One of the central expressions of categorism seems to be to think of a category of people as of they were a unified whole rather than diverse individuals. There are at least two main ways of doing this, although these two ways sometimes can’t be distinguished from each other. For now, I will call them Monolithization and Archetypization.
Monolithization is when you think of the entire category (all women, all Muslims, or whatever) as having common goals, opinions, and so on. This can easily expand into a conspiracy theory, which I will return to shortly.
Archetypization takes it one step further, treating the entire category not only as if they were some kind of borg collective, but as if they were actually one single person. How is the hooker feeling, is she happy? And what about the Jew, is he worrying about the world economy?
Archetypization is common in stories and fables, which is a very good place for them: It lets them be entertaining and interesting, without spreading prejudice about real people in the real world.
There is a difference between the porcupine and the two others. The poem is about how the porcupine got his coat of pins. In the beginning he didn’t have it yet, so he always had to worry about the cat and fox wanting to eat him. Then the Blacksmith helped him by making the coat of pins. The porcupine didn’t have to feat for his life anymore. But the fox sneered that ”it is very selfish to not allow oneself to get eaten by the cat and by me”. End of story.
So, while ”The Ferengi” and ”The Jew” are all about actual selfishness or greed, the porcupine is only wrongly called as such by a greedy and predatory hypocrite.
There is also a difference between ”The Jew” and the two others. All three characters are simple stereotypes, they are little more than symbols for very abstract concept. but the Jew also represent an ethnic/religious minority in the real world.
It is tempting to treat the world as a story. A story about yourself or your own group- A story where other people are only there to fulfil whatever narrative role you assign to them. But this fiction becomes problematic when the people you use it for are not fictional. In some ways it is reasonable to treat the world as stories. For this to be reasonable, however, it must not just be stories about you. Instead, it must be stories about everybody. Each human is the main character in his or her own story. We all fill many different roles in many different stories. Your story is not the only one that counts, the world does not revolve around you.
Of course, every good story need it’s villains. It is so easy to assign people the role of ”evil” and tell yourself that this justifies your own behavior against them. And of course, your own role in this world becomes so much greater if they are all conspiring against you, living their lives on the premise that it is all about you.
Conspiracy theories doesn’t have to be categorism. But in my experience, they usually are. Monolithizationn and archetypization is often central to conspiracy theories: Treating an ethnic group or a world religion as a group with a unified agenda. In the conspiracy theory, it is often assumed that everyone in the category is aware of this hidden agenda, but manages to hide it from all outsiders. Everyone except for you, and your paranoia proves that you are smarter than everyone who doesn’t share your delusion – you are smart enough to figure it our, everyone else is just sheep manipulated by the jews or space-lizards or whatever category of people you believe runs the conspiracy.
(Wait, are space-lizards a category of people in the real world? Well, David Icke and his followers seem to think so. It is extremely likely that they are wrong, but that doesn’t mean that categorism against space-lizards can’t be a real problem. The expressions of this form of categorism falls upon any real persons who are suspected or accused of secretly being space-lizards.)
One interesting aspect of conspiracy theories is what I for now call conspirationalism. This is to interpret ordinary behavior as if it was a conspiracy. For example, one classic homophobic argument is to accuse gay people of having gay friends, arguing that this make them some sort of ”gay mafia”. Another one that I heard recently was some antimuslimist youtube clip. The narrator accused Muslims of wanting to eat halal food, and presented this as if it was a plot to overthrow democracy and take over the country.
Grandiose conspiracy theories are never literally true. They are extreme oversimplifications of social structures at best, and vile nonsense at worst. Capital C conspiracies cannot exist, the very idea is based on a very flawed idea about what a human being is and what a social structure is.
Some conspiracy theorists argue that their theories are not meant to be taken as literally true, but non the less true on a symbolic level. However, such a defense should only be accepted for theories that doesn’t hurt anyone. Spreading prejudice and bigotry, inciting discrimination and marginalization… that you are using your victims as symbols for something doesn’t make it okay.
Lover-case c conspiracies exists, however. And they sometimes target paranoid people. ”Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not after you.” If nothing else, behaving in a paranoid way will make people think twice about confronting you directly, making it easier to conspire against you. In most cases, however, they will simply stay away from you and avoid spending their time on your drama. More importantly, social structures exist. Arguments about group interests should not automatically be dismissed as conspiracy theories.
In my experience, the line is drawn at monolithization. When you assume that a wide category of people is a monolithic whole (rather than a lot of individuals who have something in common, but who all still have their own personal hopes, dreams and opinions), that’s when you lose touch with reality.