Tag Archives: generalizations

Attraction Kills?

Men Pay the Ultimate Price to Attract Women – Yahoo! News

Personally, I like this part:

bq. “Women live longer in almost every country, and the sex difference in lifespan has been recognized since at least the mid-18th century,” said Daniel Kruger at the University of Michigan. “It isn’t a recent trend; it originates from our deep evolutionary history.”

So, what, an observation of 250 years or so automatically generalizes to how-many-million years of human existence? That’s some good ‘science’, that.

Or this:

bq. Males of many species must fight vigorously for the right to mate. Think of rams butting heads. Spectacular male bird plumage is another example of biological effort required to succeed, effort that uses energy and can shorten a life.

Hm, haven’t seen too many guys butting heads late…. oh, wait. Coupla guys over there right now… nevermind. Oh, and that plumage! Never seen a classier looking guy/transves… er, yeah.

Strange, though, how this kind of ‘evidence’ will probably be taken as hard scientific fact by most people. There’s not one thing in typical human male behavior, anatomy, or physiology that would suggest to me that the male body works harder at acquiring a mate than does the female. He doesn’t (usually) literally, physically butt heads with other guys, he doesn’t grow specialized feathers that are more brilliant than those of the female (doesn’t grow feathers at all, or brilliant colors, unless you want to count that ghastly Hawaiian shirt), he doesn’t secrete pheromones or anything of the like in order to attract a mate. ((A study I saw recently _did_ suggest that men and women do produce some small amount of pheromones, but it did say, too, that it wasn’t a significant enough quantity to make any kind of real difference in normal ‘mating habits’ of the typical adult human.)) I guess we’re just going to have to keep looking for mates the way we always have – through our darn good looks and dashing personalities.

Really, the high stress of our daily lifestyles and the drive to perform that nearly all men have _still_ makes more sense with regard to our comparatively shorter lifespans than does this theory that it is our bodies somehow striving to produce something in us to make us more sexually appealing to our female counterparts.

“Generally Speaking…”

bq. Don’t tell us over and over again how something’s a generalization and doesn’t apply to everyone. Duh. Some use of generalities are necessary with these topics. “#”:http://scatteredwords.com/meta/faq.php#q000379

Generalizations. We all use them. They’re a necessity inherent to the world of interpersonal communication. They facilitate conversation by allowing people to make their points easily and quickly by pointing to observable trends. Whole sections of social psychology textbooks (and others) are devoted to the concept of generalizations and stereotypes and their uses. It is probably impossible to get through an entire conversation without at some point using at least one generalization. It is simply the most efficient way to handle the vast amount of information at our disposal. We have to categorize it, mentally placing each bit into groupings with other bits of information that are very similar. We make mental estimates of behavioral trends based on our own experiences, knowledge, and observations. I doubt that there is anyone who readily has actual quantitative data on hand for every subject under the sun, who can point to such statistics and say definitively, “This is the way things are.” So, we generalize, a habit that is obviously limited by the availability of relevant data.

In theory, it is understood that generalizations do not speak to every person in every situation under every circumstance. Statistics themselves are only probabilities, based on past behavior, predicting what is most likely to occur in the future under similar circumstances. In actual practice, however, we find that the problem with the human makeup is that we often forget this margin of error. On the one hand, we make generalizations and begin to think that this applies to a far larger segment of the population than it actually does. This is, of course, somewhat necessary, as stated previously because if we were to point out every possible exception to the ‘rule’ all the time, no productive communication would ever occur. In many cases a compromise is reached by pointing out only those exceptions that are most relevant to the discussion at hand. But even then it is sometimes all too easy to dismiss them perfunctorily, whether because they don’t fit our generalized model or because we don’t like the implications or because they are too difficult to deal with or for some other reason.

On the other hand, some people hear generalizations that other people make and will either accept them as being all-encompassing or will quickly criticize it for not acknowledging all the exceptions. The former group may quickly grasp the point being made but then generalize said point too far, falling prey to their own naiveté. The latter group all too often _misses_ the point being made in their critical frenzy, falling prey to their own cynical rationality. A balance of both approaches is, as usual, to be found somewhere in the middle — recognizing the point of the generalization while acknowledging the fact that it does not speak to all people everywhere in all circumstances. The generalization is a shortcut of sorts, facilitating the cataloguing of societal trends. The naysayers are the ones who are either insecure or who merely like to argue with any philosophy not their own, or both. (Whether their points are valid or not is often irrelevant, as their approach to criticizing the generalization usually stonewalls further discussion.)

Finding this balance is a continual effort, requiring the mind to always be engaged at all times, sifting and filtering, striving to find the truth of the matter through open discourse and rigorous study. Critical thinking is a strong skill to possess because it allows us to first be able to make better and more accurate generalizations and then to be able to reason through other generalizations and critique them for their accuracy. It is a difficult task, to be sure, but one well worth undertaking.

What’s black and white and gray all over?

Truth. Well, sort of. Honestly, I think that all truth is actually very much black and white, and if it seems to be more of a gray issue, it is simply a demonstration of the limitations of human
knowledge and understanding. Some truths are really very basic, very cut-and-dried, things like, “Gravity is what holds me down,” and “If I touch this hot stove, I’ll get burned.” Others often seem to be purely black and white and end up looking more gray the closer the individual looks. The trouble is that so many things in life involve levels of complexity that quickly overwhelm the capacity of the human mind to process. Human behaviors may seem relatively
straightforward, and we may think we understand the motivation for why one does something, only to find out upon breaking the issue down that we really don’t understand it at all (or, at least, as much as we thought we did). Even the person involved in the behavior itself may not fully understand everything that goes into their own motivation, which is often, I believe, why there is so much confusion in so many people’s lives.

It is so very easy to fall into the trap of using stereotypes and generalizations as definitive answers for any topic or issue. The trouble is that they are only ever just guidelines, general statements of human behavior. People do A because of B. This group will react in such-and-such a way because of such-and-such motivations. There’s your black and white. The gray is examining individual motivations in said groups. Ultimately you will (typcially) find that every individual acted in a similar way for similar, yet different, reasons. And that is where you find that the strength of stereotypes and generalizations to describe behavior breaks down. The irony is that the generalization doesn’t actually generalize all that well. Every individual within the group proves to be the exception to the rule. People will judge an entire group based solely on a stereotype (e.g. “Christians are horrible people because they are so judgmental.”) without ever taking the time to learn and understand that so often the stereotype doesn’t
apply to nearly as many individuals as one might think. Stereotypes and generalizations do an adequate, though ultimately very limited, job of describing group behavior (though perhaps not the motivations behind said behavior) but do a less than adequate job of describing individual
behavior within said group (duh, right?). Clearly, the complexities of the human psyche make it seem as though the truth of the issue is an issue of grayness.

Limitations of knowledge and understanding can gray-out truth. Deliberate action to gray-out truth is an additional factor. There are some who feel threatened by truth. These are individuals who wish to live their lives in their own way and are only free to do so because the ‘truth’ of their lives is appropriately gray enough to let them interpret it however they see fit. These are
the sort who, as soon as an individual begins to try to make sense out of the grayness and move it more toward black-and-whiteness, are quick to try to discredit the individual or to introduce a new level of complexity to the issue in an effort to keep the issue within a
comfortable level of gray. In other words, they deliberately sabotage the effort to achieve understanding. In doing so, they are able to remain within their own comfort zone and continue living life as they see fit because, for them, truth is whatever you make of it.

Is it any wonder that our society is in the place in which we find it? Religion and politics are topics in which it seems nearly impossible to know what is true because such things as debates about semantics, character defamations, complex contributors to situations and behaviors get in the way of making sense out of the gray. Science, as well, often ends up in the realm of the gray, with one study proving a finding where another study disproves the same finding. And in all places, personal and political motivations muddy the waters appropriately so that it seems that the truth can never be truly known, only guessed at, only interpreted, only approximated. Postmodernism, political correctness, and ‘tolerance’ are the results, a dwelling in the land of the gray with black-and-white, clear-cut truth little more than a pipe dream to those who wish to know it.