Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The tyranny of abstraction

"Humanity", "the human species", "we", "us": abstractions, psychological constructs, tools of thought.

It is, of course, difficult (impossible) to communicate about anything of any complexity without resorting to abstractions. But too often the abstraction, a linguistic convenience, is fitted with bone and flesh and sent into the world where it terrorizes and torments the very things it is meant to embrace.

Abstractions don’t have needs or goals or feelings or dreams. They can’t know joy, they can’t suffer. The human race cannot know pain. A nation cannot know fear or cold. A family cannot starve. A community cannot grieve. 

People, individuals, you and me and him and her, all 7+ billion potential targets of the pronouns you and me and him and her—and all of the other uncountable individual living beings for which we don’t have adequate pronouns—are what is important here. 

There is nothing else.

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