Articles

GENERALLY UNRELIABLE

I've noticed lately that the season of opposition is upon us, and the pitting of groups against groups, person against person and ideas against ideas is in full flower. Whether it be observed in the actor's strike, the presidential election, or in episodes of Survivor, opposition and argument are well-represented in the culture. Perhaps too well-represented.

One hallmark of this is the use of generalization in speech, a common tool of disparagement which also serves as an indicator of less-than-admirable intentions; the honest fellow is happy to report accurately his sources, while the dishonest is more comfortable with a generalized one, such as "everybody" or "nobody". ("Who says I should be horsewhipped for writing that column?" "Everybody. They're all talking about it.") Politicians have been known to use generalizations in speeches as a way of influencing masses of people; it is so common that in many cases we are totally unaware of it. But the results of generalization can end up in tragedy, as in cases of racial or religious prejudice of which history is fraught.

I'm a little tired of the generalizations that one hears; like any lie, they tend to stack up and lump together, creating emotional clutter. A great weariness comes over me when I hear "The Democrats (or Republicans) think..." or "Most americans believe...". You can be sure that no brilliant solutions to the problems of today will follow fast on the heels of such statements, since the real purpose of such seems to be wanting to be right, not reaching an agreement.

And agreement is what we definitely should pursue, in politics, social betterment and even the arts. Agreement, as any improv actor, salesman, or parent knows, is the mortar that holds all activities together; in its absence we find the playing of a game impossible, unless we're talking about the TV show-cum-social experiment Survivor, in which the deterioration of agreement, communication and personal dignity is the main purpose of the game in the first place.

When both sides in a dispute are occupied with blame and enmity, neither is taking enough responsibility, and no satisfactory result will arise. Generalizations fan the flames of discord and should be avoided, just as any insult detracts from a civil conversation. When we demonize the opposition, by generalization or other means, we are simply saying that we lack the willingness to try and see the other's point of view. What caused this willingness to drop? Inevitably some discreditable act of our own. We can't afford to vote each other off of the global island, so maybe we should put less attention on the general bad, and more on the specific good that is in all of us.

Jim       

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