Are lived experiences really that special? No. Quite simply, appeals to “lived experiences” are exercises in bad statistical reasoning.
To see why, let’s suppose that I made the argument that smoking causes cancer, and that I backed this up with a mountain of scientific data and peer-reviewed studies. Now suppose that someone responded to all of this with the following: “But my grandpa Bob smoked cigarettes all of his life and never developed cancer! So smoking doesn’t cause cancer after all!”
Would you be convinced by this reply? I hope not. Smoking is a contributory cause of cancer: those who smoke have a much higher likelihood of developing certain cancers than those who don’t because the act of smoking contributes something toward that outcome, even though that outcome doesn’t always happen. So, just because some smokers don’t develop cancer doesn’t mean that smoking plays no role in causing it. …
The point behind the example is that personal anecdotes do not invalidate statistical generalizations, which are by nature probabilistic. …
Lived experiences are often vividly used by progressive activists as evidence of widespread injustice, accompanied with a call for action and social change. Yet basing one’s entire case for widespread injustice and sweeping social change on lived experiences is, quite simply, bad statistical reasoning.
Why should one’s personal experience of (say) racism carry any special weight? Should the experience of the smoker who never developed cancer also carry special weight? What about the experience of the unvaccinated person who never got a preventable illness? Or the experience of the chronic gambler who managed to keep his life intact?
The point is not that experiences of racism are like these other experiences or to cast real experiences of racism in a negative light. The point is that one cannot prove or disprove generalizations simply based on personal experiences. This is a pretty basic rule of statistical reasoning that seems to have been lost on many people who should know better. Just because one experiences racism (as I have) does not show that racism is widespread or deeply ingrained, any more than one’s experience with a smoker who did not develop cancer shows that smoking doesn’t cause cancer.
Tell me society ain’t gradually dumbing down.