And Americans generalize. We like to do that sort of thing, especially about our betters in Europe. And our tendency to do so has gotten under the skin of one of our British commenters.
Last Friday, in various comments on Dymphna’s post about a thwarted honor killing in Denmark, Old Peculier took exception to some of the things that were said about the British:
…as I often say on Jihadwatch, I wish American posters, when talking about the UK — about which there is much to criticise — would make some attempt at getting just a few of their facts right.
…What I dislike is sweeping generalisations made by Americans and other foreigners who have very little knowledge of what they are talking about.
…Perhaps I have been reading JW too long, but I get fed up with Americans saying Britain is lost to dhimmitude, often on the base of a story that turns out not to be true about piggy banks being banned somewhere. Most American posters there confuse what is written in The Guardian and the BBC with what ordinary people think. This is the equivalent of us thinking that you all think like Michael Moore or Ward Churchill, and is perfectly ludicrous.
…sweeping generalisations do not help. In this particular case, the implication was that the UK does nothing about honour killings. That is absolute nonsense. As I said above, honour killings are regularly prosecuted, treated as murder like any other killings with no “dhimmi” allowances for “culture” and the police have recently begun to treat this as a special category of murder and set up a task force to deal with it.
…while there are problems in the UK that should not be underestimated, the wild generalisations that come out of the US are just plain silly, and, to be honest, smack of Schadenfreude.
I’ll leave aside the fact that Old Peculier is carrying resentments about Jihad Watch over here to Gates of Vienna. I’ll even leave aside the specific generalizations she objects to.
Instead, I’ll pose the question. “What’s wrong with making generalizations?”
A tide of anti-Semitism rose throughout Germany and other parts of Europe during the 1930s.
There, that’s a pretty commonplace generalization, wouldn’t you say? A useful historical summary, widely accepted, and objectionable to very few people.
Racial hatred and discrimination caused suffering for black people in the United States for a hundred years after the end of the Civil War.
There’s another one that most people would not disagree with.
Then what’s wrong with the next one?
Elected officials and civil servants in Britain seem willing to overlook the possibility that many “accidents” and “suicides” of young Muslim women in Britain are, in fact, honor killings.
I see three reasons to object to this statement and not the other ones:
|1.||It addresses what is happening in the present. The first two examples I cited deal with issues that have receded far enough into the past to have a common historical consensus, at least in the mainstream. But the third example generalizes on the basis of current events, using incomplete information which is still being gathered, and addresses controversial issues that are still unfolding.|
|2.||The generalization is being made by an American about the British and events in Britain. I am therefore not qualified to say such a thing, and am being impertinent in doing so.|
|3.||Finally, the facts do not support the statement. Counterfactual instances can be adduced to refute it, possibly including statistics.|
I categorically reject all three of these arguments.
|1.||The generalizations of history arise contemporaneously with the events themselves. The historical judgments about the Six-Day War, for example, arose gradually in newspapers and periodicals during and immediately after the war. I remember reading them as op-eds in the newspapers of the time; they now form part of an accurate historical summary of the events.|
There’s no reason we can’t generalize about currently unfolding events, and revise the generalization as new facts come in.
|2.||This is a version of the notorious “Chicken Hawk” argument, and I’ll have none of it. If I keep myself well-informed about places I have never visited, I am perfectly capable of generalizing about them.|
I’ve never been to India or Pakistan, but wrote extensively about the Great Jihad in those countries after a lot of reading on the topic. When I posted, I expected (and received) correction from commenters who knew more than I did, and revised my writing accordingly.
As I became fluent in my topic, my generalizations received fewer objections from my readers.
|3.||There are indeed facts to support the generalization; Dymphna cited some in her response to Old Peculier. They are unpleasant and discomfiting, and rely on statistics and induction, but they are facts. I remember reading in one (British) source that as many as 1,500 recent accidents and suicides may be disguised honor killings.|
I’m willing to accept counterfactual evidence against this generalization, if it can be found; but it’s evidence that’s important, and not simply a dislike of generalizations, or Americans, or — God forbid! — American generalizations.
I spent my formative youth in England, in the late 1960s. That’s how Dymphna knew that “Old Peculier” was a type of beer brewed by Theakston’s: I told her that Theakston’s had been my favorite beer when I lived in Yorkshire (as I recall, “Old Peculier” is a stout; I preferred a bitter).
One of the things I noticed when I lived in England was the awful, ignorant generalizations about Americans that passed for common knowledge among the British. It wasn’t just that they were the basis of insults and prejudice; many times friendly and well-meaning people were simply very ignorant about things American.
When I returned to America I found that the reverse was true: Americans tended to be quite ignorant about the British, basing their ideas on stereotypes and shallow media information. The main distinction was that Anglophilia was much more likely among ignorant Americans than Yankophilia was among ignorant Brits.
Since I have been almost forty years out of England, I am reluctant to write in depth about British affairs. I’m qualified to write about British politics and popular culture from “Carnaby Street” days, the time of Harold Wilson and Ted Heath, when there were still shillings and pence. I was well-informed about what was going on politically in those times, since I kept up with the news in the Times and the Guardian (which was still the Manchester Guardian back then, not yet having become the national mouthpiece of the extremist Islam-loving Left), and had plenty of rousing pub discussions with my friends.
When I returned for a visit to Yorkshire in 2002, and met with those same friends after more than thirty years of absence, I tiptoed gingerly around political topics. I knew from a quick glance at the headlines in newspapers that George W. Bush was regarded in Britain very differently from the way most Americans would see him. It was as if the most extreme Bush-bashing from CBS News and CNN International and Daily Kos had been extracted and purified for the British news media, and had become the only information available. I had neither the time nor the inclination to attempt the necessary re-education of the good people I was talking to.
However, what my friends did volunteer was this: political correctness is ubiquitous, stifling, and out of control in Britain. They told me in near-whispers — even though there was no one but a barmaid close by — that you could lose your job if you used the wrong word for an immigrant foreigner. A shop assistant might face legal consequences if she called her customer “love”, which used to be a common (and charming) practice in that part of the country.
Mind you, these are not “facts”. I can’t cite statistics, or provide documentation for them. But they were told to me by real people, who believed them to be true.
To be generally specific, so do I.