Monday, February 20, 2006

ambiguous collectives revisited

Returning to the topic of ambiguous collectives, there is another example that is rather frequent these days. It seems as if many collectivist minded individuals want to throw all Muslims together and refer to them collectively as "they", then condemn them all for the actions carried out by a few individuals who happen to be Muslims. Not only is such a thing stupid, but it can also be dangerous.

James Landrith addresses this specific example of the ambiguous collective in this Rational Review editorial. Notice in the following excerpt how he uses quotation marks when referring to the pro-war "libertarians" who engage in this fallacious practice:
The choice of words by some "libertarians" are interesting. For instance, constantly referring to Muslims in general as "they" and then assigning collective guilt to "they" for actions committed by specific individuals or small groups. "They" didn't burn Danish missions. Specific individual Muslims burned Danish missions. "They" didn't fly planes into the World Trade Center towers. Specific individual Muslims flew planes into the World Trade Center towers. It is fascinating to me that some of my fellow "libertarians" are so eager to engage in gross generalizations, rather than see the distinction between thousands of SOME vs. 1.6 billion of THEY.

I sure see the distinction. It isn't hidden. And it isn't complicated. Why are there suddenly special rules that require Muslims to be treated as less than worthy of the same individuality granted other human beings? Of course, not being prone to promoting simplistic generalizations I see 1.6 billion individuals, some of whom suffer from group-think, and some who don't. Some who live in despotic regimes and some who don't. Some who have poor educations, some who don't. Some who live in the Middle East, and some who don't. Some who subscribe to violence and hatred and some who don't.

Call me "simplistic" if it makes you feel better, but I just don't promote group guilt or assign blame to 1.6 billion individuals on the basis of the actions of a small group of individuals. Should all members of the United States military be blamed for the actions of those who lost their military bearing and violated Geneva Convention restrictions at Abu Ghraib? If we apply the logic of some "libertarians", surely so. Should we label all men rapists on the basis that some of them are? If we apply the group blame philosophy presented by some "libertarians", yes we should. Shall we affix the designation of child molester to all priests on the basis that some of them have been identified as such? Sure, that is the logic of generalizations that strip whole classes of humanity of their individuality, relegating them to a status lower than that of the person making the generalization.

And that is usually the whole point.


Blogger KipEsquire said...

This is a joke, right?

Let me see if I understand Landrith correctly: It's not okay to dismiss "all Muslims" as a "they," but it's perfectly okay to dismiss "all libertarians who dismiss all Muslims" as a "they"?


8:34 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Let me see if I understand Landrith correctly: It's not okay to dismiss "all Muslims" as a "they," but it's perfectly okay to dismiss "all libertarians who dismiss all Muslims" as a "they"?

Landrith is addressing individuals who dismiss "all Muslims" as a "they" by means of attributing the actions and beliefs of a few onto each and every individual who is a Muslim even if many (or most) of those individuals don't engage in those actions or share those beliefs. In other words, he is addressing specific people engaging in a rather gross example of the ambiguous collective fallacy by using the collective term "they" to dismiss a group of individuals who don't necessarily have anything in common other than being Muslim. Not all Muslims think and act the same, therefore it is not right to simply lump each and every Muslim together for the sake of criticizing the actions of a few individuals.

He is only addressing individuals who engage in the practice stated above. He is not guilty of the same practice since he is not lumping all libertarians together and dismissing them all because of the actions of a few bad apples.

He is being specific about who he is criticizing - individuals who claim to be libertarian and dismiss all Muslims as "they". Nothing ambiguous or misleading about that.

Am I missing something here?

9:26 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

I just reread the column. In it, Landrith refers to "a specific set of simplistic 'libertarians'" or "some 'libertarians'". He never used the word "they" or any similar word. He appeared to be quite careful about who he was addressing in order to avoid any problems.

9:36 PM  
Blogger James Landrith said...

Thanks for mention freeman. I appreciate it. From a brief scan of his blog, it appears that Mr. Esquire's problem with me is based primarily on the fact that he is one of the "libertarians" who proudly engages in collectivist labeling.

I'd have to say, "pathetic" indeed.

12:47 PM  

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