The gift of generalizations


The other day one of my closest friends called to ask a simple question… he read something I’d written about those who were liberals as young people and have remained virtually unchanged by the passage of time even having achieved senior citizen status.

In  short form I’ve used the following quip since my “conversion” in the 80s, “Friends seem surprised that I’m not the liberal I was in my early 20s; I simply reply, ‘I grew up’.”  

“Should I be offended?” he asked.

Fair question, and one easily explained from my point of view.

I offered: “It’s a generalization; for example in my personal experience at least a third of those working as psychologists and psychotherapists shouldn’t be in the business.”

“I’d say, 50%,” he interjected.

I laughed and agreed… and I was in the field 20 years; I didn’t take offense and in fact agreed that the generalization made the point about today’s mental health professionals.

Lawyer jokes anyone?

I believe I am on safe ground opining that as we get older, we must find our way in the world, not simply bend it to our will; we grow more experienced, wiser, more risk-averse and more willing to play nice with others. But at the same time we review our lives to see what has served us well, what works and doesn’t work…. in our experience.

To me that says by necessity of age we are on the whole more conservative. Any number of polls from almost any era will confirm this simple assertion.

Winston Churchill is often erroneously credited with the following:

“If you are 20 and not a liberal, you have no heart; if you are 40 and not a conservative, you have no head.”

That, a generalization, sums up the assertion which I often make.  I accept that my 40 years of age and experience have overwritten that which I believed in my first quarter-century, praise be.

But is it invariably true of all “liberals”?

Of course not… it is a generalization and generalizations are useful in moving the argument quickly along to the specifics one wants to discuss. Were it not for generalizations we would founder in debate, getting nowhere fast as the saying goes.

Even more clear is that “all” and “never” and “totally” and other such modifiers seem to bind the speaker to an absolute.

“All Southerners are rednecks.”

Of course that’s not literally true, however “most” embrace the title and wouldn’t argue the point.

Such generalizations get us quickly to the point (Southerners are different from Yankees), and then we can begin to debate the issue(s).

But too often I find this “gotcha” society is quick to cry foul, claim offense and usually prevent the greater point from coming to debate.

Nowhere is this more evident than in current politics, which ironically has little to do with our political process; by contrast the Lincoln-Douglas Debates are Shakespeare to today’s Danielle Steele.

Mitt Romney suffered this idiocy recently when he said, “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor — we have a safety net there,” he said. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich — they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

Not a damned thing wrong with the statement in delivery, content or context, but his enemies in both parties immediately sprang: “Romney doesn’t care about the poor!!”  

This (among one hundred other reasons) proves we are no longer a serious country.

So instead of talking about the needs of the middle class — the sputtering engine that drives this nation — we are treated to day upon day of small time intellects trying to throw a completely innocent statement and its owner under the propaganda bus.

And that enlightens the voters how?

So, generalizations are not just useful but necessary to establish a foundation for the debate; sadly many people (unlike my friend) do not give their fellow debater the opportunity to respond or clarify before unnecessarily condemning them and ending the exchange.

In this age of text, e-mails and in the demise of the quaint practice of writing letters, this kind of anti-communication is pandemic. Simply, people do not write anymore, therefore they don’t think much… that is, in a soundly constructed, easy to follow argument as we were expected to do in “term papers.”

I write every day, have for most of my life; one of these days I’ll get it right. But unfortunately, very few do this anymore and it is telling in debate, most especially in political discussions which can and do quickly swerve out of control. If you cannot think well, you cannot write well… simple as that.

I see it daily on FB and other mass com venues–especially talking head TV shows. Bill Buckley’s PBS show Firing Line (1966–1999) was the epitome of spirited debate on an intellectual level that has never been duplicated. Now all we have is someone like James Carville yelling over Sean Hannity.

That style has been adopted by most on the committed left, unwilling to engage much past the level of “it’s Bush’s fault,” or “Rush Limbaugh is fat.”

We see this now even at the highest levels of government.

Obama is on record as having written off the predominately white middle class American and instead has cast his 2012 lot with the welfare generations, malcontents, radicals, socialists, looters and anarchists who demand their cut without lifting an earning finger.

There was no discussion; hell, he even bypasses Congress… the House of the People, and rules in the main by executive edict, then turns on his opponents, screeching that they are divisive and unwilling to compromise.

But then, he never goes beyond generalizations.

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About Gary Alexander

Volunteer coordinator for veterans support network in North Texas. Now retired from his private psychotherapy practice, I specialized in the diagnosis and treatment posttraumatic stress, working with victim assistance programs, veterans and the Veterans Administration for over 20 years. After being wounded in action in Vietnam, I was medically retired from the Marine Corps and know first hand many of the readjustment difficulties and psychological stresses experienced by today's OIF and OEF veterans. I am available, at minimal cost, to speak at your functions on several subjects including veterans issues, Vietnam, the Medal of Honor, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and critical incident debriefings.
This entry was posted in Family, friends, Humor, Politics, Psychology, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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