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Bulk Thinking

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Bulk buying, as any businessman worth his salt can tell you, is cheap; so is bulk-thinking. "All Bangladeshis are lazy thieves" saves effort of the mental kind; one doesn't have to keep exceptions in mind, or to search for them. "All Englishmen are honest" makes no room for Robert Clive. Thinking in bulk makes for effortlessness at the expense of accuracy.



Of course, it sometimes makes for efficiency as well. Dealing with humanity in the mass rather than in the detail has enabled the British to rule the earth for 200 years; today, the same principle serves the Americans well. The trick is to combine bulk thinking with judicious exceptionalism. It wouldn't do to regard "All democracies are safe" as an a priori truth. '"Democracies with the exception of those in which mullahs have a tendency to win" are safe' is a safer rule of thumb. All successful imperialists have mastered the art of thinking in bulk and at the same time making exceptions. "When in Rome, do as the Romans" could only have arisen in conscious recognition of the contrary dictum "When not in Rome, do not as the Romans" – even if Rome happens to rule the province you find yourself in.



The astute reader will have noticed a bit of bulk thinking on my part above. I observed that all successful imperialists think in bulk and in exceptions. Now, this is a bulk statement, and so it was effortless. It was facile. Let me redeem myself. Successful imperialists do think in bulk and make exceptions at the same time, but not always. And to that extent they are less successful. And no imperialist is completely successful. And lest the reader come to believe that I am hiding behind synacategorematic expressions '(but', 'and', 'if', 'not'...), let me offer concrete examples.



The British genius failed in Ireland. And it failed for 800 years. It is still failing. That is a long time to fail. It amounts almost to success – it is indeed difficult to characterize as failure a feat that has been dragged out over several centuries. Nevertheless, Ireland has been a failure to the extent that the British have had to surrender it, whereas in other climes they "left". Not a bad record compared to the French or the Dutch.



Of course, bulk thinking also makes for safety. There are certain parts of New York, I am told, where one should not venture, that is, where one should not make any judicious exceptions. These may prove most injudicious. The New York Police Department has used this principle to good effect. Violence in New York, I am told, has come down largely due to the indiscriminate use of the principle of thinking – and sometimes shooting – in bulk.



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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, ŽBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL ŽTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. ŽHe (more...)
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