BEWARE THE USEFULNESS OF GENERALIZATIONS.
Accessorize, okay…generalize…watch out!
When you make a generalization, you’re not actually describing anything that’s really going on, just some temporary approximation about life to make it more “manageable.”
Like the fellow in the picture, as he sits reading his paper near the Brooklyn Bridge. He’s probably accepting some generalization, or at least an approximation of reality at that moment.
He may be reading about mass starvation, or massive layoffs, or just the plight of the masses, but even mass human suffering doesn’t accurately describe what’s going on at any given moment, because each person is having his or her own unique experience of tribulation. While it may appear that suffering is shared by the collective, and though it is influenced by the collective, in fact, all suffering as well as joy is experienced on an individual basis.
Maybe this guy’s just a sports fan, in fact a NY Yankee fan reading about demolishing the Red Sox 10 to 3. But though his fellow Yankee fans may be sharing in the joy of winning, this guy is having his unique experience of victory, a day later with the sun on his back in the middle of a jog with sweat beads dripping on to the newspaper. Joy or pain though shared are uniquely experienced by each individual participant.
So, in order to stay conscious and not get sucked into making conclusions based on some generalization, which is, at best, a very fuzzy and indistinct approximation of reality, and which may or may not be relevant to my experience, I try to remind myself that at any given instant, billions of individual events are occurring on this planet…billions of conversations, billions of decisions, billions of observations, billions of interpretation of those observations, billions of people saying, “yes” to something, billions of people saying “no” to something else and billions of people who, at this moment, either can’t make up their minds or are busy changing them…or both…I can’t decide.
There are billions of individual people eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, copulating, taking care of their children, working, cleaning up, messing up…and billions of people who are completely unaware of you or me…or each other. Except for a very small group—family, co-workers, fellow-students, lovers, cell-mates, fellow conspirators, Face-bookees, etc; all of these billions of us have a VERY limited experience of the other billions of us.
“So what?” you may ask, “What matters is what the Dow Jones is doing today? With all due respect,” you may be thinking, “that generalization does indeed affect my life.” (Maybe our guy on the bench is looking up the NASDAQ)
Yup, that’s where the media comes in, by necessity and job description the media is the architect of many of our most popular generalizations: electronic media, print media, especially. For most of us, the only access to the other billions of people is through this media. So one thing the billions of us have in common is that we are relating to each other and interfacing with life through technological intermediaries …whether it’s a pencil, a cell phone or the latest computer with the most advanced software.
Media has made it possible, apparently, to find out about those other billions of people. For instance, billions of us will watch the 2010 Winter Olympics. At least millions of us are staring at some screen, computer or TV set right now. And billions of us are coming to conclusions about life based on the media, which by its very nature can only make generalizations about anything, not to mention its propensity to focus on what is most dramatic—hence, if not billions, then at least dozens of crime shows on TV any given week…let alone re-runs.
When the news is reported, each of us will fall into some collective…some generalization, like “bureaucrats, terrorists, traffic, families, Christians, Libras, Moslems, insurgents, Cubans, CEO’s, porn stars, academics, news people, housewives, kids, criminals, thirteen year olds, labor, management, Communists, birdwatchers”…any way that we can encapsulate collectives and make generalizations about groups of us who orient around some common phenomenon.…etc. etc. ad infinitum…so that we can have some control over our lives. “If we can generalize people, then we can control them.” The fallacy of this generalization becomes more and more apparent the deeper we look.
One of the most persistent categorical generalizations we can make about ourselves is when we humans are considered “The Economy,” and within that, “consumers”. And since “the economy” is so vast, intricate and complex, because it really does involve all the billions of us, what are we as individuals, apparently at the mercy of “the economy,” to do? We resort to generalizations like, “find a job”, “look on Craig’s list”, “network,” “get an education”, “call your brother-in-law,” or get sucked into the most alluring get rich quick scheme that comes to us. Yep, we hope that the generalization we make in response to the generalizations we adopt, will solve our individual problems. Often they do, too often…they don’t.
Because of the Media, we assume that these generalizations fed to us by the experts, pollsters and those in “the know” can be useful in controlling our own set of circumstances and, as a result, we are can be more comfortable, stay healthier, have more pleasure, be better able to beat the other guys and get their stuff at a minimal loss to ourselves, and generally have a life created to our satisfaction so that in some media analysis, we would be classified and generalized as the “well off people”…and happy to be so dubbed.
But then again, there are other billions of us who, though we interact with the media and depend on those generalizations made about us to try and navigate our way through existence, still find ourselves classified by the media, when they even deign to mention as, as “the not so well off,” and what makes it even worse, it does indeed appear that there are the “well-off”s” and the “not so well-off’s”…the “have’s” and the “have not’s,” two of our most cherished and efficient generalizations.
So, which, ultimately, is more useful? The generalizations we make about existence handed down to us by our priests, the media, pundits, pollsters and sociologists or is it in being aware of the actions, thoughts, desires, reactions, etc. that are taking place now by billions of individuals, one of which is reading this sentence. At this moment you, one of the billions, are thinking about what you’re reading and finding some place in your meaning matrix to fit it in. (make sense of it), with the hope that considering these ideas will help you conform existence to what makes you feel your best, look your best, hear your best and even…be at your best… generally stimulate your senses to communicate very positive messages to you and assist you to make sense out of your life.
“Well,” you may ask, “what’s a billion-heir to do?” Since the concept of “billions of us” is too mind boggling to be relevant and since the generalizations we make are only relatively useful, at best, and not near as useful for the “not well off” as “the well off,” what other option do we have?
My God…the individual. I rather suspect that the Divine knower of All Being doesn’t recognize any of the generalizations we default to and find so useful, but, in fact, only relates to us as individuals.
So what really influences our lives for better or worse? The generalizations we make and react to or the billions of individuals and what each of us is choosing…at this very moment even…and who gets to decide? The generalization (get out the vote, vote for our guy and that will create the kind of government, hence the quality of life we want) or the individual voter who may ask in a moment of brave insight, “You mean it’s up to me?”
Ultimately, each individual gets to determine whether to be run and delimited by generalizations or to chart his or her own course among the billions of available choices that could not possibly fit into any generalization ever offered to us.
And while we may not be directly acquainted with each other (and here the media actually is helpful), we know that not only are we all inextricably connected, but that in all of this mass of interconnections the individual is far more powerful than any generalization about him or her and is the ultimate arbiter and determiner of the nature and quality of his/her experience, that is, if he or she has the courage to lay claim to his unique and original self-made destiny.
But wait…bonus!…the more self-aware and enlightened each of us becomes, (and that truly is an individual attainment) the more we realize that it is we, not as a collective, but as individuals who determine the direction and quality of our lives and indeed of our civilization and that each of us as an individual just might be the trend setter that others will some day classify as a generalization. (“Buddhists”, Freudians,” “Franciscans”…as if the all the chips emulated the same block.) After all, all generalization began as some individual’s distinctive experience.
In summary, question all generalizations (even this one), and learn to treasure and act on your unique relationship to life that may in fact transcend any generalization that you or anyone else could ever possibly make about you. You get to carve your unique signature on the face of reality. Indeed reality depends on it.
As amazing as it is that no two snow flakes are exactly alike, how much more differentiated can the billions of us become as we each follow our own calling and dance to our own drummer? While a generalization might attempt to encapsulate us, it can never fully and accurately identity you or me. That’s up to…well…
the bilions of you’s and me’s.