I have been thinking, is generalization good, or bad, or inevitable? I kinda of wonder that looking at something, especially something new, in a generalized term, is actually inevitable. Watching Noah learning things since young, he has to generalize things in order to recognize anything — this is a dog, that is a cat. Over the weekend I got a few mosquito bites which annoyed me to hell. Then I was thinking about the book I picked up last week, something about the history of Malaria, which to many runs that mosquito is spreading virus, thus if we could eliminate mosquito entirely (as a specie), then we are good.
Well, then I was thinking, among that gazillion mosquitoes, are we now just viewing ALL of them as a single identity, a unified blob of living thing with a set of common traits, and how many of us have any idea how many mosquitoes out there!? I bet there are many. Then, how many among them are actually the cause Malaria? I don't know. I challenge anyone around me knows that. Then, we human being view ALL of them an enemy in a bio warfare, and targeting to kill them all (at least on a conceptual level. I think the biologist who are developing human side of the weaponry actually do have some idea of which type of mosquito is good & which is bad.) S case in point, this is exactly we can comprehend things, anything, because our capacity simply can not incorporate all the details in order to track and distinguish at an individual level. Therefore, the only way to build a "knowledge" (quote on purpose) is to generalize.
This same is happening actually in my work. When I'm proud of building a data model through analysis, I always thought in term of attributes so that a set of attributes become a representation of a thing — a car, a user, a server. These are data models, and they are abstracts which approximate the real thing, but will never be as real as the real thing, because we know from the beginning that we are not going to, and simply can not (and I mean this not because we are lazy, but we do NOT have the tool — language, syntax, methodology, to describe them in an OVERALL fashion! Honestly, I don't know what such a description will look like in my wildest dream! It's just beyond me at this moment!) include all details and possibilities. Thus, a model is, as I have always said, a personal view, an opinion if you will, of this thing — I many abstract a car into a shell, 4 wheels, a steering wheel, and so forth; but we all know that first of all, kids always don't view car in such a way at the beginning (eventually they conform w/ our views, but that's completely drilled into their head by us, not their organic view). And secondly, this exactly abstract of a car becomes a force our imagination has to battle in order to think outside the box! Why does car have to have 4 wheels? or wheels at all?... a dominant view becomes a convention, a convention becomes a rule, a rule becomes both a guide that has proven to work, and a cat who constantly patrolls its territory looking for intrusion to fight off ← this isn't inspired by some dark human nature. This is logic, and I can see this logic has played in the past, is playing now, and will play again and again and again, in different forms and spaces and contexts, but the same logic, over and over.
But then, such abstract, which = learning = knowledge, is really
problematic, and this is tightly related to technology. NPR talks
about policy uses profiling (based on data analysis) to identify
candidates to monitor, who essentially is said (by algorithm!) to have
higher probability to commit a crime. Well, this is easily understood,
from both a conventional wisdom point of view and a data analysis
POV. What comes into the play is the word
record) → if you have done wrong in the past, you may have a
certain traits stronger than other people's, and these traits are more
likely to get you in a situation that law defines as a crime ← a
quick temper, a violent history, or even single-parent family
background, low-education, drug taking, and so on and so
forth. Actually most people will agree that such statistics do support
these claims. But if so, what about individual!? what about having
opportunity to correct what was wrong? what about not discriminating
somebody by just putting on a label? I mean, how do we know we have
stamped a label too liberally that it has not becomes a bias against
somebody without a cause or foundation?
But then, without using a label, how do we learn!? The entire so called science and technology is built upon this method of abstraction. This is how we can ever simplify the world in a way so that we can study and comprehend. Otherwise, it will the Go game or any of the so-called ancient Chinese art form, martial art included, that we have to count on some odd historical genius to advance it, because its value lies in its entire format, so it can not be broken down, be analytically deciphered, thus hard to teach and to share knowledge, and impossible to replicate.
I think human is caught in a dilemma. I don't believe there is solution. Therefore, the struggle between abstracting into a common theme versus calling to treat individual equally will continue to exist without a solution. This then gives a perfect excuse (if they are actually smart because they consciously manipulated this leverage to their advantage) or just plainly a side-effect, that discrimination based on race, gender, education, family tie, whatever (and these are just labels!), is truly an inherited consequence of the nature of human recognition. If we think they are evil deeds (which I believe they are), we have to watch ourselves, and remind ourselves how we have created them in the first place, like creating a child, you can't just walk away → you can be irresponsible by not raising her, but the biological bond is forever true, and you can't deny it.
But when I look at my mosquito bites, I still don't them at all, in a most general way, with a most general label → and if I cannot overcome this, how would I know I won't apply this same flaw on other things, things that can cause harm to other human, friend or foe!?
As a member of human, I feel powerless.
— by Feng Xia