Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dots, and the mental pencil required to connect them

Dot-connection is a two-edged sword (or double-ended pencil, to so speak).

It can be either an unwarranted activity, entailing an unwarranted (or flawed) conclusion; or it can be a pertinent activity, entailing a reasonable conclusion.

The problem for those who think (and are convinced) that they have a fairly definite pattern or picture manifested by a galaxy of dots is that the result never quite succeeds in transcending relative, subjective opinion. John looks at a cluster of dots and sees a dog; Peter looks at the same cluster of dots and sees a rhinoceros; while Audrey looks at the same dots and thinks John and Peter are nuts (or have had one too many whiskey sours) -- there's nothing there but a random collection of dots, she says.

The problem is further complicated by sociological and ideological factors, whereby a trend may develop in society that tends to cause a significant number of individuals to resist certain dot-connections, even when those connections seem to become sufficiently manifest to warrant them -- though, alas, even the most seemingly rational connection of dots may never quite escape the objection of the subjective opinion, which tends to bolster those who resist the connection for additional ideological reasons.

A deeper complication lurks within the general problem: when the dots may seem numerous enough -- and clustered enough -- to some percipients to warrant drawing a pattern of generalization out of them, but nevertheless manifestly represent only a very small minority amongst the matter that constitutes the overall connection being made.

I.e., let's imagine a group consisting of one million members, spread out around the U.S.A.

Let us then say that Peter begins to notice that among that million, individuals here, there and everywhere are going postal and shooting people in public places. Even if the number of such individuals seems like a lot to Peter, and even though they seem to be randomly occurring all over the U.S.A., unless that number is well over 50% of the one million, Western people are going to tend to resist condemning that group and all its members as a whole, because the West has over millennia developed the ethical principle of considering people "innocent until proven guilty" combined with the general principle of avoiding "painting with a broad brush" which would, perforce, tend to force innumerable people presumed innocent into the net of "guilt by association".

These general principles are then further buttressed when the members of a particular group have over time become endowed by the dominant culture with a certain additional ideological favoritism -- to wit: if they are deemed to be an "ethnic" people, then white Westerners will tend to be extra cautious, often to the point of irrational stubbornness, about connecting dots that seem to lead to a generalized condemnation, or to policies that would seem to have the effect, or would seem to presume, such a generalized condemnation.

Such is the problem which Muslims, motivated by their Islam, are causing the West.

And in the face of the seas, the oceans, and the veritable mountains of damning data about Muslims, most Westerners for one reason or another lack the mental pencil (as Hugh Fitzgerald once put it) to connect the dots.

No comments: