People React Strongly to Categories not Individuals

Posted on January 7, 2011 by


A theoretical realization today:  People will react more strongly to whatever is perceived as more unbreakable. What is “unbreakable” tends to be big categories, and systems, than things or persons perceived as “individuals.”

A few definitions to understand that realization:

“Categories” and “systems” is stuff like capitalism, socialism, police, all of which which contain defined parts that we see as mattering in the functioning of the category or system. For example, within the category/system of “police”, least here in LA, we see many individual police officers with defined roles.  We see the Chief of Police in giving speeches, interacting with the media, giving reports about the LAPD, Lieutentants being in charge of paper work for subordinates.  Under that these parts, the Chief of Police, and the Lieutenants work under the category or system of “police.”

“Individuals” in my usage are things like individual people, which we perceive to be an entity, a unity acting with its own will and consciousness, as if the parts don’t matter in the functioning.

Key to the perception of the “individual” is that there is no label when individuals are perceived as individuals.  So, an individual could have the label/title “Chief of Police”, but if were thinking of them as an “individual” like by their names, we don’t perceive that label at all.  If we’ve known that Chief of Police as our best friend, were likely to perceive of him as this individual free of the label of “Chief of Police.”   Implicit in the understanding that an individual is an individual is that they are complex and somewhat fragile.

So we this definition of “categories/systems” and “individuals.”  Categories will incite more reaction.  People will usually go to more extremes to destroy systems or parts they perceive to be integral in the functioning of those systems/categories.

How’d I come to this realization?

Years of participating in and observing disagreements on online message boards about sports, politics, science, and real-life community forums.

This is not an exact theory or even a hypothesis, it’s just a gut for now.

I’d observed polarization in arguments.  I think if you act reasonably and as an individual, you can get reasonable reaction.  However

Why is this important?

So the idea is:  People react strongly to whatever is unbreakable, and whatever is unbreakable tends to be categories and systems.

I think this insight is integral to understanding reactions such as why people in Inglewood continue to kill each other.  I think people doing the shootings are lodged in thinking in terms of big categories and systems, that is gangs.  The gang represents a system/category they don’t like.   They don’t like it probably because of a history of incidents and revenge actions taken between people in the respective gangs.  It follows that they don’t like parts within that system/category that are crucial to its functioning.