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Sweeping Generalizations are Always Bad

by Everyday Junglist 7 months ago in humanity
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Title of this Article Notwithstanding

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Most people understand conceptually how sweeping generalizations about the behaviors, attitudes, appearances, or any other characteristics/traits of broad classes of people are a very bad thing. With apologies to all spermatophytes for appropriating your life cycle to illustrate a heinous point, sweeping generalizations function like seeds of fear and distrust. They eventually germinate to hatred and then grow to racism, and eventually, in the most extreme of cases, blossom into war and genocide. They either directly cause or actively amplify the worst tendencies in humanity. They should be ruthlessly and continuously questioned, criticized, and actively fought against, wherever they are found. Moreover, this stance should apply equally to all generalizations no matter if they are related to race, ethnicity, national identity, or socio-economic class. It seems reasonable to assume that a very large majority of persons on the planet would agree with everything I have just written. If that is the case, whey then, do people who would never, ever, tolerate a sweeping generalization about a race of people, just accept, give a pass, or laugh at such sweeping generalizations when they revolve around issues of gender? This holds true even when such generalizations verge on, or are actually clearly sexist. I would argue that in fact the majority of people on the planet (and it cuts across races, creeds, nationalities, etc.) accept sweeping generalizations about men and women without a second thought. Most cultures in one way or another actively embrace such sweeping generalizations in one form or another. After all, to give an example from our own Western culture, men are from Mars, women are from Venus, right?

I am not one of those people that believe there are no differences between men and women. Obviously, there are. I would also never suggest that men and women are naturally equal in all things. Clearly, they are not. To give just one of several possible examples, upper body strength. (Healthy) men are born with more of it than (healthy) women. They simply have more inherent muscle mass in the upper body which translates to greater natural strength. That is not to say that with training a woman could not become as strong or stronger than a man. Many have, and many will no doubt in the future. However, it is to say that a man that trained equally as hard and had equal natural abilities to begin with, would always surpass a woman in upper body strength as determined by conventional measures. This is no value judgement. Upper body strength is no more or less valuable than any other trait a particular person might possess, but it is one which men naturally (genetically) possess more of, all other things being equal. There are of course examples which cut the other way. But there really are not very many of these things and most, possibly all, relate to physical abilities that are solely, or almost entirely, genetically determined. When it comes to mental abilities like intelligence or emotional qualities like rationality, or judgement, or whatever you care to name, the sort of sweeping generalizations people often make cannot be supported by the "science" that has studied them, and fall apart very quickly when challenged with logical arguments. Just like with every multiple choice exam you have ever taken, whenever one of the choices has the word "all" in it, it is almost certainly wrong.

I put science in quotation marks above because the "sciences" that study things like mental states and emotional qualities are the social sciences, things like psychology and sociology and the like. And, while there are branches of these fields which claim the title "experimental", and do in fact design and run experiments, these experiments always fall far short of what would be required of an actual "hard" science experiment. This is no fault of the researchers involved, as they go to extraordinary lengths at times, to try and meet these requirements. That said, they are doomed to failure because all of these experiments involve human subjects which introduces human biases, tendencies, and all sort of messiness and sloppiness which are not possible to address no matter how many experimental controls one might devise. Studies that attempt to assess how all males and all females might feel or act or think about something are even more handicapped by a massive sample size problem. In order to get a statistically reliable result the number of subjects in any given study would have to be so large as to be totally impossible. The influence of culture, and upbringing, and so many other environmental factors is much too large and so variable that it is not possible to control for even a tiny fraction of them, let alone all of them. Whatever conclusions are drawn in studies conducted in these "soft" sciences are themselves soft and more often than not misleading or totally incorrect. They are never highly or even mostly accurate. Because science cannot adequately address these questions, what we end up with when it comes to differences between the sexes are pithy observations dressed up as science that have over time hardened into conventional wisdom. But there is nothing at all wise about them as they are almost certainly incorrect or only partly right and only partly right in very specific circumstances that cannot be extended to all males and all females as whole. I might grant that there are a tiny fraction of men who "are from Mars" in terms of their behaviors, attitudes, and other characteristics, and there are a tiny fraction of women who might be considered as "from Venus" based on how the book defines these things. However, if they even exist at all, this tiny fraction cannot be extended to men and women as a whole. In the end, all people are from earth, and on earth, sweeping generalizations are always a bad thing. They should be fought against in all areas including in questions of gender differences.


About the author

Everyday Junglist

Practicing mage of the natural sciences (Ph.D. micro/molecular biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday Junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, No tie shoelace user, Humorist, Argan oil aficionado.

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