human cognition.” We do not care about what is rational, but only care about what is probable. Dividing the world of humans into kinds may give us information, that at least initially, is correct more than it is wrong and thus might be adaptive. Human kinds are processes that are constantly changing. The categories at any point in time, however, seem permanent. Berreby notes that calling them processes does not change the reality of human kinds that people believe in now. As he suggests, the science of human kinds will not undue politics. Berreby points out that in a course of a day, he can pass through many human kinds. He can feel like an American in a group of foreigners, or a New Yorker with a Texan, or a man when talking to a woman. Human kinds like memories are also changing albeit subtly. Our next encounter with a New Yorker may change that stereotype/kind just a little. And every time one makes a statement about a kind, it may be persuasive to me and to those who hear it.
Human kinds, Berreby suggests are symbols that make it easier to make people into objects. We are capable of destroying symbols with ease. Berreby points out another problem: our willingness to see human kind as not only an explanation but also as a cause.
Berreby decries the use of stigma as shame punishment by the legal system. Berreby quotes Martha Nussbaum as to stigma’s inappriateness, since it acts on irrational, unconscious parts of the mind. Enforcement of the law should also avoid human kind judgments. It is not only a terrible idea for society, but it is not the most effective strategy for enforcement.
Science is a better guide even though we cannot eliminate our concepts of human kind. As Berreby reminds us, we still use the terms sunrise and sunset, even though we well know that we are not at the center. Similarly with medicine, miasma theory of disease made some good predictions, but germ theory made better predictions. The science of germ theory did not contradict completely our instincts and traditions, nor did it totally confirm them. Just because race and ethnic groups are real at the level of ethnic groups and culture does not mean they must be real at the level of molecules and genes and organs.