Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Power of Classification

This should come as no surprise to Christians, who will recall that God gave Adam the power to name the animals. Yet we neglect the significance of that event in other aspects of life.

“When observers use classification or definition rather than judgment to place people in categories, they exercise power over those people. Thomas Szasz, a maverick psychiatrist, has described this process in the determination of psychiatric disorders. Szasz shows how classifying people changes them into the image that accords with the classifier’s assumptions or his desires. In that way, “classification is like a lever: it gives one a purchase on whatever it is one wants to move.” To classify people psychiatrically, Szasz believes, is to establish control over them. To classify people by their culture, as the humanitarians do, is by extension to establish control over whole populations. To the extent humanitarian policies become national policy, a whole society falls under the power of the classifiers. As Szasz says, the process of classification serves the classifier. Since classification is a process of will more than of reason, the arbitrary nature of sentimentality is perfectly suited to the exercise of this kind of power. It creates in people their ontological nature in the way one wishes, just as God created man, and at the same time sets the stage for exercising domination over them. Or, as Szasz says, to get the lever on them and move them.” (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, p. 75).

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