Sunday, December 09, 2007

More on Names

I've had a lot of good comments on my post on naming. Here are some more thoughts.

It seems like a given that Lenna should be retired, but "promiscuous" and "master-slave" are both descriptive, so why should we given them up? I'm going to focus on "master-slave" for the sake of simplicity; a similar argument against promiscuous exists.

First, there is an equally-descriptive, oppression-neutral term that can be used: "manager-worker." Sure, managers sometimes oppress their workers, but theoretically speaking, workers can go find other jobs. And in cases like factory workers in third world countries who work for pennies and owe their employers for the privilege of working there, that's actually slave labor being relabeled as free labor. Slavery still exists in this world, there is no getting around that fact.

Second, the problem is not that using the "master-slave" terminology causes conscious bias; the problem is that it elicits subconscious bias. I'm not saying that anyone hears the term "master-slave" and starts spouting racial epithets! I'm saying that just as god-thoughts and civic-minded thoughts have a positive influence upon social behavior, thoughts of injustice negatively influence social behavior. According to the study referenced in the link above, the subjects of the experiment didn't even have to believe in god for the god-thoughts to have a positive influence upon their generosity. Likewise, you don't have to believe in the inferiority of other races for "master-slave" to have an adverse impact on your social behavior.

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