Among the more doubtful areas of human behaviour is our tendency to generalise the characteristics of masses from a few tenuous examples. How does profiling work to our benefit?
There are some generalisations that I am ready to accept at face value. Like the fact that 98.37% of all statistics are made up at the moment. Or that three times out of four a slice of bread that falls off the plate will land on its buttered side. The reason that I accept these has more to do with my total lack of interest in the subjects – statistics having as a saving grace the proverbial allusion to swimwear in the connection to what they hide and what they reveal and the slice of bread being thrown away whichever side it lands on. No, it’s not that I can’t take generalisations; it is just that I hate being ground into mulch by being part of a profiled group.
This attempt to rise from the hoi polloi has been brought about by two complete innocuous (and on their own, completely unconnected) news stories that I read.
The first was a news report on a rather shady and incompetent pilot flying for an Indian domestic airline, who had got herself selected by submitting fraudulent documents. She was caught out because she had perfected that ‘art’ of crash landing her plane on its nose wheel. A major newspaper went to town saying “Woman pilot…” and the comments started flying on the blogosphere. Most of these were about why the paper was sexist by putting the gender in the negative headline. The remainder was in equal parts about why women made bad pilots and standing up for good female pilots. The commentators seemed to miss the point that corruption and fraud had put people in harm’s way and that only providence had prevented a major accident. Compare this with a politically correct version of the same report carried by a major Australian newspaper where the pilot was incidentally a female.
The other report was oddly enough out the same week and took the diametrically opposing view. The European Court of Justice has ruled that insurance companies operating in the EU could not charge men and women different premiums for the same insurance. Insurance companies base their entire business on profiling the general population. If you don’t believe it, ask a young male trying to buy comprehensive insurance on a motorcycle in Oman. You get better rates (or in some cases the insurance itself) if you are older than 40 or come from the right ethnic group. Insurers believe in the stereotypes and asking them to give the same rates to male and female buyers of motor insurance just means that women will now pay as much as men already do. Of course this ruling has huge implications in many spheres, including pension premiums, but if we limit ourselves to motor insurance, does that mean that we give up profiling? Profiling is not fair in the modern world. I do not like being called a heterosexual, middle-aged, middle-class, married Indian male though that is what I am. Where is the individual in that? With the flaws and perfections and the small but crucial differences that say “I am not legion, I am unique”.
To some degree, even insurance companies are willing to recognise this by allowing an accident-free driving history to bring down your insurance premiums, believing that your good behaviour in the past is sign enough of future safe driving.
We are not going to escape profiling and its effect on our lives anytime soon. I will still have to face the double-whammy of paying twenty Rials and getting my Iris scanned each time in go to Dubai while my colleague who enjoys another profile walks in without a visa fee and no eye-test. Am I any more likely than him to be trying to cheat my way in to Dubai? Apparently the authorities there think so.
My advice to the ECJ is to avoid these esoteric judgements. They sound good on paper, but are completely outside the ability of the human mind to integrate as part of its day to day affairs. And corruption and fraud will do the rest, allowing incompetents to get jobs irrespective of their gender.