It’s Just Too Hard to Learn, I Guess

"Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to sit by helplessly as other people repeat it."

Cartoon by Tom Toro

I have the nicest, most analytic and open-minded set of online friends possible, but there is one topic on which I can always start an argument with someone. All I have to do is post something against demonizing groups of people.

The arguments are always the same.

  • “But group X is doing bad things.”
  • “I don’t mean everyone in group X.”
  • “I’m not talking to you. I’m talking about the other people in group X.”
  • “If you choose to be offended when I didn’t mean you, that’s your problem.”
  • “Group X is in power.”
  • “Group X is privileged, and now you’re saying we shouldn’t even complain about them!”
  • “Sure, ‘not all X’.”
  • “You should be mad at the people who claim to be group X and give it a bad name, not at those of us who point it out.”

I’m in education, and an issue I have to deal with every day is transferability. That is, will a student who learns a skill in my class, in one situation, be able to transfer it to another class with a different situation?

If there’s any skill we all should have learned by now, from one example after another, it’s to not demonize demographic groups. But instead of treating this as a general rule or transferrable skill, we too often act like beginning students – the kind who can triple a brownie recipe, but can’t see that tripling a batch of 30% saline involves the same principle.

So we learn that demonizing jews turned out badly.

And then we learn that demonizing African Americans turned out badly.

And then we learn that demonizing Native Americans turned out badly.

And then we learn that demonizing gays turned out badly.

And then we learn that demonizing poor people turns out badly.

And THEN we learn that demonizing muslims turns out badly…

I was bored with this about ten years ago. Am I the only person who sees a general principle? Am I the only person who WANTS to see a general principle, learn it, and get on with my life?

“But WHY? Why can’t I do it with just this one group that really, REALLY deserves it?”


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