Discrimination for me relates to the perception of three things with regards to individuals and/or groups. These three things are capability, responsibility, and homogeneity. I believe it is our beliefs about relative levels of these three, as they apply to others, that affects how we discriminate.
To be clear though, when I say discrimination, I'm talking in a wider context than the protected characteristics of the Equality Act. I'm talking about everything from how we treat other people through to how we analyse the behaviour of others as we observe it.
I'm also talking about discrimination in a very unemotional sense, I hope. I'm talking about both positive and negative discrimination, but I'm also talking about discrimination from a standpoint of practical necessity as well, such that it allows us to behave as society expects us to.
Use of language offers us some great examples of discrimination through necessity, casual discrimination through current social norms, and also the active expression of prejudice. Challenging it can also be the thing that causes the most controversy among those on the defensive.
Take the concept of a bad idea. It's a necessity that we use some form of discrimination for defining it. It's acceptable to call a bad idea stupid, which casually discriminates against those with a lower IQ. It's also ok to call a bad idea insane, which reinforces the prejudicial stigma around mental health.
Now I expect there will be some rolling of the eyes at this example. I doubt anyone who calls a bad idea stupid or insane does so with the express intention of discriminating against anyone. That's not the point though. The point is that these minor norms serve to underpin greater discrimination.
Our use of language is both a reflection of, and a schema for, our perception of the world around us. If we hear and/or use the term stupid to describe things we view negatively, it follows that we will begin to relate this perception to the very characteristic of intelligence, despite the obvious flaws.
Within the context of the terms I coined above, this view of relative intelligence, as reinforced by language, is then applied to all three, and thus affects our very behaviour. We begin to see the less intelligent as less capable, more responsible for being so, and different to our perceived norm.
I'll grant that my analysis may be lacking, but I honestly believe that this is the very foundation of all discrimination. The question therefore is which, if any, of this triumvirate is fundamental to the negative forms of discrimination within society? I have my view, but that can wait.