Different People Are the Same? by Cat Pierro

In humanities, nature, philosophy, society on November 11, 2012 at 20:30

From: Different People Are the Same? by Cat Pierro, Hypocrite Reader,

A familiar controversy: are people all basically the same, or basically different? The question seems foundational for ethics, politics, history, and, well, roughly everything, but there’s no consensus on the matter, provisional or otherwise. The argument comes up in its most rudimentary form late at night in college dorms all over the world. Different people’s DNA matches almost exactly (one side says), and yet they say and do such different things (says the other)—but maybe these things aren’t really so different, or maybe people have it in them to do all the same things. Among the many difficulties that would crop up in the attempt to answer the question rigorously, one very basic problem makes the matter unresolvable: just as no absolute measure of similarity can be gleaned from comparing DNA (only a relative one where humans seem more different from bananas than from mosquitos), no absolute measure of similarity inheres in DNA’s expression (or in anything!). Even if I can determine that 70% of my opinions match someone else’s, what does that mean? Are we pretty much the same person? Alas, only an absolute answer would satisfy: not “Canadians are less different from Americans than artists are from jocks,” but “people are all basically the same,” or “people are all basically different.”

Unresolvability does not imply meaninglessness, however, if human interest is at all suggestive of meaning. For some reason, the argument recurs again and again in many forms and with great ferocity. “If you and one stranger were the last two people left on earth, do you really think it would matter which person you were left with?” “Nothing you could ever say would ever convince me to like cities.” Both sides appeal to intuitions they don’t share, evidence they don’t have, and instances that fall short of proving the rule. The very audacity with which the adversaries fly in the face of reason must make us suspect that they’re on to something important. Let’s therefore evoke the question again here, on territory that is neutral and relevant. Are these two adversaries, the advocates of each side, basically the same as each other—or basically different?

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Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader


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