Wednesday, December 12, 2018

And Disappearing People, Though Only Statistically Speaking

(The title is a pun based on my previous post about how feminists are disappearing men).

When I first came to the US I found the reporting of election results fascinating.  A presidential candidate who got sixty percent of the vote, say, had totally pwned the opposition, had rolled over it!  The country was unanimous!  And from that point onward, the other forty percent was ignored until the next election campaigns began.

I always assumed that this way of looking at large groups of people and their behavior was because of the two-party system and the winner-takes-all principle, and it makes some sense from that angle.  After all, the winner now has the power to speak for all.

Still, the people who voted for the losing candidate persisted in existing, probably persisted in disagreeing with the winner, but they no longer quite counted.  For instance, should the new president make some international move that was almost everywhere viewed as bad, all American voters would be blamed for that move.  Not just those voters who supported him.

There must be a name for this odd disappearance of people, right?  It's common enough and not only in politics. Here's one recent political example I spotted on Twitter*:

I can speculate on the possible reasons for these types of disappearances, or false generalizations, if you wish.  For writers they simplify arguments and make them stronger.  No need to add all those weasel words: some, the majority, a few!  The style of writing benefits from that strength.

Activists can use the generalizations to increase tribal feelings among their own supporters, both by arguing that all the insiders feel the same (right) way and by arguing that all the outsiders consist of a coherent group bent on destroying the insiders**.

But this phenomenon seems to be deeper in our psyches than that.  I see it working in both racism and sexism, in the fear of immigrants and even in the loathing of Republicans by Democrats and vice versa.

I can speculate on the reasons for the ease with which we slip this generalization jacket on, and so can you.  The more interesting question is why it almost always goes unchallenged.


*  I didn't pick that tweet because it would be wrong in some fundamental way (I fully agree with the gist of its meaning), but mostly, because it is otherwise a neutral example.  Had I used gender, race, religion or ethnicity in my example I would have woken up emotions I don't want to come and participate in this discussion. 

In any case, I have committed the very same types of generalizations I discuss in this post.  It seems to be the way our minds tend to go if not forced to go in another direction.  It's quick, it makes a more cumbersome point (that the majority of Nebraskans voted for Trump and may have shot their own foot) in a clear and easy-to-absorb manner.   And what may be more important, it feels right even though it is not.

** (Added later)
This may not be a pure benefit to activists, because that usage can also increase the tribal feelings of those the activists attack, and in particular the tribal feelings of the percentage (whether large or small) which does not agree with whatever the whole group is accused of.  Ironically, using the false generalizations might even make them less false, if people feel their opinions are simply ignored and other opinions stamped on their foreheads.  They might then just go with that.