Miss Peru crowned Miss World, 2004                              Women of the Saramacca tribe in Suriname


                                                           Bolivian miners                                                      Brazil's National Women's Soccer Team in Beijing

No Two Things Are Identical

For example, South American (1) is not South American (2) is not South American (3).  In other words, South American ("beauty" queen from Peru) is not South American (mine worker from Bolivia).  Although by agreement we refer to the 386 million people who live in an area called South America as South Americans (incidentally the population was around 150 million in 1975), the truth is that no two South Americans are identical--including, of course, those who live in the same country or even in the same household.  Considered in the same way, each of the estimated 80 billion people who have inhabited the earth as been unique.

Statements which seem to talk about “a people” as if they were one entity must obviously be qualified.  Questions such as “What do Africans think about Europeans?” are clearly unanswerable.  Answerable questions--those which have some likelihood of being verified--are less dramatic and perhaps less satisfying, but that is the nature of the problem.  It is only by taking liberties with language that we appear to be better informed than the data permit.  Similarly, it may readily be seen that terms such as “African,” “Oriental,” Muslim,” and the like conceal differences as well as reveal group likeness.


Katsushika Hokusai's print of Edo Japan, 1800s

Contemporary Tokyo

No One Thing Stays the Same

Japan (1800s) is not Japan (1949) is not Japan (1965), is not Japan (2010), etc.  Change is inevitable, though the rate varies.  One who forgets this is certain to be shocked when confronted with the difference between what he thinks (or remembers) is true and what is so.

It is Not Possible to Tell All about Anything

No matter how complete a listing or how comprehensive an explanation, the possibility always remains open that something more might be said about the matter under consideration.  All descriptions are “open-ended” with the last word unsaid.  Completeness may be a goal, but like infinity it eludes mortal grasp.  Thus, for example, an examination of any culture or any country might include reference to its history, its development, its achievements, and so on, but these would always be incomplete.  No matter how extensive the treatment, a mental “etc,” should be added to the last punctuation point.  The practical effect of this orientation is to leave the door open, at least a crack, for additional information which may be forthcoming.




                                                   Snowfall in Miami                                                                       Snowfall in Buffalo

The Same Word May be Used to Represent Different “Realities,” while Similar Events or Experiences are Sometimes Called by Different Names

For example, a term like socialism is used by many to describe economic systems like those of the former Soviet Union, Great Britain, and India--systems which firsthand examination reveals as very dissimilar.  Consider, for instance, that in the 1970s federal, state, and local government in the “capitalist” United States spent well over twice the percentage of national income purchased by similar governmental bodies in “socialist” India. Words whose meanings have become meaningless from being used to carry too heavy and too diversified loads of information should be set apart by enclosing them with quotation marks (“  “) to alert the reader.  Korzybski used to wiggle two fingers of each hand to achieve the same effect when speaking.  An action  that is fairly common today.

States of Opinions are Often Confused with Statements of Fact

For example, verb forms of "to be" often cloud the relationship between subject and predicate, as when someone says, “It is hot.”  The “hotness” is more a description of the speaker’s state of mind that it is of the temperature reading, since what constitutes “hot” is a matter of opinion.  “Cold wave” could mean anything from 20 or 30 degrees below zero (F.)  in the Himalayas to 40 degrees above in New Delhi where, incidentally, a continuous string of days in the 90s in May would scarcely qualify as a “heat wave.”  Very often, the addition by the speaker of the words “to me” and the addition by the listener of the words “to you” helps to identify so-called statements of fact as opinions.