Saturday, August 28, 2010

On Generalizaitions

"Those dirty rotten conservatives are always generalizing!"

I am always amazed when I am accused of generalizing; Oh..., not that the accusations are not warranted, for they surely are, but rather that anyone has such a high opinion of me that they think that I can avoid it. In defense against such accusations, and for easy cut and paste purposes, I am posting below another man's analysis on the matter.

The following quote is found in the classic Democracy In America written by the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville and published in the 1830's as a contemporary expose of a young United States.

"God is able to see the differences between all individuals so it follows therefore that God has no need of general ideas, that is to say, He never feels the necessity of giving the same label to a considerable number of analogous objects in order to think about them more conveniently. Not so with man who in our impressive limitations need all the help we can get from such general ideas lest we get lost in the dazzling plethora of details that passes in a hazy hurry before us all. General ideas have excellent quality, that they permit human minds to pass judgment quickly on a great number of things, but the conceptions they convey are always incomplete, and what is gained in extent is always lost in exactitude."


Fredd said...

As my wife constantly point out, 'you're analogy is flawed.'

I love analogies, and use them whenever convienient (or possible).

Her meaning, of course, is that because my analogy is not exact and precise as to the issue, the conclusion is accordingly invalid.

No analogy is exact, otherwise it would not be an analogy, it would be a restatement of the original issue.

Ditto with generalizations. Since they are not exact on each and every anectdotal instance, many charlatains and ne'er-do-wells will dismiss any use of generalizations and reason that their users are incorrect, invalid and, dare it say it; evil.

But, don't get me started with this crowd who dismiss generalizations, ...

Craig and Heather said...

I am always amazed when I am accused of generalizing; Oh..., not that the accusations are not warranted, for they surely are, but rather that anyone has such a high opinion of me that they think that I can avoid it.


Speaking broadly Dan, people will make generalizations.

But the measuring line concerning whether the generalization is to be considered accurate usually seems to be based on whether it is a flattering lens through which to view the overall group. If not, then generally speaking, it is prudent to be prepared to hear from those who feel they are the exception rather than the rule.



christian soldier said...

"Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. " Tocqueville
as per your post below- the 'Black Regiment" (Pastors) and Christians in general- must 'put their toe to the line'!!!

christian soldier said...

BTW- the 'Black Regiment" (Pastors) and Christians in general- must 'put their toe to the line'!
the above is my take--perhaps it is not yours- my friend...

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Alexis de Toqueville had the concept down, as the saying goes.

This reminds me of a short-lived series on Canadian TV back in the 1990s called Daily Tips for Modern Living. A very funny actor from Newfoundland named Greg Thomey was the star of the show, which spoofed the Martha Stewart Living series. As he'd interview guests, something would invariably capture his imagination and he'd look off to one side (to be caught by another camera) and provide a "useful tip" to the viewing audience. These tips tips were always ironic and/or humourous, and never amounted to anything sensible. Once, he'd been talking to someone and jumped to an unreasonable (but funny) conclusion. His guest then fussed and took him to task for generalizing. At that point, Thomey said, "Well, there's a good tip," and then he looked at the side camera, and stated darkly, "All generalizations are wrong."

Heh! Good times, good times.

As you point out, there is only God who is capable of avoiding generalizations. The rest of us are more or less forced to put up with them.

Joe said...

You are generally right.

Dan said...


I'm convinced that many cannot distinguish between themselves and the groups with which they associate themselves. This is why they are offended when you point out a truth about their group that is not necessarily true for them.

Agreed, see above.


I have heard the quote you cited many times. As a matter of fact that quote is the reason why I began reading the book. While I agree with the truth of that statement, and I think that our culture is bearing it out, there are claims that Tocqueville did not say this in this book. I'll let you know if I see it.

I'm not sure what you mean by "putting their toe to the line".


I'm going to look for clips on You Tube. Love the humor when someone takes an argument to its absurd end, which incidentally, is all the more funny when that end is far off.


Generally, yes, which, generally speaking, I know.

Craig said...

Hey Dan,

It's been my observation that people who quote Tocqueville have no arguments of their own, generally. When making generalizations, the rule is to avoid generalizing based on exceptions to the group you are generalizing about.

I'm assuming your last post prompted this post. Your generalization of Muslims as violent, treacherous liars bent on world domination and the imposition of Sharia is not a generalization that squares with reality. Hiding behind Tocqueville doesn't immunize you from criticism.

Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, has a secular gov. Are there noisy fanatics who'd like to impose it there? Yes, but the vast majority of Indonesians will resist it. Muslim Turkey is secular. Muslim nations in Africa are secular. Some have big problems but it ain't Sharia.

Even in countries where Sharia is used to tyrannize the population, the vast majority of citizens reject it. I believe those countries will eventually change from within. So, this notion that Sharia can somehow come to America is either fear mongering for political gain or the rantings of frightened little men like Joe.

I take it you were against the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. The 5th or 6th rationale for the Iraq war was the liberation of the Iraqi people. Need I remind you the majority of Iraqi's are (dun-dun-dunnn) MUSLIMS! So, we spent nearly a trillion $, over 4,000 dead, 10's of thousands of wounded and psych damaged American troops, thousands of dead Iraqi's, millions displaced and a shattered infrastructure, all to liberate a bunch of violent, conniving, lying Muslims who only wish to destroy us. Nice work.

Of course the irony is, Iraq, being largely Shiite, is now closely aligned with Iran's gov., a real enemy. Brilliant.

Anyway, my 2 cents.

I don't have time to take on your generalization of Liberals based solely on a shabbily constructed straw man. I'd like to some day.

Dan said...

"Hiding behind Tocqueville doesn't immunize you from criticism."

As you prove.

Craig said...

Since you won't comment on the substance of my argument, I'll try a different tack.

"Those dirty rotten conservatives are always generalizing!"

I'll direct this at you, not all conservatives. Your generalizations are based on small minorities of the group you're generalizing about. If your generalizations carry any weight, you should be able to back it up.

You said,

Most conservatives can kind of see that serious Muslims want to implement Sharia law world wide and that liberals provide quite a useful idiot toward such an end.

I suppose we can play with the phrase 'serious Muslim' but where is your evidence for a majority of Muslims wanting this? How are liberals advancing or helpful in their reaching their goal of Total World Domination.

I would submit that it is the anti-religious freedom crowd (you) who want to frame this as Christian vs. Muslim 'war' who are fanning the flames of militant Islam.

Dan said...

"Since you won't comment on the substance of my argument, I'll try a different tack."

Such strong words for someone who never responded to my arguments on the last post.

Craig said...

Fair enough. I'm working on it.