The Third Dimension

“In times of peace, workers or employers or university professors unite for a while on particular issues, permitting temporary generalizations. But all statements based on national or professional classifications are always misleading. Even in constituted bodies that poll their members — a legislature or a medical association — there are always minorities of whom what is true is the exact opposite of the majority truth. Minorities may be overlooked in practical affairs, but in critical judgments, in histories, in anything resembling a desire to know, the recording of divergence is the third dimension necessary to a lifelike portrayal. The urge is strong to speak of groups as if their actions formed an indivisible whole, and it is hard to be sure which of the infinite number of differences are significant, but usually that discovery is the point of the investigation, as when Napoleon III consulted his prefects to find out whether France was ready for war with Prussia. More than half said no: he disregarded them in favor of the other, more congenial view, and so put himself back into the state of ignorance from which he had tried to lift himself by asking. The same error is committed in any assumption of unanimity.” (Jacques Barzun, Race: A Study in Superstition)