1. Long liked the assertion – can’t recall who asserted it – that the only generalizations you can make about mankind should be those that hold for you and your friends, for the obvious logical reason that you and your friends are just a particular sample of People In General: My friends and I are bloodthirsty killers; my friends and I are destroying the planet; my friends and I are gullible rubes. Then, if you don’t like how that sounds, you must come up with what it is about you and your friends that makes you all so special. Which, if you’re the least bit self-aware, ought to make you really, really uncomfortable. Not that it can’t be done, but the exercise would expose, one fervently hopes, naked tribalism for what it is.
This is often rare. People are pretty dense and clueless, after all.
2. My own direct, personal sample of Humanity consists of a few hundred people, a huge chunk of whom are blue collar workers and their spouses and kids (almost everybody I knew before I went to college) or low to mid-level professionals of some sort (almost everybody I’ve met since). Sprinkled here and there are some top-level professionals (I’m related by marriage to a hedge fund manager, for example, and do know a couple CEOs of non-trivial corporations). All of these folks live or lived in the 2nd half of the 20th century and first part of the 21st.
Then there are the memorable outliers. I’ve know a few college professors, a mixed group for sure; a number of semi-elite (as in: college-level) athletes; several crazy artists and a few sane ones; people with various disabilities physical and mental; all flavors of orientations (at least of which I am aware – and I frankly don’t need to be aware of any more at this point at this time); some people with chemical dependencies of one kind or another sufficient to destroy them and those they love. Races and ethnicities, yep, got those pretty well covered. No Inuit that I can think of, but that’s the level of detail we’re talking about.
Yet this is an insanely narrow, hardly representative sample of Humanity, considering that billions of us have lived for half a million years over millions of square miles of the planet, under a bewildering variety of conditions both social and physical. I’d have to be reckless, crazy reckless, I tell you! to make any generalizations at all about People from such a laughably limited collection as my own sample.
Unless… Unless there’s something common to humans across time and space and social conditions, something perceptible and understandable by a lowly individual trapped in his own personal data set, as it were.
One reason to suspect that this is so (1) is all the people one meets through reading. Including them, my sample now spans millennia and continents, cultures long dead and still going, people unimaginably poor and unimaginably rich, incomprehensibly violent and stunningly passive, and a dozen other extremes as well.
While there’s often things that are shocking about true strangers – strangers to our time and culture – when we first meet them, the underlying impression is always one of recognition and familiarity. People are people, as the philosophers in Depeche Mode so astutely put it. An eskimo, bushman or Mongolian is first and foremost clearly a human being, even if he’s chewing whale blubber or poison-darting an elephant or throwing down the boodog when we first encounter him in person or in print, or, now days, in pictures and video.
3. No real point here. I am happy to report that I generally really like people. That I mostly like the people I meet leads me to imagine, however unjustifiable on technical grounds, that I’d mostly like the people I haven’t met, too. One thing that’s helped a lot in this regard is that I’ve now raised a batch of children, which makes it easy to see that adults are just children who have grown up through no fault of their own. Their interests and emotions are largely the same as any 2-year olds, however much wrapped in and disguised by grown-up trappings.
This is comforting. What appears to be evil intent is, more often than not, just a kid who wants a cookie or needs a nap. Heck, I could use a cookie and a nap right about now myself.
4. This break from reading education history has, lately, rekindled(2) my reading jones. Stayed up past midnight finishing off John C. Wright’s Somewhither. It was good. I may need to reread it in order to give it a worthy review. I’ve got 3-4 more fun books to read in the queue, which will also require reviews.
Maybe I’ll get back to the schooling stuff once summer rolls around.
- in addition to the basic Aristotelian reason that there’s something that allows us to correctly identify them all as ‘people’ in the first place.
- Not to mention reKindled. Ha.