The world is comprised of particular things – lots of them, and this is where the richness of existence is – in the particular. But since we possess the ability to form concepts so we categorize things such that they can be grouped. As a result, we speak of “people” – a category that enables us to consider billions of individual human beings in a single word, but at the same time, we lose all the details – and the details matter. The generalizations we use alienate us from the richness of life, and it is a bad habit that isolates us from the real. Instead, we work with abstractions, with mental concepts, and everything becomes impersonal and cold. Some of the blame for this can be attributed to the development of a statistical approach to life. Before statistics, there was no concept of an average, and the essence of statistics is that we sacrifice the detail to try and gain an overall picture – sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t. In any case, this mode of thinking has permeated the way we view life, with the particular losing its significance when, in truth, it is the only thing that is significant. What is implied here is that we want to try and focus in on the particular if we are to have real contact with the things and people around us; otherwise, we find ourselves alienated from life in a cold and impersonal place.
The concepts we use are useful. To relate that there were a hundred people in an audience gives us real information. It is when we take this mindset and use it in our interactions with people and things that the problems occur. That someone is called a person is just an abstraction. Each thing is wholly unique and does not belong in a class of things in reality – it just is what it is.
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