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Which is to what as this is to that?

[ by Charles Cameron — second of two quick posts, this one concerning hasty comparisons between two school tragedies, the one here and the one in China ]

You’ve no doubt noted the same double school tragedy that I have today — twenty school kids wounded in China, twenty school kids gunned down in America.


I can’t do much more than try to be respectful of the victims and their families in both cases: my prayers are with them. But being a pattern seeker, I’m also wondering what questions this raises.

For some, it will seem clear that guns are to knives as deaths are to wounds.

Or should that be: America is to China as guns are to knives? America is to China as death is to injury? Once you start comparing what are, after all, two close similarities — brought forcibly to our attention by their commonality location in schools, their common date, their closely similar numbers of victims — it becomes clear that there are also very many differences to take into account, and that no one-size-fits-all ratio will accommodate their complexity.

Something for me to ponder, as I jump — as all humans, athletes of the mind, appear to jump — to hasty conclusions.

5 Responses to “Which is to what as this is to that?”

  1. Charles Cameron Says:

    As I’ve now said many times, I don’t know how comments get closed on various posts of mine, but it is never my intention to speak without listening to your responses.  When I checked the site this morning, I discovered that two of my three most recent posts were set to “no comments”.  Aargh!
    Please notify me at hipbonegamer // gmail.com if you ever see this happening, and I will reopen the item for comments as soon as I can.  


  2. Carl Says:

    I am not sure it is guns are to knives as deaths are to wounds as it is American media accurately reports the deaths and injuries and state controlled Chinese media doesn’t. An adult male slashing a large number of small children is going to kill some. That is a certainty. The record of the juramentados in the Philippines makes is clear that a determined man with a knife can be extremely lethal.

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    One comment I did receive came in via Twitter from Scott McWilliams, who simply asked: 

    Apples to oranges?

    That, to me, is the phrase we use to designate the issue of things not being like enough to one another for it to be worthwhile comparing them, and part of the purpose of my post was to suggest that there are indeed comparisons we may make, metaphors and analogies we may use, that aren’t helpful.  But I want to dig a little deeper.
    Let’s compare oranges and lemons, for instance.  And then apples and oranges.  And then wheat and apples.  And then twinkies and wheat, and so on and on.
    Seen from the level of abstraction at which twinkies, as a manufactured product, differ from wheat, also a fodd source but naturally grown, wheat and apples fall in the same category.  At the level where apples differ from oranges, though both are fruit, in being pomaceous rather than citrus, oranges and lemons would be grouped together.  And yet sweet oranges, golden as the sun, differ from bitter lemons, pale as the moon, as day differs from night.
    So one thing we can know is that finding similarity or difference between apples and oranges is to some degree a matter of how abstract you want to get.  Sort some apples, some oranges and some  golf carts into appropriate piles, and I’m pretty sure most people will put the golf carts in a pile of their own, but some will have separated the apples from the oranges, some not.  And a few hardy souls will have tried to put one apple and one orange into each golf cart, and then repeated the process — to ensure that each golf cart is equally well stocked for a picnic.
    The resemblances we see depend, it seems to me, on the questions we’re asking and answering.
    I know all this business of apples and oranges, engaged in at such length, sounds trivial — but the questions I’m getting at aren’t, and I don’t believe we’ve thought much about them, outside some very esoteric scholarly corners.
    How do we know what’s a fair comparison?  How do we know what’s a useful analogy?
    In trying to work towards a pattern and analogy based method for better understanding our quirky work, these are questions I need to get to grips with.  Any ideas?

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, Carl:

    I am not sure it is guns are to knives as deaths are to wounds as it is American media accurately reports the deaths and injuries and state controlled Chinese media doesn’t

    So bias in media and statistical reporting is a factor to take into consideration in the case of the two shootings.  As I’ve been reading my own slice of the media coverage of the Sandy Hook shootings, I’ve seen “mental health” and “gun” issues predominating.  I don’t suppose many Chinese are agitating for “knife control” — what are the roles of the two educational systems, two systems of mental health, two types of weaponry, two individual minds, two societies which “formed” them?
    How many variables do we need for a satisfactory model?  Which variables are the salient ones? Which variables work in to enhance one another, perhaps by running in tandem, perhaps by generating feedback loops?
    Once again, I guess what I’m speaking for, here, is avoidance of closure — avoidance of the easy conclusion and rush to judgment — before our understanding is nuanced enough. 

  5. Carl Says:

    Red China and the modern United States differ so radically In culture, history and political system that I don’t think attempts to understand the one occurrence via studying the other would be worth the effort except at the most basic level. The closest you may be able to get is that in both places evil wanted to hurt so it went someplace to do the hurting where it would be least likely to be opposed. It intentionally sought out the most defenseless.

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