Ex Ante Clarification
Before I begin expressing my views about human nature —which could at times be construed by some readers as lacking in political correctness, especially when discussing certain subsets of humanity including nationalities, cultures, ethnic groups, social classes, special interest lobbies, business syndicates and professional associations plus assorted subcultural groupings composed of such odd miscellanea as political fringe elements, wacko fundamentalists and neocon Republicans— I should make clear my positions regarding the critical assessment of individuals versus groups and the inadmissibility of prejudiced opinion in intelligent discourse.
The only real entities that exist in the world, biologically, are individuals and families, kin. The rest of the social superstructure consists of notional abstractions claimed to exist by individuals themselves and assented to as real by a sizable proportion of the population of individuals who happen to be localized together, mostly geographically and temporally, and thus collectively constitute a society or group as notionally defined by themselves. Things such as nations, societies and even cultures have no actual physical existence. They are solely creations of the mind.
Individuals, by virtue of belonging to the human species, have a more or less well-defined repertoire of possible behaviors that is common to all members of the race — the human race. All individuals are basically capable of engaging in any of these possible behaviors. Some groups of individuals, however, tend to habitually behave in ways that are distinct from other groups, perhaps because of environmental influences or historical factors. Thus, cultural and social differentiation arise. Although all individuals retain the capability to behave as any other fellow human, the fact remains that collective behavior is observed to be differentiated among groups, and that it is therefore valid to speak of behavioral traits pertaining to the collective (group tendencies) apart from the conduct of any one individual member of that collective.
For any given category of behavior it is possible, at least in principle, to conceive of the extent of actions that individuals may engage in (or alternatively, the range of postures an individual may adopt relative to a given situation) as a separate psychological dimension. Think of a dimension as a geometric line running along the horizontal axis of a graph. The particular conduct of a given individual can (again, in principle) be plotted somewhere along this dimension. For instance, consider the issue of belief in God. At one end of the dimension (say, the point 0 on the x-axis) we can plot the atheists, and at the other extreme (the point 1) plot the believers. Agnostics would be plotted somewhere between the endpoints, according to their degree of belief or lack thereof. Now, if the height in the y-axis is made to represent the number of individuals adopting a specific posture, the result would be a graphical distribution of the belief in God for that group of individuals (at a certain point in time). Summarizing, when talking about groups, a distinction must be made between the statistical distribution of the collective as a whole and the position of each constituent individual.
Distributions may or may not have locations of central tendency, that is, places along the x-axis where many individuals tend to cluster about. In statistics, for example, there is the famous bell curve (more properly, the Gaussian or normal distribution) which is symmetric about the mean and is said to pervade nature, cure all manner of ills and even make you the next millionaire. Actually, distributions come in all manner of shapes, many assymetric, and may have more than one peak (a type of central tendency point) or none at all. It all dependes on the behavioral choices made by each of the individuals in the population. What I wish to highlight is this: it is possible to talk about the tendency of the population or group as a whole even while it is patently clear that individuals in that group may exhibit a markedly different behavior. To restate this very important point: it is perfectly acceptable to talk about national or cultural traits while clearly understanding that such generalizations need not apply to specific individuals within that group. One can criticize the group yet imply nothing about a given individual.
To arbitrarily impute to an individual a trait held to apply to a group is stereotyping, a form of prejudice. That is invalid reasoning, which has no place in intelligent discourse nor in this Weblog.