Thursday, May 16, 2013

How To Avoid Gross Generalisations

Here's a list of the kind of generalisations I am talking about:

  • Muslims are terrorists.
  • Men are sex-maniacs.
  • Women are poor in mathematics.
  • Wearing short dresses increases your risk of being raped.
  • Intellectuals are socially impaired.
We live with many such generalisations, most of them are true bullshit. But we often have to tolerate them. People all around us throw at us such nonsense everyday. Opposing each and everyone of them would throw you out from fashionable gatherings in no time. So, there's often no other way but to keep quiet.

But we must protect ourselves at all costs from one thing: making such generalisations ourselves.

Here's one simple trick.

Almost all these generalisations are of the form: "G is/are C." where G is a group of people, and C is a characteristic.

Now, before you admit to any generalisation of the above form, check also if the following are true:
  1. not G is C.
  2. G is not C.
  3. not G is not C.
The first, not G is C, means that people not belonging to the group G have the characteristic C. If so, the generalisation probably doesn't hold.

The second, G is not C, means that there are people belonging to the group G who don't have the characteristic C. If so, this too weakens the case for your generalisation.

The third and the last one, not G is not C, means that people not belonging to the group G are found not to have the characteristic C.

Only after you have examined your hypothesis from all the above angles is there is any significant probability that the hypothesis is well-founded. Otherwise, it's merely a thought, a stereotyping, a gross generalisation.

You may find the above little trick useful to work your way through any unpleasant argument that you may unfortunately get into with someone making an intolerable generalisation. But, without fail, make sure you put it to good use against getting trapped yourself making any such generalisation.

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