28 May 2012

Defending persons, dismissing people

We have in our vocabulary a set of words with no discrimination between plural and singular conjugates. Words like sheep, popcorn, sheep. We have words that derive plurality from strange rules: children, teeth, men.
But stranger yet is are words like mice and people. 
These collectivize plurals into a singular entity. Yet, "people" does not denote connectedness amongst species, as “mice” does- that term would be "humans".

I’m here to argue that "people" diminishes a group of individuals into a single and dismissable other.

It’s easier to divide a line between you, the speaker, and a group than it is between you and many separate persons. The latter separation would imply you understand a distinct difference between you and each person. This more intimate and respectable position is not one of easy tribalism, yet one of
antisocial understanding.

When one thinks in terms of persons, it’s much more difficult to segregate blankly between groups of people and oneself.

“persons” hasn’t been nearly as popular as “people”:

Now, one could continue to use "persons" without a single thought about what makes “persons” different from “people” and continue to divide persons of all sorts into sorted categories, not to say that all amounts of labeling are negative. Categories help us to understand our world.

Perhaps I’m arguing to think about “white people” as “persons of irish, french canadian, german, etc descent” and “gay people” as “persons continuing to face unreasonable prejudice in today’s supposedly advanced world based on personal matters”. When you have to speak verbosely about a difference, you think about whether that difference needs to be mentioned. So what if an author’s readers don’t know what race a character is? A good story provides as much or as little about a character and their heritage as is important to the story.

I’m arguing for the use of "persons" as a recognition that groups are made of individuals. Where it may not matter whether there are sheep or is a sheep, it matters whether people are persons.

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