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The Whole Person Fallacy (A Variant of the Generalization Fallacy) -- How It Ruins Understanding and Lives

Updated: Apr 26

A shiny space station containing several planets.


Judging Individuals On a Single-Shot Basis


Perhaps one of the easiest fallacies when interacting with others comes from judging the nature of a person. It's a fallacy when the estimation is based on insufficient evidence to make such a judgment. Imagine the Death Star from Star Wars, a supreme battlestation that can largely be defeated by a single shot into an exposed tunnel to the core. So is what I'd like to present as the Whole Person Fallacy, a variable to the generalization fallacy, which can be defined as "A hasty generalization."


It's a fallacy "in which a conclusion that is reached is not logically justified by sufficient or unbiased evidence." (https://www.thoughtco.com/hasty-generalization-fallacy-1690919).


Like with the Death Star, your image and progress in life, no matter how noble or accomplished, can be completely overshadowed by a single or a few more mistakes or even a minor inconvenience, thus rendering all your features unimportant, even as if they never existed, by external reception.


A more-contemporary example is a Youtube content creator by the nickname of JoCat, who received much harrassment online due to a short song he made that many disliked. Due to the "cringe" nature of that song, people made lots of ad-hominem assumptions on him, and so on. The backlash, caused by that one video, caused him to leave the internet indefinitely.

You can run a very successful, very customer-friendly air travel business, but have its entire reputation stained for life by an unexpected, embarrassing incident between a furious customer and one of your attendants. Such a thing happened in 2015 in the air-travel company, Israir, and to be honest it deters me further from wanting to travel abraod in general.


This is also particularly true when it comes to the "MeToo" movement, regardless of whether the case for "canceling" someone is justified or not. Has someone reported you, a public servant, for sexual harassment? It does not matter how much you contribute to your country and community. The door awaits you to exit through it without considering your service to society. Although it isn't exactly clear how many sexual accusations are false, a certain source estimates them to be around 2 to 8 percent. This could mean that certain people would be wrongly charged for crimes they didn't commit, which could stain their whole reputation and life legacy.


A World of Instant Judgment


In the age of instant opinions and online echo chambers, it's tragically easy to shatter someone's image based on a single misstep. Wrote an article was too boring (which is its own fallacy)? Congrats, you're now a "terrible writer" in the eyes of those who aren't necessarily frequent readers of yours. Authored a whole library of books? Doesn't matter, because one Facebook comment can paint you as an idiot in the eyes of those unwilling to look beyond the surface.


Every action we take online is a dice roll, a gamble with our reputation. Public philosophers should know this as well. Content we release, regardless of intent, can leave permanent marks, thanks to our collective knack for clinging to insufficient evidence. Consider the possibility of not being too close to the spotlight, if you don't want you or your family to be harrassed nor threathened.


Why? It boils down to our brain's love for shortcuts. Generalizations, stereotypes, and snap judgments are mental hacks, saving precious energy by prioritizing short term efficiency over profound understanding. Doubting our first impressions, seeking counter-evidence, takes mental effort most of us prefer to avoid.


And yet we are confident in making claims that we didn't research enough. Confidence in a quick conclusion feels better than the messy process of critical thinking. It is far easier resorting to mere rhetoric over the careful study of logic and evidence.


Does someone criticize your work? Jealousy is the easy answer, even if it's that answer is speculation. Someone dresses religiously? They must be a one-dimensional fanatic, right? Wrong. Our quick conclusions, often based solely on fleeting online/offline interactions, are rarely accurate.


The antidote to this fallacy is to cultivate a healthy dose of curiosity and skepticism. Challenge your own confidence in hasty, whole-person-generalizing judgments. Ask yourself: "Do I truly know enough about this person to draw a conclusion? Is the available information sufficient? Could more research or reflection change my perspective?"


It's easy to feel like we know someone based on their online persona, even if we've never met them in real life. We fill in the blanks with assumptions, often inaccurate ones. I, myself, have been labeled a "pseudo-intellectual" judged by a stranger who couldn't be bothered to engage with my broader body of work which I work to renovate to this day.


The sad truth is that for many, truth itself is less important than the perceived general agreement. Challenge a widely accepted "fact," even with evidence, and you risk facing the wrath of those who confuse popularity with the truth (AKA the "ad-populum" fallacy). It's like Plato's Cave Allegory: some prefer the comfortable shadows of their online echo chambers to the harsh light of critical thinking.


Gathering information, even online, takes effort. But dismissing someone without even a general scan of their work, and without estimating their potential? That's not just lazy, but also a possible reason, although flawed, of spreading misinformation.


So, before you label someone a "terrible writer" based on one article, consider this: you might be making a fallacy and denying yourself the chance to engage with a potentially valuable perspective, and deny yourself from being exposed to new centers where ideas are exchanged.


You know... like Philosocom.


Remember, the sun of truth shines just beyond the bonfire of instant judgment. Take a step outside your comfort zone, do your research, and let critical thinking guide your interactions. It's the only way to escape the cave of misinformation and build a more informed online world, where people would be able to act better, based on greater exposure to the truth (rather than their impressions of it, thinking that these are the truth).

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2 Comments


Thanks for commenting Mr. Leblanc. As to your note, unless one lives comepletely alone on an island or in complete hermitage, whether in an apartment or somewhere remote (and there are people like this today, but are just overlooked by the media's coverage), we are all indeed surrounded by ourselves and by others around us. That is because complete solitude for long periods of time is extremely difficult, both practically and mentally. This is why I choose to be only a partial hermit, AKA, a semi-hermit, because being a writer requires a certain degree of interaction with others that is inevitable. And obviously, other than beings there are things, AKA objects, and that is impossible to completely remove because there…

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Roland Leblanc
Roland Leblanc
Nov 11, 2020

Thank you for remindering us on not judging the other`..., note: the other` : being `... all there is around and within us`... ?

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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