CATEGORICAL, ABSTRACTING THINKING
Years ago, someone I admired very much once said to me: “Oh, you love Humanity alright. It’s people you can’t stand.”
Extroverted and flamboyant as he was, he did have a flair for the histrionic and hyperbolic, but his criticism, overstated somewhat though it may have been (after all I did love him quite particularly), was not without basis and substance.
While he never missed a meeting of the various organizations he belonged to, I preferred to sit on my computer and philosophize about Humanity. While people irritated and disappointed him often, he never stopped meeting with them in meat space. I preferred then, as now, not to hobnob.
His criticism started me on the way to realizing the errors, and dangers, inherent in the categorical thinking that leads to dissociating abstractions. When particular individuals are subsumed under the category Humanity, we have misused our ability to think abstractly.
There is a place, and a need, for abstract thinking. I considered the possibility of trying to do away with it entirely, but that idea quickly degenerates into impracticality.
However, thinking abstractly when we should be thinking particularly spaces us out, removes us from our hearts, and can lead the way to insensitive stereotyping, racism and even to tyranny. All of the nationalistic buzz words that snap people into a trance are abstractions: Nation. Values. Democracy. Family. Liberty. Peace. These abstractions are meant to arouse feelings of insignificance in us in comparison to them and they hypnotize us into obedience. We sacrifice our actual, particular, selves for those abstract concepts.
While particularity can lead to the kind of individualism that is little more than being anal-retentive (and all of the high falutin’ sounding philosophy touting individualism doesn’t ennoble its mean and petty base), and we need to guard against that; so thinking abstractly, to the detriment of being concerned with the particular, is the thought pattern of Fascism.
Abstract thinking creates a buffer zone between our hearts and another’s integrity. That zone provides the illusion that we can hide all culpability in it. Immediacy disappears. So, culpability is put off indefinitely. Everything in that zone is indefinite and nothing immediate. In that zone, our feelings of protection of others born of identification with them are neutralized. Abstract thinking makes compassion and identification into abstractions, not actual feelings for another actual Person or being. In that buffer zone of Abstraction the perfect storm for brutality forms. It is only when we recognize another being’s actuality that harming that one, unique, actual being becomes unthinkable.
Neither can abstracts be used as measures of perfection that no actual Person or being can ever live up to. The Platonic World of Ideas does not exist. It is cruel to measure real People and and non-productive to measure real things against unreality.
It is helpful to remember and internalize the words of Rumi when we consider ourSelves and others: “You are not a drop in the ocean, but the ocean in a drop.” The particular is not subsumed and rendered insignificant in comparison to any abstraction. In a “fractal” reality, each particular contains the entire pattern. Moreover, each actual Person and being is an actual, really real embodiment and to be embodied is infinitely greater than to be disembodied idea.
The goal is to stop thinking of God as an abstraction, and to see God as every particular. When we can do this, we see that every Person’s and every sentient being’s integrity is sacred, and therefore, inviolable. Toward the inanimate, we feel genuine gratitude and use the things presented to us gently and wisely.
Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel