Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 10:53:31 AM EST
I've been becoming increasing uncomfortable with a lot of the classifications we reach for when discussing the world - "the West" is my current bugbear - that I feel are obscuring rather than illuminating the truth.
Humans tend to lump things together into classes because we're not smart enough to hold all the details in our heads. It's a useful approach, but extremely dangerous when done incorrectly.
From the diaries - whataboutbob
"British Muslims" is a classification that lumps together a disparate collection of people by a very wide-ranging religion. How often do we speak of "British Christians" and what could we conclude if we were told someone was a "British Christian"? Would they even necessarily believe in a God? Which party would they support? Would they be pro- or anti-Choice? What would their economic circumstances be? "British Muslims" groups together people that are different in almost every possible way except that they profess to be Muslim, or come from a Muslim background.
"The West", as we have discussed, is a term that depends on who's speaking, when they're speaking and who they're speaking to. In the past it has excluded most of Europe. Yesterday it included Russia, and some would have it include all the rich countries or all the English speaking ones or all the vassals of the US. It hides as many differences as similarities in both interests and culture and it currently seems to be mainly used to conjure up a clash between "Western" and "Other" values.
"Unemployment" is a useful classification if you're tracking the labour market within an economy. It is not useful in comparing economies.
In fact, the idea of a national economy is an increasingly dangerous one: national borders are arbitrary geographical limits to the application of a set of laws and pose less and less of a barrier economic forces every year so that national economies are interlinked in ways that makes it hard to talk about them separately from each other. "National Economies" also hide great differences within them, especially when you're talking about the huge "economies" like the US, China or the EU. The US economy includes a multitude of regions and strata that are all affected differently by economic changes.
The problem is that we get used to a small set of default classifications and begin to believe that they're important. We then start lazily applying the classification outside the realm where it's useful. They're tools: cutting wood with a hammer is not very effective.