#09 Prejudice
Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz

Editorial

"Homo homini lupus est" – man is wolf to man. Unfortunately this expression, coined in the 17th century by political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, too often describes the primary state of interpersonal relationships – even after the many great achievements of the Enlightenment. When prejudice is added to mix, the "wolfish" nature of man is even more likely to prevail.

Prejudices are rarely positive in nature; most involve a negative stereotype. They are all too familiar to us from daily life and the situations in which we resort to them – since the banking crisis, bankers worldwide are viewed in general as greedy, many see civil servants as lazy, and we Germans love to wear socks with sandals on holiday.

US social psychologist Arie Kruglanski has studied how this tendency towards over generalization develops and put forward the theory that every human being feels the need for cognitive closure. We all seek to develop a simple model of perception, a process disrupted by complexity and contradictions, which in turn disturb our peace of mind and inner sense of security. The resulting cognitive dissonance is unpleasant and stereotypes are useful in masking it. Such generalisations help us find our way through a value landscape filled with both external debris and inner certitude. This yearning serves as fruitful ground for prejudice to grow.

In a negative sense these generalisations can engender feelings of hatred and aggression. Prejudices can lead to discrimination, inequality, murder and even war. The majority of this issue explores these topics: How does it feel for migrants or minorities in a society to be at the constant mercy of biases? How many serious conflicts and even wars are based on prejudice? And to what extent is our perception truly influenced by biases, spread and expanded by the media?

But the news is not all disagreeable: Africa, the lost continent? That too is just a preconception! Were you aware of how rapidly the technology sector is developing in Africa? Of all the technical innovations being invented there in particular? Read the "African Innovation" chapter and prepare to be pleasantly surprised. The examples wonderfully illustrate that we cannot view people in developing nations as aid recipients. They are the key stakeholders in their own development!

The development policy scene, with its altruistically exemplified logic of mercy some may confuse with solidarity, is itself is not entirely immune to prejudice. When it comes to encouraging economic growth in developing countries, for example, our branch demonstrates a strong mistrust of the business community in general and of their marketing and PR tools in particular. In the course of my daily work, I am often confronted with the axiom that business equals interest-oriented, which equals bad, while the state equals altruism, which equals good!

These extreme reductions are the ideal foundation for prejudice! We need to roll them back, for the gains of one party most certainly entail losses for the other. Here it is more about the wonderful possibility of creating multiple win-win situations. Andrea Kolb, a young entrepreneur who established a social business in the fashion sector in Morocco and is now selling the product globally, quite rightly asks here why "social" cannot also be sexy and luxurious. But she and her small business are not alone in confronting this "good-bad" prejudice; even fashion giants like H&M are fighting to have their production chains fairly assessed. Lydia Illge and Lutz Preuss therefore pose the logical question: "Are the big guys always the bad guys? These and more business legends await in the "Business" chapter.

To close with a quote from another great Enlightenment philosopher: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction." I am convinced that if every one of us took these words of Immanuel Kant to heart in keeping with the excellent elucidations of Hans Jonas, we could create a world freer of prejudice, thus winning and actively developing more future.

Yours truly,
Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz

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