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Markus Stocker

Between information technology and environmental science with a flair for economics, the clarinet, and the world of soups and salads.

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I was inspired to finally write about something I have been wondering on and off in quite some time without ever finding a train of thought that seemed promising in leading to an answer: the question whether we – human beings – are (rather) similar or dissimilar.

This problem shows up when I’m generalizing or categorizing. I must admit, I’m at times guilty of it. Not only I sometimes hear others telling me “you are generalizing,” every now and then I here myself telling me just the same, too. I don’t know exactly why, perhaps out of a wish to find order or perhaps out of intellectual laziness as dumb generalization is easy.

That we are mutually different is in the experience of most. (Does this common experience make us similar?) Just take your parents, your set of friends and your ex-lovers. Whether individually, between groups or within groups, it’s hard to see any pair as similar, isn’t it? I believe, there is no doubt that one can count dozens of detailed features in which the people in our direct experience are mutually different. If you combine intellectual, physical, behavioral, spiritual, moral dimensions you end up with a rather large space of diversity. Thus, generalizing on people seems to be counterintuitive.

However, even chaotic systems show hidden order. Is it really so that in this large space of diversity we are all just dots sticking to the corners unfathomably disconnected to each other? It hardly sounds less counterintuitive.

A few thoughts. “All Men are Created Equal” is arguably Thomas Jefferson’s most famous statement. The focus is on creation and the statement has a Christian connotation. Not leveling off all differences between individual women and men the idea seems to suggest that – grounded in a common moral sense – individuals are equally endowed with rights. In [1] Joseph Margolis concludes that the four traditions of thought – science, religion, tragedy and comedy – “agree on the actual and fundamental equality of human beings.” Human empathy, the capability to share another being’s emotions and feelings, does not seem to suggest remoteness but, instead, a large pool of shared experiences for unlikely it is possible for me to share your emotion if I have no experience of it. Finally, it is perhaps in the experience of most to search for similarities in our analytical assessment whether or not a partner might be a “good fit.” (Today, even computer software works on the same assumption that who matches on a large subset of features might get along well.)

Thinking about what situations people, or myself, note that I’m generalizing I wonder if they are associated with arguments, defensiveness, disconnectedness. In a moment flooded by love it typically seems natural to assume two or more individuals share almost their entire self. Perhaps the beauty rests in our ability to distill diversity into shared knowledge to create a tightly coupled web connecting the dots in the corners of a vast space.

[1] Joseph Margolis. That all Men are Created Equal. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 52, No. 13 (Jun. 23, 1955), pp. 337-346