Other People Are Human Too: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

 

Did you ever get an idea that you couldn’t really see being expressed anywhere, that you thought needed expressing? An idea that struck you as so fundamental and yet had sort of become blurred and faded to the point where it was forgotten. I’ve had such an idea bouncing around in my head for quite a while now, and it has really been starting to bug me, to the point where there’s nothing else for it but to say, ‘Full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes!’ Here goes nothing:

Abstractions are ruining the world. By abstractions, I mean ideas that all meaning and substance has been taken away from but that are put forward as if they are real reflections of people or of things we experience. Most of the stories put forward in movies and sitcoms today are of this kind, from where people have gotten ideas about “love” and romance and how they’re supposed to live their lives. Most of what gets put forward in newspapers and on TV, likewise. We live, lost and confused, amid a cloud of things that exist only as ideas.

Where this really gets to be a problem is where people are treated no longer as people but as abstractions, as things. And you see it more and more and more: Companies that diminish their employees’ dignity with forced social-media publicity shots. Endless selfies playing at real life on Facebook, and only ending up with a sickly parody. And it plays itself out in the way that people increasingly no longer treat other people as people. Where it’s like there’s some thing living rent-free in their heads that has their soul held hostage and doing its bidding. Where they abandon and act in bad faith, or, are simply overwhelmed, and forget that they are dealing with their fellow human beings . . . That other people are human too.

The effect of all this has been a diminishing of each of us and our lives, and a vague yearning for something more, wondering whatever happened to true love, to life, to adventure, to heroes and happy endings — to a life worth living, and everything that goes with it. I see this trend where people stop behaving as human beings towards each other, and I see it taking away the stuff of life itself and, indeed, the stuff that dreams are made of. And I want to do to something to stop it.

That’s my thought, anyway. And it strikes me that in order to reverse something like this — something so far ill-defined, that doesn’t bode well for any of us — it first has to be expressed and articulated. Then we can begin to fight back — within ourselves, and in defending what it is to be human — a caring, self-aware, reflecting being, with a heart to love and to feel and to reach out and lift up all who suffer and all who dream. Because what else is life for but living?

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There are 24 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    Many folks prefer the ersatz parody of life they live. They don’t have to care. They don’t have to hurt. They don’t have to admit that it hurts.

    You cannot change others. You can only change you. You can be authentic. You can try to break through the shells. You can conspire to be that guy who lives by his own rules.

    • #1
    • May 24, 2019, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  2. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    Andrew Miller: Endless selfies playing at real life on Facebook

    This? This is a top quality phrase right here.

    • #2
    • May 24, 2019, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 19 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor

    This topic is certainly worth exploring much more, Andrew. If we create a world of abstractions, we don’t have to take responsibility for what happens. It’s all thoughts manifesting as illusion, and life can be lived at the dream level rather than at the gritty, difficult level. But the beauty (paradoxically) and reward are in the grit and grime; we just need to see it and dig beneath it. Abstractions come and go.

    • #3
    • May 24, 2019, at 11:25 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    Andrew Miller: Abstractions are ruining the world. By abstractions, I mean ideas that all meaning and substance has been taken away from but that are put forward as if they are real reflections of people or of things we experience. Most of the stories put forward in movies and sitcoms today are of this kind, from where people have gotten ideas about “love” and romance and how they’re supposed to live their lives. Most of what gets put forward in newspapers and on TV, likewise. We live, lost and confused, amid a cloud of things that exist only as ideas.

    I think Plato had something to say about this. Something about a cave . . . and shadows . . .

    • #4
    • May 24, 2019, at 11:41 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    I think Plato had something to say about this. Something about a cave . . . and shadows . . .

    Yep. Human nature never changes. Only the things with which we distract ourselves.

    • #5
    • May 24, 2019, at 11:44 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. EJHill Podcaster

    Andrew Miller: Most of the stories put forward in movies and sitcoms today are of this kind, from where people have gotten ideas about “love” and romance and how they’re supposed to live their lives.

    I’m not sure literary representations of love and romance have ever been realistic. Jane Eyre? Romeo and Juliet? General Hospital? Please

    The more insidious representations are the sex acts in porn. Too many men measure the “performance” of their wives with the garbage they see online. It makes them unnecessarily discontented and dissatisfied. 

    • #6
    • May 24, 2019, at 11:49 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. Andrew Miller Member
    Andrew Miller Post author

    EJHill (View Comment):
    I’m not sure literary representations of love and romance have ever been realistic. Jane Eyre? Romeo and Juliet? General Hospital? Please

    Perhaps, but do they pretend to be? 

    • #7
    • May 24, 2019, at 11:52 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    Andrew Miller (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):
    I’m not sure literary representations of love and romance have ever been realistic. Jane Eyre? Romeo and Juliet? General Hospital? Please.

    Perhaps, but do they pretend to be?

    Letsee . . . Romeo and Juliet . . . a couple of teenagers become hopelessly infatuated — “too rash, too unadvised, too sudden” — and when things aren’t going their way, they kill themselves.

    Realistic? Yeah, unfortunately.

    • #8
    • May 24, 2019, at 12:04 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  9. Amy Schley Moderator

    EJHill (View Comment):
    The more insidious representations are the sex acts in porn. Too many men measure the “performance” of their wives with the garbage they see online. It makes them unnecessarily discontented and dissatisfied. 

     You know, in comparing spousal performance to that of porn actors, I feel like the husbands probably have more … uh … shortcomings to worry about than the wives. 

    • #9
    • May 24, 2019, at 1:34 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  10. Henry Castaigne Member

    Moreover, Sergey Ivanovitch’s attitude to the peasants rather piqued Konstantin. Sergey Ivanovitch used to say that he knew and liked the peasantry, and he often talked to the peasants, which he knew how to do without affectation or condescension, and from every such conversation he would deduce general conclusions in favor of the peasantry and in confirmation of his knowing them. Konstantin Levin did not like such an attitude to the peasants. To Konstantin the peasant was simply the chief partner in their common labor, and in spite of all the respect and the love, almost like that of kinship, he had for the peasant—sucked in probably, as he said himself, with the milk of his peasant nurse—still as a fellow-worker with him, while sometimes enthusiastic over the vigor, gentleness, and justice of these men, he was very often, when their common labors called for other qualities, exasperated with the peasant for his carelessness, lack of method, drunkenness, and lying. If he had been asked whether he liked or didn’t like the peasants, Konstantin Levin would have been absolutely at a loss what to reply. He liked and did not like the peasants, just as he liked and did not like men in general. Of course, being a good-hearted man, he liked men rather than he disliked them, and so too with the peasants. But like or dislike “the people” as something apart he could not, not only because he lived with “the people,” and all his interests were bound up with theirs, but also because he regarded himself as a part of “the people,” did not see any special qualities or failings distinguishing himself and “the people,” and could not contrast himself with them. — Anna Karenina Part 3 Chapter 1

    The othering of certain categories of people has been going on for a long time. It is true that people are very different from you. They have very different opinions and mannerisms and you shouldn’t assume that other people are like you are you will make lots of problems for yourself. Individuals vary greatly. But I have read Anna Karenina and the Brother’s Karamazov. At their very core, humans nowadays aren’t all that different from Russians a hundred years ago.

    • #10
    • May 24, 2019, at 1:41 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. Stad Thatcher

    Abstractions used to be entertainment, like “meet-cutes” used in Hollywood romances. It seems as if people nowadays look at movies and other “abstractions” (if I’m using your meaning correctly) as representing common real life, when the truth is it usually doesn’t happen. But like winning the lottery, someone always wins, so abstractions become a chased reality with a low probability of success (like socialism).

    • #11
    • May 24, 2019, at 1:50 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. Aaron Miller Member

    At the heart of defensive driving is forgetting the fond notion that there’s a sympathetic and intelligent person behind the wheel of that other vehicle. 

    • #12
    • May 24, 2019, at 2:03 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. Arahant Member

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    At the heart of defensive driving is forgetting the fond notion that there’s a sympathetic and intelligent person behind the wheel of that other vehicle.

    Or the realization that this is not always the case.

    • #13
    • May 24, 2019, at 3:54 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Andrew, I’m struggling to understand your post.

    I don’t think that “abstractions are ruining the world.” I don’t see how we can think without abstractions. Abstractions are part of our method of pattern identification that allows us to predict what will happen, at least to some degree, and decide how to act.

    For example, “infant” is an abstraction. You have to feed breast milk or formula to a infant. We need the abstraction “infant” because otherwise we could not learn how to care for an infant by observing the proper way that we (or others) have cared for other infants. “Infant” is a necessary abstract category.

    I think that you may be trying to express the idea of increased political and ideological polarization. This leads to an an increased tendency to dislike people with whom we disagree. Such dislike may be justified, or not, depending on the issue about which we disagree. We may be inclined to treat such a person as an opponent or even an enemy. My impression is that you are objecting to this phenomenon, but I’m not sure.

    Is this what you mean by your plea to treat people “like human beings”?

    If this is what you mean, I find guidance in two places: the Bible and the Matrix. The Bible teaches us to hate the sin but love the sinner. This does not, however, mean that we should tolerate or, worse yet, applaud the sin. It means that we should hope, and work, for redemption of the sinner rather than for his destruction.

    The great scene in the Matrix is in the training program with the Woman in Red, when Neo is distracted by this pretty lady, then turns back to find that she has morphed into Agent Smith pointing a gun at him. Morpheus explains that the ordinary people in the Matrix are the very people that they are trying to save, but that most of them can’t hear and don’t want to be saved. While they are part of the system, they remain the enemy. It is quite tragic.

     

    • #14
    • May 24, 2019, at 4:16 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. David Foster Member

    C S Lewis, describing his protagonist (a young on-the-make sociologist) in the novel That Hideous Strength:

    “…education had had the curious effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than things he saw. Statistics about agricultural labourers were the substance: any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer’s boy, was the shadow. Though he had never noticed it himself, he had a great reluctance, in his work, ever to use such words as ‘man’ or ‘woman’. He preferred to write about ‘vocational group’, ‘elements’, ‘classes’, and ‘populations’: for, in his own way, he believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of the things that are not seen.”

    • #15
    • May 24, 2019, at 4:26 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  16. David Foster Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I don’t think that “abstractions are ruining the world.” I don’t see how we can think without abstractions. Abstractions are part of our method of pattern identification that allows us to predict what will happen, at least to some degree, and decide how to act.

    I don’t think the problem is with abstractions per se, rather, it is with the reification of abstractions, treating them as if they were real, rather than as possibly-useful models. “The map is not the territory”

     

     

    • #16
    • May 24, 2019, at 4:28 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  17. DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader Member

    I think the comment about Facebook provides an insight. People post how they want to represent themselves to the world, but it is an abstracted version of the real person.

     

    • #17
    • May 24, 2019, at 4:46 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  18. Andrew Miller Member
    Andrew Miller Post author

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Andrew, I’m struggling to understand your post.

    I don’t think that “abstractions are ruining the world.” I don’t see how we can think without abstractions. Abstractions are part of our method of pattern identification that allows us to predict what will happen, at least to some degree, and decide how to act.

    […]

    Yes, it is a bit of an involved one. This line perhaps clarifies a little (emphasis added):

    By abstractions, I mean ideas that all meaning and substance has been taken away from but that are put forward as if they are real reflections of people or of things we experience.

    @davidfoster in #16 and @drewinwisconsin in #17 both kindly help clarify more what I’m getting at. More, abstractions that for whatever reason no long represent something real, but that are put forward more as if they were real — and that end up messing with people’s lives (when they’re taken for a guideline, say).

    I’m also not writing through a political lens, as such — not if I can avoid it, anyway. Apologies, I must rush, I’ll try and address this more a little later.

    The irony is that my explanation is perhaps a little abstract.

    • #18
    • May 25, 2019, at 12:56 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  19. David Foster Member

    Peter Drucker described two old-line merchants. The first of these was “Uncle Henry,” founder of a successful department store…

    When Drucker met him, he was already in his eighties. Uncle Henry was a businessman who did things by intuition more than by formal analysis, and his own son Irving, a Harvard B-School graduate, was appalled at “the unsystematic and unscientific way the store was being run.”

    Drucker remembers his conversations with Uncle Henry. “He would tell stories constantly, always to do with a late consignment of ladies’ hats, or a shipment of mismatched umbrellas, or the notions counter. His stories would drive me up the wall. But gradually I learned to listen, at least with one ear. For surprisingly enough he always leaped to a generalization from the farrago of anecdotes and stocking sizes and color promotions in lieu of markdowns for mismatched umbrellas.”

    Reflecting many years later, Drucker observes: “There are lots of people with grasshopper minds who can only go from one specific to another–from stockings to buttons, for instance, or from one experiment to another–and never get to the generalization and the concept. They are to be found among scientists as often as among merchants. But I have learned that the mind of the good merchant, as also of the good artist or good scientist, works the way Uncle Henry’s mind worked. It starts out with the most specific, the most concrete, and then reaches for the generalization.”

    (continued at next comment)

    • #19
    • May 25, 2019, at 5:42 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  20. David Foster Member

    Drucker also knew another merchant, Charles Kellstadt (who had once run Sears.) Kellstadt and Drucker served together on a DoD advisory board (on procurement policy), and Kellstadt told “the same kind of stories Uncle Henry had told.” Drucker says that his fellow board members “suffered greatly from his interminable and apparently pointless anecdotes.”

    On one occasion, a “whiz kid” (this was during the McNamara era) was presenting a proposal for a radically new approach to defense pricing policy. Kellstadt “began to tell a story of the bargain basement in the store in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he had held his first managerial job, and of some problem there with the cup sizes of women’s bras. he would stop every few sentences and ask the bewildered Assistant Secretary a quesion about bras, then go on. Finally, the Assistant Secretary said, “You don’t understand Mr. Kellstadt; I’m talking about concepts.” “So am I,” said Charlie, quite indignant, and went on. Ten minutes later all of us on the board realized that he had demolished the entire proposal by showing us that it was far too complex, made far too many assumptions, and contains far too many ifs, buts, and whens.” After the meeting, another board member (dean of a major engineering school) said admiringly, “Charlie, that was a virtuoso performance. but why did you have to drag in the cup sizes of the bras in your bargain basement forty years ago?” Drucker reports that Charlie was surprised by the question: “How else can I see a problem in my mind’s eye?”

    Drucker draws this conclusion:

    “Fifty years or more ago the Uncle Henry’s and the Charlie Kellstadts dominated; then it was necessary for Son Irving to emphasize systems, principles, and abstractions. There was need to balance the overly perceptual with a little conceptual discipline. I still remember the sense of liberation during those years in London when I stumbled onto the then new Symbolical Logic (which I later taught a few times), with its safeguards against tautologies and false analogies, against generalizing from isolated events, that is, from anecdotes, and its tools of semantic rigor. But now we again need the Uncle Henrys and Charlie Kellstadts. We have gone much too far toward dependence on untested quantification, toward symmetrical and purely formal models, toward argument from postulates rather than from experience, and toward moving from abstraction to abstraction without once touching the solid ground of concreteness. We are in danger of forgetting what Plato taught at the very beginning of systematic analysis and thought in the West, in two of the most beautiful and moving of his Dialogoues, the Phaedrus and the Krito…They teach us that experience without the test of logic is not “rhetoric” but chitchat, and that logic without the test of experience is not “logic” but absurdity. Now we need to learn again what Charlie Kellstadt meant when he said, “How else can I see a problem in my mind’s eye?””

    link

    • #20
    • May 25, 2019, at 5:45 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  21. Andrew Miller Member
    Andrew Miller Post author

    Perhaps another way of getting at it would be assumptions unwittingly drawn from wilful fictions presented as “this is how life is supposed to be lived”, that seriously mess up people’s lives when they try to live them out.

    Perhaps because they don’t have any competing alternatives to compare them against to help them know better.

    The thought occurs that maybe we all make up stories as we go along — and nothing wrong with that — that’s sort of how we live life, maybe. But abstract, fictionalised, presented-as-real-life stories that are passed on to people who maybe don’t know any better seem to fall into a different category, if that makes sense?

    Of course, I may be talking out of my hat (always one of the dangers of posting on inadequate sleep — “Don’t do this at home, kids!”), but perhaps you see what I mean?

    • #21
    • May 25, 2019, at 6:43 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Andrew Miller Member
    Andrew Miller Post author

    Perhaps it’s, kind of, corrupting the stories we use, if not to tell us who we are, exactly, then to make sense of the world and our lives, partly? Something like that?

    • #22
    • May 25, 2019, at 6:48 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Andrew Miller (View Comment):

    Perhaps another way of getting at it would be assumptions unwittingly drawn from wilful fictions presented as “this is how life is supposed to be lived”, that seriously mess up people’s lives when they try to live them out.

    Perhaps because they don’t have any competing alternatives to compare them against to help them know better.

    The thought occurs that maybe we all make up stories as we go along — and nothing wrong with that — that’s sort of how we live life, maybe. But abstract, fictionalised, presented-as-real-life stories that are passed on to people who maybe don’t know any better seem to fall into a different category, if that makes sense?

    Of course, I may be talking out of my hat (always one of the dangers of posting on inadequate sleep — “Don’t do this at home, kids!”), but perhaps you see what I mean?

    Andrew Miller (View Comment):

    Perhaps it’s, kind of, corrupting the stories we use, if not to tell us who we are, exactly, then to make sense of the world and our lives, partly? Something like that?

    A good story about how to live will not mess up a person’s life when lived out, though a bad story will. Life is complicated, of course, so any simplified story will not be applicable in all circumstances.

    People need guidance about how to live properly. Leaving it to each individual to figure it out for himself is not an effective solution, as it essentially means that we cannot learn from the wisdom or errors of others. Relying on history and tradition, whether conveyed through story or abstraction, helps in this regard, but presents a problem if the history and tradition is wrong.

    My conclusion is that the divisiveness and polarization of the past 50-60 years in America results from the lack of common values, whether conveyed through story or abstraction. There used to be a broad Christian consensus. Interestingly, in Christianity, Jesus taught principally through story, while St. Paul systematized the teachings of Jesus through abstraction.

    There also used to be a broad American consensus, also expressed in both story and abstraction. The abstractions were the principles set forth in great statements like the Declaration and the Gettysburg Address. The stories were about the Founders and great leaders, and the heroism of soldiers, sailors, and pioneers.

    Both of these consensus stories have been under relentless attack for over a century. I don’t much like the opposing viewpoint, whether expressed in story or abstraction.

    • #23
    • May 25, 2019, at 7:10 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. David Foster Member

    Rose Wilder Lane on abstractions and politics:

    Nobody can plan the actions of even a thousand living persons, separately. Anyone attempting to control millions must divide them into classes, and make a plan applying to these classes. But these classes do not exist. No two persons are alike. No two are in the same circumstances; no two have the same abilities; beyond getting the barest necessities of life, no two have the same desires.Therefore the men who try to enforce, in real life, a planned economy that is their theory, come up against the infinite diversity of human beings. The most slavish multitude of men that was ever called “demos” or “labor” or “capital” or”agriculture” or “the masses,” actually are men; they are not sheep. Naturally, by their human nature, they escape in all directions from regulations applying to non-existent classes. It is necessary to increase the number of men who supervise their actions. Then (for officials are human, too) it is necessary that more men supervise the supervisors.

    When she had visited the Soviet Union in the 1920s, RWL was still a Communist. In Soviet Georgia, the villager who was her host complained about the growing bureaucracy that was taking more and more men from productive work, and predicted chaos and suffering from the centralizing of economic power in Moscow. At first she saw his attitude as merely “the opposition of the peasant mind to new ideas,” and undertook to convince him of the benefits of central planning. He shook his head sadly.

    It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.”

    • #24
    • May 25, 2019, at 7:33 AM PDT
    • 4 likes