Sunday, September 21, 2008

considering the fuzziness

“Categorizing is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising their categories.”

source: The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This is why racism (or sexism or heterosexism …) becomes a problem. It’s not that sorting people into broad categories according to obvious characteristics is inherently bad, it’s the clinging to the category as though the general were more important than the specific even when you are dealing directly with the specific. When you are speaking about people you can broadly generalize and be right, frequently right. Individuals, however, will surprise you. The racist denies the reality of the individual, refusing to see a difference between the general and the specific, using, in fact, the general as a weapon against the specific. (Oddly, people seem to be able to see the specific and be blind to its implications – “You’re one of the good ones.”)

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