Sunday, July 16, 2006

I’m Generally Specific

I’m frothing at the mouth!Scotsmen are stingy. Russians are drunk. Italians are hot-blooded. Sri Lankans are… Well, I’m sure they engage in some stereotypical Sri Lankan behavior with which I’m not yet familiar.

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.


Voyager said...

Having lived in the USA for many years and around Europe I am stunned by how little Britons know of Germany and how weird some German ideas of Britain are.

I find Americans have no understanding of parliamentary systems and Britons no understanding of the congressional system.

What is startling is just how expensively ignorance is purchased in various Education systems.

The biggest problem in the US is a distorted, even simplified notion of history and geography. A caricatured notion of British history with silly notions on say Neville Chamberlain forgetting that on 1. Sept 1939 Hitler invaded Poland; 3. Sept Chamberlain declared war on Germany 5 Sept USA declared Neutrality.

From American commentators you would never know that it was not until 7 Dec 1941 when Hitler declared war on the USA that the US felt able to join in and Britain no longer had to pay CASH for weapons to fight or to sell its investments to get Dollars.

Somewhere history gets distorted ie. it is not properly taught.

I agree that their is some Krauthammer-induced misinformation propagated in the US about Muslims in Britain. There are some problems usually caused by the sort of Secular Humanists that had Prayers removed from US Schools, prevent students at public universities studying Theology; and try to remove Christian symbols from public areas.

This was all accepted by Americans for some reason though I think it is Communist like East Germany or the USSR - now these Secular Humanists try to do this in Britain "because that's how the Americans do it"

WE got Comprehensive Schools so we could enjoy the harmony of the American High School where everyone is classless and divinely happy.

We have followed so many half-baked ideas manufactured on Us campuses that it gets really, really tiresome. American Churches decide women should be priests; Britain must have women priests; Americans want women bishops, Britain must have women bishops; Americans want gay bishops......we stutter.

The political correctness that is strangling free thought in Britain was imported from the United States and Canada; Multiculturalism came from Canada and Quebec via the US into Britain.

We ran a global empire with Muslims and Hindus in the British and Indian Army and they fought and died for us in two World Wars, but now we are told we must copy American cities and how they deal with Blacks.

We did not have your race problems until we tried your solutions.

We did not have your education problems until we tried your solutions.

The simple fact is that when Americans write glibly about Britain you are looking at a country which has had US doctrines imposed whether sociological claptrap or free market dogma andit has shredded the pillars upon which this society was formed.

Oh yes, the EU has added to these woes.

If Americans could please research and see what exactly is going on it would be super. For the record, I support George Bush and not only lived in the Us but have an Ivy League Grad School education, oh, and i lived in Texas.

Just for the record. When I lived in TX I was told terrorism could never happen in the US because Americans had guns and Europeans didn't. That was before Timothy McVeigh tested the thesis, or anyone had made either of the two attempts to blow up the WTC.

It is the simple assertions that irritate - like those who thought Iraq would be easy with a quick knock-out battle and home for the baseball. Life is very messy and one thing you learn after running empires is that you get stuck and have to work your way out over decades or else the whole pack of cards falls down.

It is how the British got stuck in India after kicking out the Portuguese and the French; and then having to rescue the East India Company by nationalising it after it lost control in 1857 - and it took another 90 years for the British Government to extract itself, though it tried in 1935.

Life happens.

Now I ask you a question. If somewhere in Europe Muslims were rounded up and put on cattle trucks, taken into camps, gassed and cremated; would Americans applaud or condemn ?

I ask to see what it is you think Europeans should do .

Baron Bodissey said...


It seems to me that the bulk of your comment could be summarized as follows: Most people in most countries are woefully ignorant about other countries.

Or even more succinctly: Ignorance is rife.

I can’t help but agree.

But one quibble: Why did the British borrow such noxious ideas from America? Since multiculturalism and political correctness are a bane propagated by intellectuals (or pseudo-intellectuals), what in the world made British intellectuals, who hold American ideas in such knee-jerk contempt (a generalization I make based on my own personal experience, BTW), import these ideas and make them their own? I think they are really European ideas, what with Deconstructionism being spearheaded by all those French poseurs.

And that brings me to your last question:

If somewhere in Europe Muslims were rounded up and put on cattle trucks, taken into camps, gassed and cremated; would Americans applaud or condemn ?

My answer: it would depend on where it happened in Europe, and which Americans were responding.

Just for fun, I’ll concentrate on American academics and media folks. If it happened in Germany, it would be seen as a recrudescence of Nazism, and be roundly condemned. If it happened in France, it would become the latest intellectual trend and be wildly applauded.

Just kidding… sort of.

Exile said...

Hmmm... bit of a hornets nest, this one. I remember my father telling me about newspapers. He said "Take away half of what you read. One third of what's left is true". He was probably right. I think one should be very careful if one is going to generalise on the basis of what one reads in the MSM. I have never found a more uncertain source on which to form an opinion.

And that is probably true on BOTH sides of the Atlantic ocean.

If we are, for example, to believe the Michael Moores and their flock of worshippers, then things are really bad in the US of A.

Here's a piece of dubious piece of logic to think about:
If you are what you eat... then you think to be true, what you are told to be true.

X said...

The most anglophile america I know had very odd ideas about this country. She paid London a visit, and I've since educated the worst out of her, yet she's still very much in love with the place... god knows why.

Wally Ballou said...

Really - for a German (as I guess V-ger is) to blame the US for leftist dogma is mind-boggling. After all, the godfather of modern American leftism was Herbert Marcuse, and he wasn't from Peoria, Jack.

Regardless of all that nonsense, the thing that annoys me is that - given that Americans are ignorant of and prejudiced about their global neighbors - EVERY non-US person in the world thinks he knows all about US culture. I have personally been "set straight" on what the US is and what Americans believe, by Brazilians, Brits, Germans and I-don't-know-what-all. At least we don't have the illusion of understanding.

Its because they are saturated with "news" about events in the US, and by US commercial culture, which gives them a twisted and ersatz view of America - which they mistake for the straight poop.

X said...

Actually you'd be surprised at the number of Americans I've met who don't understand how their own political system works. Admittedly, most of them were to the left of the spectrum...

There's plenty of people here who know bugger all about how our parliament and government worked (aye, past tense; it mostly works no longer thans to the EU) yet they feel confident enough to proclaim on its inner workings, before confidently pontificating on how they'd make it better.

I've since come to the condlusion that most people are stupid. I don't assume it on meeting them, but stupidity tends to reveal itself over time.

Wally Ballou said...

baron -

"Scotsmen are stingy. Russians are drunk. Italians are hot-blooded. Sri Lankans are… "

You left out the Irish (coward!)

Zonka said...

There is nothing wrong with making generalizations as such, as they make it easier to make a point. The only problem is when you're sticking to the generalizations when they are proven to be incorrect, or failing to listen to counterarguments or when you're unable to back up your generalizations with more detail/facts when challenged...

Zonka said...

You left out the Irish (coward!)

The Irish can't spell... they believe that “Dublin” is spelled: Baile Átha Cliath ;-)

Dymphna said...


I've found it to be the case quite often that when you generalize and are accused of doing so, any anecdoctes, statistics, or information you bring to the argument to back up your generalization is simply ignored while your interlocutor continues to natter on about your original sin of "generalizing." It gets old.

Dymphna said...


The Baron was going to mention the Irish but my humility forbade him bring up the fact that the Irish saved civilization... brings the British brain to the boil too quickly, you see.

Zonka said...

Dymphna wrote: I've found it to be the case quite often that when you generalize and are accused of doing so, any anecdoctes, statistics, or information you bring to the argument to back up your generalization is simply ignored while your interlocutor continues to natter on about your original sin of "generalizing." It gets old.

In such cases it does get old, but it also makes the person look stupid, and in such cases I would take the Mark Twain solution: "I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person"... and walk away from the discussion, if they can't get past their first impression how can you hope to change their mind by adding more information!

Charro99 said...

“I realize that I am generalizing, but as is often the case when I generalize, I don’t care.”

--Dave Barry

I agree with the second paragraph of Cato’s first post 100%. I have a few educated, thoughtful, intelligent European and British friends, and they sure don’t mind holding forth on how things are in America, even though they’ve never been here. Their knowledge is based entirely on European “news” (even worse than the American variety), and of course, Hollywood products. Lord help ‘em.

I had the good fortune to spend a year in England “studying” at the University of Sunderland (called "the Oxford of the North", but not very often) back in the early 90’s. It was probably the most fun year of my life. As far as I know, I am still a member in good standing of the NHS (National Hat Society).

And to Old Peculier, I say this: I would consider cutting my arm off HERE (pointing to left forearm) for access to Theakston XB – it’s the best beer on the planet, and I’ve never seen it on this side of the Sink.

Hail Britannia!

Wally Ballou said...

Charro99 - Thanks for quoting Dave Barry. He often says it best.

I have bought Theakston's (not draft, natch, but in bottles) many times - it's quite expensive, but pure nectar (as you know). It is carried by many Whole Foods markets here in the East. I'm pretty sure I also saw it at Wegman's. Save your arm for hoisting pints.

Wally Ballou said...

Whoops - you're talking about XB (speed reading again) - not sure if I've seen that. GO ahead and hack your arm after all.

Baron Bodissey said...

Theakston's news --

When I was there in 2002, I made the pilgrimage to Masham (the home village of Theakston's) and drank 2 pints in the hotel bar in honor of the occasion. Wherever I went in Yorkshire, I drank it if I could find it. The draught version is so much better than bottled that it's hard to describe.

Theakston's is (or was) a family-owned brewery. One of the younger brothers, I believe, was the black sheep, broke away, and started his own microbrewery. There are various ales available now (the names escape me) that are comparable with the parent brew.

There's no place like the Yorkshire dales...

X said...

Surely not. Unfortunately it's full of yorkshiremen. :D

Baron Bodissey said...


I will quote an aphorism (one whose significance will not escape you) from my countrymen in the idyll of my youth:

"Wogs begin at Settle."

Mr. Spog said...

Scott: Your discussion-board Britons may indeed be atypical. A poll published last month (see e.g. this Guardian report) indicated that 63% of Britons had a favorable view of Muslims, down only slightly from 67% in 2004, before the Tube bombings. Fewer non-Muslims in Britain regarded Muslims as violent than in Spain, Germany, France, or the U.S. Meanwhile, British Muslims reciprocate all this apparent goodwill by having the most anti-Western attitudes in Europe.

My interpretation of these figures is that the "British Brainwashing Corporation" and allied media have been doing a fine job.

Voyager said...

Cato there is a perfect illustration - because an Englishman mentions Germany - Cato decides he must be German. In Cato's mind only Germans could know about Germany ......QED

what in the world made British intellectuals, who hold American ideas in such knee-jerk contempt (a generalization I make based on my own personal experience, BTW)

They studied Marcuse, they did graduate degrees in the US, they set up Sociology Departments innew Universities like Kent at Canterbury, and Warwick etc.

They wanted something to peddle for The Plowden Report, or the Warnock Report or lots of worthy quangoes.

They wanted to be "modern" and "trendy" in the 1960s and not "stuffy" and "old" and "class-ridden" like Britain but to copy the US and Sweden. It made the expansion of State Power almost a public virtue to ensure "diversity", "Equality", "opportunity", and higher economic growth, a more harmonious, fairer, socially-just society.

Voyager said...

My interpretation of these figures is that the "British Brainwashing Corporation" and allied media have been doing a fine job.

Let me set the questions and I'll deliver the answers

Voyager said...

Seems pretty much a home grown phemomena to me ...

No idea what you are talking about but you quote Civitas which is hardly impartial.

If you have a group of people who want to plan society they have to look for concepts and programs - they came printed in similar English from the USA, and even Sweden could manage good English - so they absorbed the message that Socialist Utopia could be build with public spending, laws to make the populace "moral", and a group of Guardians to supervise.

The idea of using laws to make people "good" is the basis of all the laws which now clutter the courts

Wally Ballou said...

Sorry, Voyager, I decided you were not an Englishman because your use of the English language seems stilted, disjointed and unnatural, despite your "ivy league graduate education" - not because you mentioned Germany. Just trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Misplaced compassion. Your fantasy about the great US conspiracy to undermine European culture is too deep-seated to argue with.

Aldamir said...

The main generalisation that I object to on this site is the constant "Europe is lost to Islam" theme. There are plenty of appeasers of radical Islam in Europe, but as yet they have not "lost" the continent.

I would add that I do not know of any European writer that goes to America and writes lots of popularising America bashing books. Most America bashers in Europe get their information from Michael Moore. Most Europeans that actually go to America for any length of time seem to come back with a more positive view of the place.

A further interesting issue is the mass media. Unfortunately political correctness has the British media largely under its control. I have both BBC and CNN. The BBC is that bad that I have to rely on CNN to get any idea of what the Israeli side is in the Middle East. The BBC decided long ago that the Lebanon was a "collective punishment" and their broadcasts have reflected that.

Wally Ballou said...

I agree that the tone on this blog and many other (most)?) blogs tends to be unceasingly bleak, hypercritical and I don't know - millenarian (chiliastic?) -

All the wheels are constantly coming off, the Islamists are world-devouring supermen, our domestic opponents are ravening monsters intent on destroying our world, and there is no hope in us.

I like Lames Lileks' current bleat - the last portion of it - today a lot. It expresses a point of view that might properly, though confusingly, be called "liberal" and it is a spirit all too rare in the blogoverse.

"your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. "


Baron Bodissey said...


I'm afraid that you're right about the "Europe is doomed" tone here, but it is set mostly by our commenters, and thus not under my control.

The Danes have made me quite optimistic, and you'll notice that all our redular Danish commenters (kepiblanc, Exile, Zonka, and Phanarath come to mind) are quite optimistic about their country. When we post the news from Denmark, it's almost always good.

But even the ever-optimistic Zonka thinks that the Danes have to go through a rough period of 5-10 years before things will really turn around.

Don Miguel said...

Here's my two cents:

After living five years in Europe I found that both sides of the Atlantic have their share of ignorance about the other side. I get the distinct impression that the level of education is dropping on both sides (or at least becoming more ideological) because younger people seem to care less about facts and logic, and more about postmodern crap in which to base their opinions.

BTW, as for generalizations, most Latin Americans have a much better grasp of the U.S. (even those who have never visited) than Europeans do.

Oh, and one other thing: way too many people believe way too much of what the media tells them. My experience (directly and indirectly) with the media in several countries tells me that only actors as a group know less about what they talk about than journalists do.

Voyager said...

I get the distinct impression that the level of education is dropping on both sides (or at least becoming more ideological) because younger people seem to care less about facts and logic,

So very, very, true. They are all Masters of Unstructured Thought with Diplomas in Sentimentalism

Voyager said...

Sorry, Voyager, I decided you were not an Englishman because your use of the English language seems stilted, disjointed and unnatural, despite your "ivy league graduate education" -

How wrong you were Cato........faulty intelligence I would say or simply lack thereof.

As we say "Must Try Harder"

Vol-in-Law said...

I think Britain is slowly waking up to honour killings and starting to address them, rather than the previous tendency to sweep them under the carpet. The big problem is that the police have tended to ignore crimes taking place entirely within a particular ethnic minority; a toxic mix of multiculturalism and old-fashioned racism makes it easy for them to ignore such crimes.

Wally Ballou said...

Vger -

I'm not noticably lacking in intelligence, o pompous one, but I am a victim of one of those ignorant Yank stereotypes - I expect Brits to be articulate. More fool me.

Citing me as an example of on ignorant yank who can't tell a limey from a hun was itself ignorant - you imagine one should be able to intuit your nationality? How? Not by your diction. By your truly unique historical fantasies? they defy classification. By your self-chosen blog name? Looks German to me (but I'm just an ignorant Yank). Be careful or I will infect you with anti-Christain multi-cultural propaganda. My master Krauthammer commands me to do so.

3Case said...

When I lived in New Canaan, CT I could get “Old Peculier” at a conveience store just into New York. Great stuff.

Other than that, generally speaking, everybody generalizes, generally.