The scope of the problem, and the availability heuristic

One of the big complaints we’ve seen recently regarding the anti-harassment-policy campaign, the question of feminism intersecting with our communities, and the question of whether the assholes in our movement represent the movement, is whether the feminists and anti-bigots are blowing things out of proportion. How often have you seen someone say “the whole community doesn’t have a problem with [X-brand bigotry], only a very small subset“? Often enough, I bet, that I hardly feel the need to repeat these arguments or point to any specific ones, though I’m certain I could give you a dozen or so with a quick search of my own blog’s comments. Never mind big names like Thunderf00t and Paula Kirby making it the entire premise to their opposition to harassment policies and to “feminazis” and “FTBullies”!

So the question, then, is why does this argument gain so much traction? No matter how measured we are with describing the scope and scale of the problem, people will always say we’re making mountains out of mole hills. I posit this is because of the availability heuristic — a cognitive bias wherein, when you’re presented with specific examples of a problem, it is easier to remember those examples, and you assign improper levels of importance to them.
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