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Generalising to They

This is my starting point. Many things are named by humans. Lots of animals have names, and most humans are given a name of one kind or another. In addition, and usefully I might add, groups of things or people are assigned collective names, with various etymologies and references associated to their appropriation as such.

To a greater or lesser extent, with respect to present or historical criticisms, some organisations may be politically corrupt.

Who are they?

Examining the fashion in which an argument uses the term ‘they’ to attribute responsibility is revealing as to political biases. I’m not going to name names, and if any pop into your head you should be able to apply this philosophy without losing your reason; whenever you generalise to ‘they’ you overlook the point of view of the individual.

When I say ‘you’, I mean anyone. I don’t have anyone specific in mind, and neither do I mean everyone collectively, although we are all capable of making incredible accusations.

Take the statement…

‘They are going to put up a tent in the back garden.’

- Hypothetically, it could be employed in an everlasting number of ways for the contingencies of everyday life, and conjure up a multitude of scenarios in the imagination of the reader. However, it is pure fiction. There should be no stance on the moral aspects, because ‘they’ does not refer to anyone in particular, and there is no data on the nature of the would-be tent pitchers.

Each individual member of a group might be intended by the collective reference, but in this case the proposition under analysis has to show that all and every member is predicated in precisely the way described - which is rarely the case outside of entertainment. The content of the categorisation will reflect a degree of irony in respect of how the members do not agree with one another.

They might not agree on where, when, how or why exactly the tent should be put up. In as far as these vagaries exist it is only fair to speak of the group in a loose reference to their practical purposes. Groups are by nature a combination of numerical unity and personal division.

In politics there is always a disagreement in position. Without this, you wouldn’t need a group in the first place. One would do. A group of people share something in common, but to morally colour their identity is to invite resistance to the characterisation.

Where a collective noun is used, it still isn’t discriminating enough to account for the individual - in reality a unit cannot be generalised over.

Only in theory can the part represent the whole, and one member’s words won’t necessarily, or sufficiently, account for the sentiments of every other member of a group.

Therefore we cannot speak for them. We can, in a sense, only speak for ourselves.

 
 

 

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