Glenn over at Instapundit is The Man, of course, and can be relied on for sound and sensible punditry on all subjects and at all hours. Even he, however, occasionally falls victim to the lure of oversimplification — specifically, the temptation to lump together groups of individuals, particularly when they’re doing something odious.
In Instapundit’s case, the target du jour is “the French”. Actually, they’ve been a favorite target of Instapundit and other blogs for quite a while. With synagogues burning across the country, it isn’t any wonder.
But precision in language is important, and it is that phrase —- “The French” — that’s the problem. I know Glenn knows that not all French are torching Jewish houses of worship, but that’s not the point. In this case, it is more or less harmless fun. But generalizations like this are dangerous — not for any of the usual PC notions that they are racist or any such (although sometimes they are), but simply because they get in the way of genuinely useful critical thinking about problems.
The worst example of this is when we talk about “The Palestinians” and “The Israelis”. All too much coverage makes it sounds like there are two sides to the current conflict. I count at least four: Israelis who want peace; Israelis who don’t; Palestinians who want peace, and Palestinians who don’t. And even that segmentation is a deceptive oversimplification, I suspect. When you think of “the two sides” as monolithic, the events of the last few years in Middle East make absolutely no sense — the two sides seem clearly to be acting irrationally and against their own interests. But when you slice down further — and avoid the easy turns of the phrase like “the Palestinians” — you get a clearer picture of reality, because in fact, each side is riddled with factions whose interests are not common.
Hence, the importance of precise language… or as “the French” would say, langue pr