Generalization: a fertile field for prejudices
Prejudices, more or less truthful, are always based on a single and terrible principle: the generalization.
In any field, once we have identified the “correct” path (the mainstream direction, etc.) everything that is outside of it, that is different, can be easily grouped into a single negative whole. Once we have chosen which side to stay on, it’s so easy to refuse that can exist:
- Different ways
- Better ways
- Legit ways
- Forced ways
Trough the use of rationality (or at least a basic mind-openness) it would be very simple to understand and accept the others and their view of the world but unfortunately, there are very few people who try to base their convictions on logical processes (read the scientific method); in most cases, we prefer to:
- Absolutize individual experiences (more or less direct)
- Avoid deepening what does not concern us (or do not interest us)
- Trust in what most people believe (thinking that adding up many sheep can give rise to a shepherd)
- Believe in what makes us more comfortable (or that we like more)
- Believe in what justifies us (our failures, limits, what excuses us)
- Believe in the sources that are closer to us (than to the more authoritative ones)
- Believe in what exalts us (or worst in what diminishes others)
- Believe in who have success (power and above all to those who like us)
- Believe in those who do not frighten us (in those who reassure us)
- Believe in who promise us what we want (what we need, what we leak, what we envy in others)
It is yielding to our weaknesses that we fall in the trap of generalization.
Generalization, a useful but dangerous teaching
Let’s be clear, generalizing is a natural and fundamental attitude that helps to live: without it we would never be able to act, to make rapid choices; it comes from the common human experience but is strengthened through school education and often also during our working experiences:
- At school – They teach us to summarize (concepts, works of art, etc.), to find fragmentary but identifying data (of a time, of an author, etc.), to replace emotions with mechanical analysis, to eliminate diversity to submit to homologation (etc.)
- At work – They force us to make working times to accomplish productivity schemes (based on profit rather than quality), to compile statistics (even on human beings), to look at money as a primary generic value (etc.)
The point is that:
- If on one hand, this kind of forcing it is essential to live, on the other, it prevents us from having a broad and realistic vision of the world; we will never find 2 equal stones, no summary evaluation can identify the level of preparation of a person, nothing can be grouped without neglecting a multitude of details
- While on one hand the synthesis serves and is useful, on the other we can not forget that only in the abstract field of mathematics the numbers can describe perfect situations; in all the other cases, at each simplification, we are losing an infinite and precious amount of (vital) information
- Nothing is completely white or black, everything consists of complex and articulate gray textures; the reality cannot be simplified like mathematics or compressed as virtual data, it is made of more and more aspects that can not be ignored
- To every difference correspond myriads of similarities and vice versa; to every divergence correspond myriads of convergences and vice versa
Generalizing in secondary life applications is mandatory but to generalize in terms of relevant fields (social relations, science, politics, etc.) is absolutely wrong: from a moral, ethical and above all logical point of view.
A note by Master Kongling – When I was in high school, my philosophy professor (Mario Gamba) always repeated that generalizing is wrong. He pointed out to me how absurd it was to reduce the lives of great thinkers to a few summary lines on a book, people who had made mistakes, felt emotions, changed their mind (etc.). How terribly right he was.
Generalization in social terms
When we talk about humans, generalizing means to:
- Treat the innocent as the guilty
- Forget causes and effect
- Ignore problems and limits
- Lose the biggest part of the whole
- Create false distances
- Justify abuses
Humans cannot be identified and judged in groups. Pursuing this vicious though it’s easy to become victims of who is able to identify a common enemy.
Whenever a politician points his index finger to identify a group of people to fight (talking about differences related to social class, gender, race, nationality, faction, religion, traditions, the way of acting, etc.) we must be extremely careful, because he knows how our mind is structured and:
- He is trying to present himself as an ally (offering, for example, an excuse for our failures, underlining an injustice that we live, etc.)
- He is trying to demonstrate to be able to identify dangers / solutions that we do not understand (but that we can easily recognize)
- Showing us something that we do not see, he is indirectly trying to make us think he is better than us (or a good amplifier of our voice)
- Appearing better than us (or a promoter of our battles) he is proposing himself as a leader (able to solve our problems)
It may seem absurd but it is in this way that small and big dictators have gained consense and power (Hitler, Mussolini, etc.): exploiting the ingenuity of people who have not been able to recognize their methods.
Each time we see someone (even in daily life) trying to indicate and act against a common adversary (a person or a category), we could be in front of a person that (more or less consciously) is cultivating the idea of dominating us (whether it is a colleague from school / office, whether it is a religious or a politician).
- The right thing to do – Inside, we always know what is the right thing to do
- Revenge and resentment, knives taken from the blade side – The true weakness is to give value to the damage suffered
Reply in the comments and share your experience:
- Where are prejudices born from?
Author: Master Kongling
Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.