Every one of us has decried a double standard at some point. The double standard in the workplace when it comes to paying women, or among universities when it comes to letting in people who thought high school was boring.
But while we're wondering how admissions departments sleep at night, there are some much more common double standards that we rarely complain about since we're too busy obliviously believing in them. For instance ...
If you leave your house occasionally, even just through the magical portal of television, you'll be no stranger to PSAs (public service announcements) warning you about the dangers of drugs, drunk driving, texting while driving, not reading to your kids and not eating "the other white meat."
However, if a corny anti-drug commercial has ever made you want to shout at your TV "NOW I AM GOING TO GO DO EVEN MORE DRUGS!", you're not alone. Many people shout at their televisions, and also, the effectiveness of PSAs has been shown to be mixed, at best.
"I am going to do ALL THE DRUGS! I'll show YOU, TV!"
And it's not just because the commercials are corny.
While the college students in this study were aware of, and realistic about, dangers outside their control(like being hit by lightning, or the government trying to bring them down for no reason, or corporate America repressing them, or something), they were unrealistically optimistic about their odds of avoiding self-controllable risks, like drunk driving, drug overdoses, STDs or becoming a hipster.
Or a metrosexual.
Another study asked students about how "vulnerable" they were to 10 negative life events including heart attacks, alcoholism, diabetes, muggings and divorce, and of course they rated "the average student" as much more vulnerable to these things than they (or their close friends) would be.
Many smokers, for example, acknowledge that "most people" who smoke will get addicted and/or die from it, but also believe themselves, for some reason, to be an exception. If you showed them a PSA about how smoking is addictive and kills people, they'd just nod their heads and completely agree, as long as "people" doesn't include them.
Another experiment tried to individually educate people on their risks from stroke, cancer, heart attack and car crashes, but only the stroke and cancer messages stuck. Again: Cancer and stroke are things people tend to see as mysterious afflictions from God or fate, while heart attacks and car crashes are "controllable" things, and no matter what statistics you quote, people are convinced they've got it handled -- or maybe they subconsciously don't want to change their lifestyles.
"This cake could never kill me. We love each other so much."
Apparently you can't even convince people to wash their damn hands before eating or stop leaving potato salad out in the sun, or whatever, without them agreeing heartily that it's a problem and remarking how ignorant other people are about food safety, while making a sandwich on their dog's back.
I'm not sure I need to say this, but don't try this at home.
Evidence shows that bad traffic makes us physically and mentally ill, and apparently it also makes us really judgmental.
"Asshole! I bet you use dogs as sandwich tables!"
I don't know about you but I've caught myself a number of times thinking, while sitting in a traffic jam, about how everyone else "doesn't really need to be there"; that they're mostly all housewives who could have run their errands any time of day and happen to be out on the road at rush hour because they're stupid procrastinators, while all I want is to just get home from work. After a moment's logical thought, it's pretty clear that most people around me are also just trying to get home from work.
Part of it is not being able to put a face on most of the other drivers, giving me a blank slate to project all kinds of prejudices on them. In one study where researchers stopped a car too long at a green light, the test subject behind the car was more likely to honk if they couldn't see the driver -- probably imagining all kinds of awful things about the monster inside.
Skull recreated from drivers' descriptions of the unseen driver blocking them in traffic.
In addition to hiding the driver, they also tried another round where they placed a rifle in the back window, a good prop to help an already angry driver build up the imaginary character of the asshole gun nut unseen in the car ahead. This, not surprisingly, caused more honking.
A few suggestions for future researchers who really want to provoke some honking, or perhaps actual violence.
Another study showed that drivers in Palo Alto, one of the wealthiest communities in the world, were more likely to honk at a "low status" car than a "high status" one, possibly allowing them to imagine they were honking at a welfare queen with a sense of entitlement, or perhaps someone who belonged to a -- heavens! -- labor union.
Waiting in line -- which is basically a traffic jam without the cars -- triggers a lot of the same impulses. It's understandable. In both cases, a certain number of people are ahead of you, and they need to do their thing before you can do yours. Since their needs are being prioritized ahead of you, it's natural to ask the question of whether they REALLY need to be there, and make up some reasons why they probably don't, giving you an easy target to blame for the long line.
We tend to imagine a divide between people who "can take a joke" and people who are "take everything too seriously," which isn't too inaccurate as a general personality trait, but doesn't give a complete picture.
Some of the very same people that are always telling others to "lighten up" and stop being so "butthurt" when they're targeted for jokes will suddenly begin complaining about their own butt pain when their own group is targeted.
"You take BACK what you said about Pokemon players!"
A person who makes jokes about Asian drivers or black people liking fried chicken will roll their eyes and say "It's just a joke" when anyone object;, saying everybody should know they're not a racist and they don't really mean all of these things. Then they find out about the Stuff White People Like blog and they pitch a fit, going on and on about how #79 doesn't apply to them and only applies to a very small group of white people, suddenly turning very serious indeed as they explain point by point why these descriptions don't accurately apply to white people as a group.
"No, see, not all white people listen to NPR, so this joke doesn't work at all."
Because when you make a joke about some other group, it's obviously meant as a joke, and anyone pointing out any factual inaccuracies it's based on (Canadians don't really say "aboot", some types of Chinese food are quite filling) is "nitpicking" and shows the person "doesn't understand it's a joke." But when someone makes a joke about your group based on broad generalizations and inaccuracies, of course you "totally get it's supposed to be a joke," but the joke "just isn't funny" because of those wrong assumptions.
It's not just heavy issues like race either. Plenty of people are willing to tear into Twilight and laugh when the stupid "twi-tards" rage back at them, demonstrating their lack of humor. But then you mock the Twilight-mocker's favorite hobby or Internet hangout, even lightly, and they feel like they at least need to "correct" your "misconceptions."
"I've picked out a couple of episodes containing heterosexual Riker sex scenes that I think will conclusively prove he's not, as you put it, 'the gayest character on the show.' "
Or even worse, they could be in a group of people that considers humor solely as a weapon to attack things. The only reason you would make jokes, according to this group, is to attack something and say it is bad, like Jon Stewart making jokes about Fox News, or Yahtzee reviewing video games. And derision is certainly one great genre of humor.
But people make fun of things they like all the time. Sometimes it's an affectionate gesture toward something they really like. Hell, often comedians even make fun of themselves. But people who have trouble doing that have trouble understanding the concept in other people, and see any joke about anything as a sign that the joke-teller is hostile toward that thing.
Clearly, David Wong really hated Lord of the Rings. At least that's what an entire forum full of complaints used to claim.
I'm not here to draw a line on which jokes are okay and which are offensive, just suggesting that wherever we do draw the line, maybe we put it in a different place when the joke's about someone else than when it's about us and our favorite things. Maybe consistency for you means being less racist, or maybe it means being more evenly racist to everybody. I'm not going to judge.