Take two situations:
- If you see an injured person near you, most people would help them. At the very least by calling an ambulance.
- If you know someone is dying far from you, maany people would not help.
In situation 1, seeing someone for example bleeding on the road would usually make people want to help them. If you choose not to help, the person might die. Admittedly, some people would not even try to help the person if they’re right in front of them. This might be because they’re in a hurry, and are confronted with a choice between someone else’s problems and your own. If you help them, you might get in trouble with your boss for being late. Your boss might not care what your reason was for being late, especially if you have no evidence. It is easy to then hastily decide that you need to look out for yourself first, and assume that the person will be fine. Worse, you might just ignore this problem because you don’t want to deal with it. You can avoid the guilt by being in denial. Most of the time though, it’s hard to justify not helping someone who you can clearly help right now.
In situation 2, imagine someone far away from you. Many people are independently saying that this person is hurt, and needs help or else they will die. In this case, it is far easier to think that this is not your problem, and that someone else will help them. Or worse, you might think that because it’s not your problem that you don’t need to care. In this case, we are not the sole person to come across a bleeding person, we are not the only hope they have. Instead, we become part of the crowd; any one of us can be the one to help, so we as individuals no longer feel the obligation to help. This also happens when a large group just stares at someone near them who needs help, because they’re not sure if they should be the one to help or if someone else will do it. When the person isn’t right in front of us, we feel even less impulse to help. We are confused, and usually decide not to help because it will result in a lot of effort and sometimes sacrifices on our part. We’re not sure if we can help, if we should help, if we specifically need to help or if someone else will, if they even really need help, or if we have something better to do.
Why we don’t help others
If we cannot see the person but they are also not in any specific danger, it becomes so distant that even fewer people will decide to help. Say someone in front of you is attempting to commit suicide, and you can stop it. In this case it would be fairly obvious you should help. But what if this person is on the phone with you, and tells you they are about to commit suicide; would you stay on the phone with them for hours, making sure they don’t do it? This might keep you up all night and get you to work late, and they might not even be serious about committing suicide. What if it was someone you were texting with, or talking to through the internet? It’s even harder to empathise and understand the gravity of the situation when you can’t see or hear the person, but instead only see them through letters and words. For all you know this might be a joke, or it might not even be the person you think it is, or a real person at all.
What if the person is someone we don’t even know? What if we’re not sure they’re really in trouble, or if their trouble isn’t imminent? At what point do we know about someone else’s trouble and decide it’s not our problem?
Why we should help others
It is -always- our problem. If we can help, then we must, except when doing so will result in something worse happening. Saving someone’s life is always worth it, except if doing so will sacrifice others’ lives, and even this is subject to the situation. No matter if we can afford to help or not, if we can help and we choose not to, then we are also to blame. The moment we are capable of helping, we become morally responsible. When a situation arises in which we can help, there are a finite number of outcomes. Only one of those outcomes will happen, and we are able to influence which one it is. Of these finite choices, there is usually no option to abstain because to take the previous example, in any one of the outcomes, the person either lives or dies, there is no neutral outcome. So while you may take a neutral stance and do nothing, this ultimately decides whether or not the person lives.
There are many situations where there is no neutral result, and so taking a neutral position unintentionally means you are still picking a side. Such situations where you cannot be neutral are fairly common now because we know about poverty, war, and disease around the world. While we may do something small such as donate to charity, we don’t usually travel there and spend as much money as we must to save those people. This is because there are too many people for us alone to help and it would cost us too much to do so. Also, doing so would not be sustainable and so it is somewhat justified to not do everything we can. However, this does not absolve us of responsibility. We are not innocent and we are responsible, but we need to know what to do. We need to change society so that helping others becomes easier and more acceptable.
How we can help others
How is it that we can live our lives and not feel responsibility for the people who are dying elsewhere in the world? If we can help, then choosing not to is choosing their pain over our own. Sometimes this is choosing their suffering over our inconveniences, sometimes it’s letting other people die so we can have stable, reliable lives, but no matter what the trade-off is it’s always a matter that should be considered. Ideally we would take leave from our jobs and fly to Africa and build wells and schools and houses for the empoverished and buy them food and teach them how to fish and trade and make money to sustain themselves. We would realise that there are people who are desperate for the most basics human rights, and that our first world problems aren’t more important than their life threatening ones. We can try to to go them and do everything we can to help them, but then we would leave our jobs and would end up with nothing and we would also have similar problems.
Instead, we as a society have accepted that we are happy and tell ourselves that we cannot help those who are, or worse, we choose our own happiness at the expense of others. Or we tell ourselves that it is not our problem or our responsibility. It is our moral responsibility to do so, but we often cannot because the rest of society does not think this way and does not allow you to do so. We should change society to help those who need it. Einstein had a similar view, he quoted Thorstein Veblen who talked about “the predatory phase” of human development. We have built giant cities and powerful vehicles, we live safely in houses wee we do no fear attacks on a regular basis. We have in a way gone past the “survival of the fittest” fallacy that is somewhat applicable to animals. We don’t have to worry constantly about survival, especially not as much as animals do. Even if we need to ensure we make money to live, this is nowhere near as rough as having to make sure we are not killed by a lion. We can at least sleep without having to worry about being attacked.
The world must change
That is, in the West we don’t have to worry about these things. We have gained stability and safety but have left a lot of the rest of the world to fend for themselves, often a their expense. Some people in the West still believe in the Survival of the Fittest fallacy, and employ it to justify their selfish behaviour, especially in business and politics. The predatory phase is a backwards one that only exist out of necessity. It is not good, and is certainly not justified when we are able to move past it and work together instead of against each other. It’s easy for someone who never needed help or didn’t realise they were receiving help to claim that those who defeat others deserve their rewards and those who fail were not worthy. This fallacy comes from not understanding the situation of those who are less fortunate and need help, and shows a basic lack of empathy. If we all fight to be the best then most people will end up getting hurt. If we do the basics to help each other, as most people do, then no one is left behind. We all help a bit and that add up to a lot. This is how taxes and donation work. This is how protests, charities, and (sometimes) wars are able to achieve great things that individuals would not have been able to do. We already look out for each other and it works. We just need to realise that we need to do this more and change our society to allow us to do that.
We need to improve the world to realise others need our help and to make helping them easier to make sure that no one is hurt.
[Written before the inauguration]
If you oppose Trump, don’t watch any channel covering the inauguration in any way, not even news (to lower Nielsen ratings in the US). But don’t do this to be petty and hate on him, don’t generalise and make asumptions about everything Trump. Show your opposition in a reasonable way. Oppose cabinet staff picks you disagree with, protest, phone your congresspeople, boycott companies that endorse hate. Blindly opposing everything the Trump administration does will make everyone else who opposes Trump look like petty obstructionists who only care about partisan politics and don’t care about what happens to the country. Don’t give the racists the justification they want to discredit us. They opposed Obama because they were racist, we oppose Trump because he’s racist, or at least because he uses racism. Populists can’t be trusted because they by definition mislead us, but don’t let that make you cynical and close minded. Trump might do some good or OK things, so let him. When he tries to do bad things, oppose him fiercely but reasonably. Acknowledge good things, ask for bills to be fixed instead of just thrown out, if possible.
At the same time, don’t let his campaign of hate and ignorance, and his unqualified, morally questionable, right wing fanatics, go unnoticed. Apathy and confidence are all that is needed for those in charge to go unchecked. Be vigilant and speak out when it matters.
There are many opposing beliefs about many things in life. Ideally two people who disagree can discuss it and come to an agreement, realising that they did not understand the issue as well as they thought, or even that they were wrong. If we do not discuss such issues though, or if we do not discuss them properly, This divides us into ideological groups who think each other are wrong and never attempt to communicate with each other.
There seems to be a trend where people are taught that everything is subjective and that there are no right answers. They rightly think that everyone can have their opinion, but they do not recognise the difference between subjective matters of opinion and objective facts. They are right that everyone should be allowed think for themselves, hold the beliefs they choose, and come to their own conclusions, but they conflate these things with everyone’s beliefs being correct. Just because you have the right the your opinion doesn’t make that opinion correct.
They consider any attempt to question that opinion as imposing your beliefs on them. To them, all beliefs are subjective, so none are more right than any others. Worse, to them all beliefs might be sacred. Expressing doubt or asking questions about someone else’s beliefs is pointless to them because you already have your own beliefs and they already have theirs, and they see no need to change them. If you try to do so they might think you’re trying to change their mind, or that you think they are wrong, and this change is seen as imposing or controlling, or just offensive.
Consequently they live in denial of reality, where people can think whatever they want even if it is objectively false.
Some people consider their beliefs to be the only way for good or right people to think, often only because:
- Their cause is noble, so the rest of their beliefs are justified because of that.
- They are too cynical to believe any other method will work, that other methods are not extreme enough.
- They think their beliefs are objectively right without justification.
Anyone who disagrees with their strongly held beliefs is an outsider, and they assume that since these outsiders disagree with any part of their belief, they oppose their noble cause, are weak and inefficient, or just wrong.
These are wrong because:
- Having a noble cause is not sufficient for any ideology to be true or work. They may simply have good intentions but flawed methods.
- Extreme methods are not necessarily the only ones that work, and they are often very harmful. They can even do more harm than good.
- Objectivity must be proven, not assumed. If someone offers a counter argument, it must be considered and compared to your view to determine which is true.
Thinking that you are right and that they are wrong without giving it much thought is simply dogma. While there are certain things such as human rights that one could argue are important, if not objective and universal, this does not mean that every broad belief you hold relating to human rights is consequently valid.
You can have good intentions but be wrong about how you go about implementing them. Not every detail of your beliefs is necessarily right, even if they have good reasons. There are times when certain important, necessary, and good policies don’t make sense and can be harmful if implemented at the wrong time or if done poorly.
You should not make assumptions about someone simply because they disagree with you. Just because someone supported Trump doesn’t mean they were racist. There are many misguided reasons to have supported someone who promoted a racist agenda. If we say that all Trump supporters are racist, we are assuming that they support all of Trump’s policies, which is often not true. If someone does not agree with the healthcare system in the US, it does not necessarily mean they want to deprive the poor of healthcare simply to pay less taxes. They might simply have issues with some of the policies or how it is implemented. The important thing is not to assume, but instead to ask why. Asking is a simple way to determine the truth and does not cost much more than some time. Some discussions might take far longer than others, but ultimately all our beliefs rely on other more fundamental beliefs. We should not be satisfied with shallow reasoning or claims, instead we should care about the more important reasons that determine how we think and act.
It Harms Us
If we avoid people simply because we disagree with them, then we end up with isolated groups who all think they are right. Individual and social progress stops, and we become dogmatic and close minded. In this case If we only associate with people we agree with then we limit our thinking and become closed to different ideas. By avoiding different people we avoid different opinions. If we are content with our beliefs then we are gambling on our beliefs being right. We may have settled on true beliefs, or the beliefs may be flawed, but either way we are stuck with them.
In a way we aren’t even allowing ourselves or them to be in a position where we can be open or close minded. By not allowing ourselves to receive new opinions, we never get an opportunity to reject new information, so instead of being close minded we are more permanently isolating ourselves.
It Harms Everyone Else
By doing this, we are not only limiting ourselves but others too. The same way that our beliefs become stagnant, so do those of the people we disagree with. They are not exposed to the ideas you believe are true, so if they are wrong they never get an opportunity to know that. We are essentially depriving them of new ideas and forcing them to live in a divided world where differences are seen as irreconcilable. At best, groups of like minded people stick together and never communicate with each other. At worst, these groups skip discussion, the purest form of conflict resolution, and instead devolve into subjugation, or worse, silencing or eliminating those with dissenting opinions. Differences become heresy, and humans become enemies. This leads to murder and war.
Reasons to not Discuss
Sometimes it is not worth discussing things with these people because we don’t have the time, it is harmful for us to interact with them (emotionally or physically), or because they will not consider what we are trying to tell them.
If we don’t have the time to discuss things with someone then trying to do so will likely result in negative consequences for ourselves by us missing something more important than explaining this to the person. If the person is racist or otherwise harmful, us trying to have a discussion with them might result in them being mean to us, or us being exposed to toxic messages that make our lives harder to deal with. They might also try to physically or emotionally harm us if they are malicious. In these cases, even if we do come to a conclusion through dialogue with them, it might not be worth it for the damage we sustained. And if the dialogue does not result in anything, then we got hurt with no benefits.
If however they simply won’t listen to us, then they may be close minded and trying to discuss things with them will be pointless.
However, all of these reasons, especially the last, are all subject to our perception of the situation. Many people mistakenly assume that someone who has justifications for their beliefs, or someone who asks for more explanation or evidence, is someone who is close minded. Discussions that require a long time or a lot of explanation can make someone desperate, especially if they think they are explaining something so clearly that the only way the other person can not agree is if they are close minded. This is often not true, and makes people judge others poorly, prematurely, and mistakenly.
We should not mistake all opinions as being subjective, or that our opinions are always objective. Doing so leads us to isolate ourselves from others, becoming close minded and limiting our knowledge, essentially denying us the truth to us and to others. If they’re right, find out. If you’re right, share it.
Be open to new opinions to make sure you have the truth.
You shouldn’t have to do silly things just to conform to arbitrary social norms. It is even worse to expect other people to conform to norms just because you like them.
Arbitrary Social Rules
Societies tend to have unwritten rules about how we should act. These include how we should look, including how we dress as well as how we keep our hair and skin, how we should talk, and many others. Some make sense, such as the convention where we travel on the right side of a path (in the West). While the side we travel on does not really matter (as is obvious from the UK and several other cultures who travel on the left), it is beneficial to have this convention so that people do not bump into each other or block each others way. With that said, this should only be considered as a convention, and when travelling on the designated side of a path is deemed worse, it should be acceptable to make travelling on the “wrong” side an option. When we follow the rules too strictly, we become close minded and make illogical choices simply to conform.
What is not a useful convention is how we deal with other’s appearances. There is no good reason to say that women should wear make up or that men should comb their hair. There is no inherent benefit to doing these things. The only benefit is that people who follow these rules will not judge you poorly, making it an artificial benefit. It is artificial in the sense that before this rule existed, people could look however they wanted and no one judged them or complained or treated them poorly. This proves that there is no benefit inherent to looking “good”. It is only once someone decided that we must look a certain way that we started to judge others like that. Because people started to impose rules, we became forced to follow them. The only benefit of following arbitrary rules is that silly people expect you to and so they won’t treat you badly. This is analogous to a protection racket, wherein criminals will go to a safe neighborhood and offer these people protection if they pay them. In this scenario these people don’t need protection because their neighborhood is safe, so the criminals make the neighborhood unsafe by hurting people. The inhabitants then have to pay the criminals to protect them. Similarly to arbitrary social norms, these criminals create a problem for themselves to solve. Those who don’t realise what is happening will think that the criminals are protecting them from danger, when in fact they are simply asking you to pay them so that they don’t hurt you.
These social rules fabricate a problem so that you will go to them for a solution.
Another example is how we are forced to do things to appear polite. We should we lie and pretend to like the sweater we received, and then be forced to wear it when the person who bought it visits us? This might make them happy but that is a false happiness. If I had given someone a gift they didn’t like, I would want to know. I would not want them to have to put up with the present and be forced to wear it, and I would want to know to avoid buying them something similar. Buying someone a gift is supposed to be a nice thing for them, but your gift instead causes them discomfort. By not caring about whether or not someone likes your gift (or by them pretending they like your gift), you are gambling with either being nice to them or being mean to them. There is no advantage to this, and we would all be better off if we were honest with people. The only issue with this is that some people cannot handle this truth and get depressed when someone does not like their gift. Instead we should care more about what the person wants instead of our own egos.
Some people maintain that these rules are there to make sure society works, and claim that society would fall apart if we do not follow these rules. These rules are however often not essential or even important to how we live. If we stop following the illogical rules, there will generally be no negative impact on our daily lives. The idea that society would collapse assumes a positive definition of “society” as well, which I think is questionable.
The two assumptions:
- Societal rules are fundamental to maintain modern society.
- Modern society’s rules have an overall positive effect on us.
Instead of following dogmatic rules, we should simply maintain the conventions that are useful, but discard the ones that cause negative effects. It is that very dogma that makes people take these rules too far and judge people based on their behaviour. This leads to class differences, keeping people down. Instead we should be nicer to each other, and be open minded enough to not blindly follow harmful rules and apply them in situations where they don’t make sense.
a positive definition of “society” as well, which I think is questionable.
People have to follow arbitrary social norms because they are expected to, and not doing so may have negative consequences for them. While people should not have to follow these norms, and shouldn’t do so, it is hard to expect people to refuse when it is often at their own expense. Brave people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others sacrificed a lot to break societal rules and change how the system works. It is difficult to expect everyone to do this though, as they often have a lot to lose, and personal sacrifice must come willingly.
Instead of expecting everyone to be selfless, we should look at another part of the problem. The only reason people have to follow these rules is because other people still expect you to follow them. Women have to wear make up to have a decent chance of getting a job, but that is only because job interviewers look down on and make assumptions about women who don’t wear make up. You wouldn’t have to pay immense amounts of money on cosmetics and spend hours applying them every day if people didn’t judge you negatively because of your choice to not conform to beauty standards.
Arbitrary social rules are often illogical
People who don’t wear make up or do not care about their are not necessarily lazy, or bad in any way. They might not care about their appearance, which people might say is bad. In this case people only say it’s bad because that’s what everyone has agreed is lazy. Society dictated at some point that taking care of your appearance is important, without giving a reason why. Now we are raised in an environment where we are taught appearances are important, so we accept it blindly as well. If asked why, we give a self fulfilling prophecy: appearances are important because people will judge us based on them. This is circular logic, because the only reason people judge us on our appearances is because they think appearances are important.
Many social norms use circular logic. We accept them blindly, then we follow them because we think they are important. We think they are important because everyone else judges us by them, and we judge others by it because we think it is important.
When we are forced to follow rules we it is fairly easy to realise these rules are negative, in which case it is justified to not want to do them. When we see others not following the rules (especially if we follow them) it is harder to not judge them by it, simply because it is simple and only harms them, not ourselves. Some people like to judge, some simply to do because it is instinctive or because they are used to it. It is easy to tell someone they should do something. This is why we need to focus not on people rebelling against the system, but on those maintaining the system in place.
The only reason we still have these pointless rules is because some people still promote them. If you promote these silly, outdated, arbitrary, pointless, harmful rules, then you are contributing to the problem. Even if you feel you are better off conforming to rules because you cannot afford to break them, you should not then expect others to follow the same rules. You might advise someone to follow the rules for purely pragmatic reasons, but you should not judge people badly because they don’t follow those rules. Social conventions only stay in place as long as people uphold them. As soon as people forget about them or abandon them, people become free of them.
If you know that a rule is silly, or stupid, or tiresome, or boring, or inconvenient, or harmful, but you know everyone else expects you to follow it, then the way you can fix it is by rebelling against it and showing people how silly and pointless it is. If that is too dangerous for you you can also stop encouraging that behaviour, since there is absolutely no reason to do so other than others judging you poorly because you aren’t upholding their social structure. Such a case should be rare, because being so socially conservative is normally detrimental to others. There are some things that are good or neutral and can be conserved, but making the world so static that it barely changes at all is ignoring all the terrible problems we have. The world needs many changes, and a close minded and arbitrary social structure prevents us from fixing these problems and helping the people afflicted by them.
We should not have to follow arbitrary rules and we should definitely not support them. When rebelling against them is not a viable option, the very least we should do to help others is to not make them go through the same pain.
Generalisation is difficult because it requires you to find something in common with all members of a group. People often make false claims about everyone in a group by taking what only part of that group do or are, and then claiming that everyone in the group do or are that.
A common event is to take a small group as representative of the larger group without determining a reason why. If someone has five friends from Japan who all have trouble saying words with the letter “R” in English, then it is natural to suspect that the Japanese language does not use the letter “R” in the same way as we do, or that the Japanese are incapable of saying it correctly in English. It is fine to suspect this, but it is incorrect to assume that it is true without proper evidence of causality.
A form of generalisation is induction, a process used in math where a general rule can be determined from particular instances. The mathematical processes to perform induction require you to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the specific instances necessarily have a relationship to a broader rule. While this level of work is inconvenient or even impossible for the humanities, one should at least attempt to do so instead of simply assuming that individual actions imply something about a whole group.
If every African American you know is a thief, then it is easy (but lazy) to say that all African Americans are thieves. This might be true if there were a valid reason to think that the ten, or hundred, or thousand African Americans you know could represent all African Americans. Such a reason is rare and very difficult to find. If we say that theft is genetic, then we have to prove that all African Americans have this gene. If we say that they have all learned it, we have to show how it is even possible for every single African American to learn the exact same thing, without any exceptions. If there are any exceptions, then they have to be justified, otherwise they might prove that the rule isn’t a rule. The rule might just be a coincidence.
Commonality does not imply Causality
Even if we prove that all currently living African Americans were thieves, we need to show that this is a causal relationship, not just a commonality. An example of why that matters: If I were to invent a new type of cheese, but I made a mistake in the production, and the first ten wheels of this cheese comes out poisonous, then we can say that every wheel of this cheese is poisonous. In this example, every single wheel of this type of cheese is poisonous, so they all have this in common. However, since this was a mistake, it doesn’t mean that this type of cheese is inherently poisonous. As long as the production mistake is corrected, it is likely that the next wheel of cheese will not be poisonous. This shows that even if everything or everyone in a group share something, that does not mean that people who join the group later will also share it, or that previous members of the group shared it. Even if every living African American on the planet were a thief, that does not necessarily mean that African Americans are inherently thieves, or that every African American in history was a thief, or that all African Americans who are born in the future will be thieves. The key here is that we said all -living- African Americans. We could also say “all living and dead African Americans are thieves”, but that wouldn’t mean that future African Americans would also be thieves. When we talk about a specific group with a specific feature, it is usually limited to exactly what we included or excluded. If we talk about living African Americans then it usually a conclusion that only applies to -living- -African Americans-. By defining the group we have limited what we can say about a different group, such as future African Americans who do not necessarily share traits with African Americans of other time periods. To make this generalisation we need to provide a causal relationship, otherwise we are just making assumptions.
Statistics and Sample Size
If a causal relationship is too difficult to determine, then we cannot know if a generalisation is true. We can approximate it, if need be, using statistics to determine how large a sample size we need for it to be accurately representative of the whole group. If someone lives in a country with very few foreigners, and meets five different people from the same foreign country who all share a feature, it is normal for that person to think that it would be a huge coincidence if it were only these five people. Instead, it sounds far more likely that the reason these five people (who might not even know each other) all share this feature is because they all share being from the same country. While this may be possible, further evidence would be required. Without that evidence, statistics would be the best way to make an informed guess, but five people is not a large enough sample size. Even with 100 or 1000 people, it would not make sense to claim that they could represent a million people from the same country. The mathematics show that such a relationship is unreliable.
Despite a lack of causal relationship, a large enough sample size, or real evidence, people often still insist that they know. This might be simply because they are very confident, or because they trust in their instinct which tells them this. This is textbook closed mindedness and denial of reality. Instinct is not infallible, and insisting that you are right or “trust me, I know” isn’t how reality works. You can be as confident as you want about your assumptions, but that doesn’t make them any more accurate.
What can we say about a whole group then?
There are certain features that can be said about an entire group. These are usually trivial things. They are the very features that define the group. We can safely say that all members of the set of African Americans are African and American, or we can say that all prime numbers are prime and numbers. While this may sound useless, it is the first step in properly defining generalisations. If we take any group, we can make a list of things that are true about everything in the group. This list would start with the defining features of the group which are taken as obvious, but they may lead to other conclusions.
When we want to make a generalisation, we must use inductive logic or scientific method to do so.
Science works by analysing data collected from a specific experiment, and trying to figure out whether or not something meaningful can be determined from the data or not. To do this they try to collect as many examples as possible. This is done to make sure their sample size is large enough, reducing the chances of exceptions or coincidences affecting their conclusions. They might conduct an experiment thousands of times so they have more than enough data that fit a pattern reliably. Scientific phenomenon often act identically as long as you can isolate them, but groups of humans are harder to determine because we have free will and have different genetics and upbringings. All electrons share very specific qualities, and we classify them as electrons because of their fundamental nature.
Groups are often arbitrarily classified
In fact, the groupings we make for people are often arbitrary. African American isn’t really a race so much as a common heritage, which is only one of the many variables with which we could group people. We could instead group them by dark skin colour, which would include many people who are not from Africa. If we grouped people from Africa, that wouldn’t even be just African Americans or dark skinned people, it would include many people with white skin as well as Muslims. There isn’t even really a proper definition for African American, because while there may be agreed upon definitions, they don’t have the same genes or really any meaningful shared qualities. They are as diverse as any other race, because races are arbitrary groupings of extremely diverse people with a very vague common skin colour or whose ancestors lives in a certain place.
If we split people up into different groups based on arbitrary things, then it doesn’t make any sense to expect them to share many qualities.
Some people claim that you should “never hit a woman”. I would say that you shouldn’t hit anyone, regardless of their gender. Such people might say that women particularly should not be attacked because they are physically weaker than men and so it’s not fair because they cannot defend themselves. This is an unfair generalisation of women, but one could argue that on average most women are weaker than men, if only by statistics. If that is true, then not hurting women would mean that you are mostly not hurting people who wouldn’t be able to take it. If your goal was to avoid hitting people who cannot take it, then this would be consistent with their logic. By not hitting women you’ve avoided hurting a lot of defenseless people. The problem is that their expression “never hit a woman” doesn’t account for weak men. If they follow this expression to avoid hurting weak people, then they run the risk of hurting weak men. This expression is clearly insufficient to meet the needs of their goal. They will avoid hitting strong women because they’ve assumed they’re weak, and will hit weak men because they assume they’re strong. Their logic is inconsistent and flawed because they generalised incorrectly.
This example shows how something that sounds approximately right can end up not working. The logical error can be seen better in the form of a syllogism:
- A. Weak people should not be hurt
- B. 90% of women are weak
- C. Women should not be hurt
For this to actually work, B should instead say “All women are weak people”. As it stands now, it is a false syllogism because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Some might argue that 90% is good enough though, because if we protect women then we protect a lot of weak people, even if not all of them are weak. This is a fallacy that many people use to further their own agendas using faulty logic. Instead of saying that we should not hurt weak people, they pick a specific group of people who are mostly weak. There is no advantage to picking such a group, it only has the disadvantage of being less accurate. It is less accurate because we are skipping a step, making the logic indirect. Instead of directly applying your logic to the group that needs it, you are skipping them and indirectly applying it to one of the subgroups.
All it takes to correct this is to say “never hit someone who can’t take it”. This would include weak women, weak men, or anyone else. This now covers every group of people who should not be hurt, so it works out much better than just saying women should not be hurt. If your reason for not hitting someone is because they are weak, then don’t be indirect and look for a group that is mostly weak, instead just don’t hurt weak people. If your reason for not hurting someone is because they can’t fight back, then “don’t hurt people who can’t fight back”. It’s that simple.
Choosing a group that mostly fits this makes no sense and betrays your own goal.
Generalisation is useful when done properly, but otherwise is harmful and makes assumptions that limit our thinking.
Extremism is “a tendency or disposition to go to extremes or an instance of going to extremes, especially in political matters:” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/extremism?s=t).
Extreme methods are needed for certain types of problems, especially when those problems have limited solutions. This can become hard to determine though, as extreme solutions might work even when they are not needed. Instead, a more moderate solution might be possible, and even better. If a moderate and an extreme solution are both possible, we need to determine which is better. In general, moderate solutions tend to have fewer negative side effects, but take more time, effort, or resources, while extreme methods alleviate some of those factors but may have side effects.
These side effects might be as a result of what makes a method extreme. One way to develop an extreme method is to make sacrifices in other areas. Those sacrifices might harm other people in order for you to benefit, or they might benefit you in the short term but cause issues in the long term, or give you a benefit that is hopefully greater than a simultaneous negative effect. They might also simply go too far in what they are trying to achieve. Pouring too much water into a glass will achieve the goal of filling the glass, but it will waste water and wet things around it. There is generally no benefit to doing this, when instead you could have poured slower and avoided those issues.
There are times when extreme actions might be better because they exchange certain losses with potential worse losses. If someone needs water quickly, carefully filling a glass might take too long, in which case a bit of spilled water might be worth avoiding running out of time.
It is important to differentiate between those who employ extreme methods and extremists. A moderate person can understand and apply extreme methods when it makes sense without being an extremist. An extremist in this context refers to those who think extreme methods are preferable, better, or the only way to do things.
Extremists often view moderate view as being ineffective whole moderates view extreme views as unnecessarily harmful. These are both valid criticisms, but they do not always apply, specifically because they are blanket statements. There are situations that require extreme methods, and situations where moderate methods solve the problem with better results.
Extremism is Bad
Extremism is bad because it promotes extreme methods first. Extreme methods should instead always be a last resort, as it is more reasonable to first determine what the best solution is rather than to be biased towards one, or worse, to blindly apply one methodology to everything. This is ineffective and can even be lazy, done because it is easier and does not require one to think or work as much. Others might honestly believe that it is the only method that can work, and that any more moderate methods will be ineffective.
Another problem is that extremism may be effective, but it is often not efficient. If you could have solved a problem with minimal loss, but instead you solved it with many losses, then you have done a worse job than you could have. It ignores the general situation and only focuses on a single objective. This narrow mindedness is simply ignoring reality to make your job easier, or to make yourself feel better for having harmed others.
Extremism as an ideology might also cause people to not only act with extreme responses, but to think in extreme ways. This might lead to the “us versus them” fallacy, where they only view issues in terms of two extremes. Consequently, they may also prematurely disregard people who support centrist or moderate views, possibly because they view them as not fitting in their world view, or simply because they don’t like that other people can entertain views that they do not. This essentially blinds them to other possibilities that may have made things better for them.
Assuming or Projecting Extremism onto Others
Extremists are prone to jump to conclusions and assume that others mean things in their extremes as well since they are so used to thinking in extremes. This leads them to misunderstand what others mean, and since misinformation hinders your ability to make decisions, this tends towards your own suffering. Their interpretation of ideas naturally tends towards the most extreme possible version. Some of them will even project their own extremist mentalities onto others, and claim that others (or everyone) thinks like this. If you claim that an oppressed group deserves more rights, many people would assume that instead of wanting the group to be raised to an equal status, you actually want them to be raised to have more rights than everyone else. That would be an extreme view of civil rights, and defies views of equality. It’s far more logical and likely that someone who promotes equal rights would have a moderate view that extremists will misconstrue.
They might assume that allowing homosexual marriage will lead to animals and inanimate objects getting married by a slippery slope fallacy. They might assume that raising awareness of the struggles of some people somehow implies that the people not being talked about are less important. They might think the Black Lives Matter movement should be inclusive of all races in their message of who matters. While some might correctly find it strange that the message wasn’t “Black Lives [also] Matter”, or “All Live Matter”, some would just assume that the protesters think that -only- black lives matter. Maybe there are some people that think that only the lives of African Americans matter, but there is no reason to believe that this is the majority of the Black Lives Matter movement. To believe so would be an extremist assumption that cynically generalises a very large group of people they know very little about, assuming the worst of them. Such people assume that if you support one group, you oppose others, or you have a bias or preference towards this one group.
Other extremists reinforce these positions. If someone assumes that a woman wants more rights when she only want equal rights, they should eventually see that no woman ever actually asks for special rights. The problem is that extremist women might actually want these rights, and this minority might be more vocal than the moderate majority. People will see feminism as what the crazy selfish women want, which means they would have discredited the reasonable feminists as now people will have the wrong idea of what feminism is. This would make it harder for the practical, moderate feminists to achieve equal rights, as even their requests for reasonable changes will be assumed to be unfair and extreme. Some might even blindly oppose feminism as a whole to protest the extreme feminists, hurting society as a whole.]
Contrary to the narrow minded views that might come from extremism, true balance isn’t an ideology that only employs moderate actions. The view they have of centrists is really of someone who is an extreme moderate: someone who limits themselves to thinking and acting in ways that they think are a balance. This is similarly narrow minded and limiting to the more obvious forms of extremism where one only allows themselves one end of the spectrum. True balance is when you understand that moderate methods are ideal, but do not exclude yourself from considering other options depending on what the situation needs. A truly balanced view analyses problems to determine what the best solutions are, while extremists avoid having to think by simply sticking to one methodology.
Extremism encourages conflict and more extremists
Extremists have a tendency of an extreme response to something they oppose, regardless of whether or not what they are opposing was moderate or extreme to begin with. As an example, one could look at racism. Although racism is illogical and harmful, it is not necessarily extreme. Extreme forms of racism do exist, but there are moderate forms of it as well. In this case one should not confuse the acceptance of moderate forms of racism with saying that there are acceptable or good forms of racism. Moderacy is not inherently good, nor are extremes inherently bad.
Extremists can fight for a good cause, but because extreme methods tend to overdo things and makes sacrifices, they can cause a lot of unnecessary harm. This can embolden not only those you are justifiably fighting against, but militarise those who see your extremism.
If we respond to oppression by suggesting or imposing our own oppression against those who have oppressed us, then we are doing the very thing that we claim is bad. This seems irrational, as it is more like taking vengeance on those who we hypocritically claim are guilty of what we are now trying to do, or worse, simply replacing them as the oppressors because we want power. If we really want to end their oppression, then oppressing them seems like an unnecessarily extreme way to do it.
Even if our response is not to impose our own form of oppression, our response should not be one of spite and hate, but to dismantle the system in an effective way. Hating your oppressors, or worse, hating innocent people who can be associated with your oppressors, is unwarranted, and more importantly unhelpful. By being unfair, even to those who are guilty to begin with, you give them a justification for their bad actions. Doing bad things to bad people is not generally justified, and it also shows your enemy that you are also bad. When you respond to unfairness with your own unfairness, both sides see each other as guilty, because they are. While one side may have better intentions and might be fighting for a better cause, the actions of both sides have generated an environment where they both think they are justified to do worse things in response to previous bad things.
There are groups such as “men’s rights” or “meninists”, and even groups promoting rights for Caucasians. There are two reasons these groups likely arose:
- because they view the restriction of their privileges as a threat, and do not understand or care that it is to treat every race equally, or
- because of what they call “feminazis” and other such extremist activists.
The second reason refers to two types of groups:
- These are activists that either have been ambiguous or not very clear in their goals, and appear to want more rights than everyone else. In reality they would want equal rights.
- These are activists who really do want more rights than others. They might have a good cause or their cause may be entirely selfish, and are often splinter groups of larger, more moderate movements.
One reason these groups have caused this problem is because either they have lazily, hastily, or angrily tried to promote their cause and protest. When a few people in the Black Lives Matter movement claim that white people should be assaulted, it is easy to focus on this and generalise it to the entire movement. It might be taken out of context, or it might just be a vocal minority opinion, but it is fuel for racist propaganda to demonise the entire movement. Doing this helps divide the racists from everyone else, and it reinforces the racists’ views. Our goal should not be to punish or harm the race that is dominant, it should be to make sure that racism isn’t spread to the next generation. If we cannot convince racists that they are wrong (even though I think we can), then we should at least make it impossible for them to indoctrinate their children into thinking the same thing. We should still actively protest and hold people accountable for racism, and we should do whatever we can to stop more hate crimes from happening before it’s too late, but saying that all white people are to blame is illogical, incorrect, discriminatory, and blindly generalises in a racist way that isn’t as bad as white supremacists, but is still harmful and betrays your own cause and beliefs. Blind extremism helps the racists.
If we respond to white supremacy by saying that white people should be oppressed, then we are being racist and are making the same mistakes that the white supremacists are. It is irrational to think that any one race is better than another. One extreme way to counter institutional racism is to force others to accept minority races. This is one of the times extreme methods seems to be justified, as racism is such a prevalent issue in the US that is difficult to get rid of with more reasonable methods. It is referred to as “reverse discrimination“, but as the name suggests, it is still discriminating between races, which is inherently still a bad thing. It is outweighed by the equality of denying racists the means with which to reject racial minorities. Whether or not this system works in practice, it must be a temporary solution, as it is an extreme solution that causes more issues and is inherently flawed in its morality: it claims discrimination is bad while at the same time employing discrimination. Ideally, we should not be discriminating at all based on race, as that should never be a factor for most things. The issue is that in such a system, racists can make excuses to discriminate against others, which might be hard to disprove. That is the case in the US where racism needs to be addressed on a more personal level before they can make fair and indiscriminate institutional systems.
Until that time however, the right wing will continue to use these systems as excuses to claim that white people are being oppressed.
Escalation is a form of extreme methods where a disproportionate response is given to something, and extreme responses are generally disproportionate.
Because extremists naturally mess things up with careless and harmful extreme actions, they make it easy for their opponents to feel justified doing something equally as bad, or worse. They also generates more extremists as opponents, because for every extreme action you take that hurts someone who did not need to get hurt, you run the risk of those people deciding they need to stop you because of the negative side effects of your extreme methods.
Since extremism irrationally assumes that extremes are good, extremists sometimes try to be as extreme as possible. This results in escalation where two sides respond to each other with more and more harmful or dangerous methods. Regardless of who starts the fight, blindly employing more and more extreme methods results in a far worse situation than if problems had been solved efficiently rather than extremely.
- Maybe protesters get violent to protect themselves from corrupt police, and a policeman gets hurt. The police, especially without knowing the context, might get violent, or worse, arm themselves against the protestors. They might pre-emptively attack protestors because they think the protestors are violent. This would in turn cause protestors to arm themselves to protest against the police arms. This just becomes an arm race with both sides attacking each other, although both sides think they are defending themselves.
- Or maybe a group of rowdy protestors hurt a policeman that wasn’t corrupt. This could spur the same escalation of both sides. Misinformation and small groups might cause large groups to become extreme in response to the acts of a few people.
Extremism as an ideology or methodology is illogical because it assumes that only an extreme response will suffice. They look down on moderate responses, either because they think they’re inefficient or insufficient, or because they just have a disdain of moderacy. It is an ideology without reasoning or justification. It makes assumptions and blindly follows them, ignoring how reality actually works, and ignoring the harm they do. Hating moderate solutions makes no sense if the moderate solution is the best one.
Problems require their own unique solutions. Some may require an extreme response, but extremists harm others and themselves by assuming that only extreme solutions work.