Friday, March 27, 2015

I'm the Confuser!

David Cannadine:

Anyone who has persevered with this book thus far should be aware at least of this: the claim that the male and female identities established by biology and culture are more important than any other collective identities is at best highly tendentious. For it is merely one more example, alongside those made on behalf of religion, nation, and class, of the misleading but widespread practice of what has been termed "totalizing": namely, the habit of describing and defining individuals by their membership in one single group, deemed to be more important and more all-encompassing than any other solidarity — and indeed than all others — to which they might simultaneously belong.

Yep. To re-quote Steven Pinker:

We live in an age of social science, and have become accustomed to understanding the social world in terms of "forces," "pressures," "processes," and "developments." It is easy to forget that these "forces" are statistical summaries of the deeds of millions of men and women who act on their beliefs in pursuit of their desires. The habit of submerging the individual into abstractions can lead not only to bad science (it's not as if the "social forces" obeyed Newton's laws) but to dehumanization. We are apt to think, "I (and my kind) choose to do things for reasons; he (and his kind) are part of a social process."

Vince Noir had the right idea: synthesize the categories, don't cling to them even more tightly.