Those who know me, or who have read much of what I write, know that I don’t “believe.” I distrust the word, because so often once someone says, “I believe,” there is no room for new, and especially contradictory, information. My viewpoint is “This is what I think, based on information, observation, and experience up to now, and subject to change at any time with new information, observation, or experience.” Unwieldy, I know, but there you have it.

But there are things I am pretty close to “believing,” and this is one: humans are humans, subject to their human nature, in every time and every place and under all conditions. Further, humans are each unique. Therefore, in any situation with a sufficient number of humans, there will be those who do good and those who do evil, those who love and those who hate, those who judge by reason and those who judge by emotion, those who lead and those who follow and those who stay out if it, and so on. Take a small enough group, and one can generalize about certain things–particularly regarding the factors that bind them as a group. But as soon as the group is just a little larger, even those things are no longer true of all the members.

To generalize about men or women, about blacks or whites, about Asians or Latinos, about Christians or Muslims, about conservatives or liberals, is meaningless, yet very dangerous. When we do so, we deceive ourselves into believing that we know what we do not know, and from there we judge what we cannot fairly judge. We deceive ourselves into believing that those categories of humans are somehow fundamentally different from each other.

We can and should judge what humans do, but we cannot judge what they are. We can say that members of a group with this characteristic in common have done this thing, individually or in concert, but we cannot say that every human who has that characteristic has done, or would do, this thing.

I would be surprised to learn that there has ever been any human group of any significant size that has not regularly done, individually or in concert, horrible things–to their neighbors, to women, to children, to elders, to those among them who are “different” in some way–being gay, or suspected of witchcraft, or having a disability of some kind, or so many more “differences.” And further, those horrible things have been supported, approved, or at the very least not opposed, by the group as a whole. Perhaps–probably–not by every single member, but by enough members that one might reasonably say “the group.”

Yes, we should condemn the horrible things that groups do, just as we should condemn the horrible things that individuals do. But it is the worst kind of hubris to think that those horrible things make “them” somehow fundamentally different from “us.” Because the next step from there is to believe that what “we” do is automatically right, that we cannot possibly do evil–even when we are doing, or have done, the exact same action as “they” are doing.

Advertisements