Dateline: NEW YORK—Tired of being accused of having stereotypical ideas of women and racial minorities, the gazillionaire Roderick Billington set about spending his vast fortune to perfect his conceptions.
“I realized the essence of the problem early on,” he said. “I’d be thinking that the Chinese can’t drive well, that blacks are thuggish, and that women are sentimental and prone to hysteria. But I’d be told that those were just outrageous stereotypes. So there was a mismatch between my ideas and the facts.”
Mr. Billington decided to eliminate that mismatch. “The first order of business was to eliminate the material difference between my ideas and the reality of those groups of people. My ideas were made of neurons, but the billions of women out there, for example, are made out of all sorts of stuff: bone, muscles, skin cells, not to mention the women’s possessions and social relationships.”
To correct his conception of women, therefore, he cloned every woman on Earth. “Storing them all was the really tricky part,” he confesses. “Our planet is already overcrowded, so I had a duplicate planet built in orbit and shipped my women out to live on it.”
Now, when Mr. Billington is asked to speak on an issue related to women, he points to the second batch of women on that second Earth and says, “That’s what I think of romance novels, soap operas, and romantic comedies. Fly out to my concept of women if you want to know the details. I’m no longer arrogant enough to pretend that I can adequately model billions of people with just some squishy neurons in my puny noggin.”
Having silenced feminists in that fashion, Mr. Billington proceeded to nip the issue of racism in the bud with another round of cloning and another manufactured Earth. “I find I can easily now side-step talk of my alleged discriminatory treatment of dark-skinned people. When asked why I steer clear of African-American neighbourhoods, I ask them in turn why they’re asking me, as if my idea of those places were lodged merely in my skull.
“‘Good luck finding a shortcoming with my thoughts about dark-skinned folks,’ I tell the thought police. ‘My thoughts of them consist of exact copies of every dark-skinned person. So if they don’t like how I’m treating them, they should look at themselves in the mirror, because my way of thinking is more like them than is their reflection.’”
To forestall any further talk of his political incorrectness, Mr. Billington proceeded to Phase Two and created a duplicate universe. “You don’t like how I treat pebbles?” he asks rhetorically. “Something off about my way of thinking of salami sandwiches? Don’t blame me! My concept of pebbles is nothing but a second set of pebbles and my notion of salami smells just as bad as the real deal. So have fun searching for any discrepancy!”
Some persistent critics point out that Mr. Billington’s secondary universe is in fact the largest red herring ever thrown down as a distraction, since he’s not connected to that universe, so nothing that happens in it is responsible for his behaviour.
Says one such critic, “If that bigoted old rich guy could watch his clones whenever he wanted, then maybe they’d be relevant. But his brain would still be working with a simplified representation of women or Canadians or whomever. He’d be studying the clones only some of the time, from one angle rather than another, and so on.”
“Besides,” says another critic, “The point isn’t just that there’s a difference between any concept and what the concept is about. It’s that in Billington’s case, the difference is negative because he’s a sexist and racist jerk. He simplifies the facts in a mean-spirited way.”
Others maintain that Mr. Billington has inadvertently shown the silliness of our preoccupation with those who discriminate based on negative stereotypes.
“All our thoughts are limited compared to what’s in the world,” says a cognitive scientist who’s written on the duplicate universe. “The map is never as complex as the territory, so we often take wrong turns or get lost. If a racist’s idea of some group of people is a woeful overgeneralization, the facts will avenge themselves one way or another. The bigot will come across a Canadian who’s rude rather than polite and won’t that be awkward!
“But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to throw stones. We all simplify the world so we can fit our ideas of it in our head. Some of our models are embarrassingly crude and misleading, but why pile on when the facts are happy to speak for themselves?”