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Who are "they"?

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Who are "they"?

We so often refer to "them". But who are "they"?

A crowd does not have a personality. A crowd cannot be a person. So when I ask "who are they" I am asking for identification of individuals and not only by their name, but by who they actually are as individuals, everything that makes them be what they are.

This question is more powerful than it may seem at first and I wish to illustrate why with a few examples. It can help us break down the barriers and delusions which are easy to fall into.

Other Nations

They are often other "nations". If you are an american you may sometimes refer to "mexicans", "canadians", "europeans", "french", "dutch" and so on proceeding to talk about "them" using certain typical descriptors that are commonly believed to be the remarks of that culture or that "nation".

If you were to visit the country in which "they" live or have visited it already you may find that "they" aren't necessarily the way you thought "they" were because you may have experienced individuals which don't necessarily fit the typical descriptors. What most people do in that situation, however, is to ascribe their experience to the entire "nation" therefore just augmenting the collectivist view of "them".

Consider the question in this context.

Who are "they"?

Imagine looking at the crowd of thousands or millions of dutch people and then zeroing in on a single person. Imagine her posture, the expression on her face, the color of her eyes and hair, the way she is clothed and what is she doing at the moment. Try to think about who she might be, what she might be doing for a living, what her hopes and dreams could be and why is she in that crowd. Why is she born in the place people call "Netherlands", taught dutch as her native language and influenced by the dutch culture?

Try to do this for every single individual in that crowd you currently think of as merely "the dutch". Imagine if american soldiers in World War 2 did that when they thought about japanese or japanese soldiers when they thought about americans.

What will you discover?

Other Classes

You may think, based on the popular memes, that class distinctions no longer matter. I think you should know better. There are still the poor, the rich, the famous, the ruled and the ruling and when you speak of "them" you think of "them" again as a crowd of people with certain stereotypical characteristics.

If you are rich or famous you might feel uncomfortable associating with the poor. If you're the poor you might feel a kind of silent despise for the rich or famous or if you're so inclined an open admiration. If you are not among the rulers you might see them as somehow inherently respect-worthy. Just think of how you'd feel if the president or one of his closest associates came into your house. Wouldn't you make sure to clean up, dress up and prepare a special meal?

In all these cases you have a picture of "them" in your mind with a specific set of traits which dictate your attitude towards them. But again, consider the question.

Who are "they"?

Try to do a similar exercise as with the dutch crowd above, but for the poor, the rich, the famous, the ruling and so on. Zero in on a poor individual and try to think of who he might be, what has led him to where he is and in the situation he is in. What are his hopes and dreams? Or zero in on one of the rich and famous, trying to think beyond what is commonly known about them, trying to think of them as individual human beings just like you and me. Or zero in on one of the ruling elite. Why is he in the government? What was the path that led him to it? How does he feel?

What will you discover?

Other Religions

Them muslims. Them christians. Them atheists. Them scientologists.

Religious "thems" are perhaps the strongest because religion is something that deals with some of the deepest questions a human being may care about. So when we have an image of a religious collective of some kind built up with various descriptions of what they do or believe which dictate "what" they are it is extremely hard to think of "who" each individual in that "collective" actually is.

But it's still important to try and ask. Who are "they"? Who they really are? Each individual. If you're an atheist imagine your christian friend. If you're a christian imagine a muslim you may know. If you're a muslim imagine a christian. Then ask why does he or she believe what (s)he does? Why does (s)he not believe what you believe? Don't think of them as simply evil or seduced because there is a reason for everything. There is a why for every what. And no human individual does whatever he or she does with the genuine intent of being evil. It is always the contrary, the definition of good.

Why is his or her "good" what it is?

What will you discover?

The Government

In the times of crisis many people seem inclined to look "up" to the government either to lay blame or call "them" into action. Whenever something is wrong and whenever there is a perceived need for world change for some reason people look to the government. They are perceived to be the ones who "take care of things that are really important".

But... Who are "they"?

In this case I feel it's actually progress just to call "the government" as "they" rather than an "it" because "they" still implies a group rather than an all-powerful entity. And you cannot answer the question "who are they" without looking at individuals. Imagine a bureaucrat or an armored police man or a congress man and try to think of who he or she actually is. Why do you think he or she is capable of partaking in the solution to the problems you see in the world and you aren't?

What will you discover?

Everyone else

You know the moments when you have sentiments like "the world's gone mad" feeling that everything is just wrong and all people are just out to abuse each other. How quickly does this thinking sink when we actually begin asking that question.

Who are "they"? Who is everyone else?

It happens quickly because if you really believe everyone is so bad then either you're going to be all alone in this world or you're gonna have to associate with and socialize with people whom you think are bad people. But sooner or later, having a drink with your friend for example, you might realize something like "he's a good person" and the theory of everyone being one way falls down.

And even if you truly are alone and have a rigid version of what "everyone" is, it's enough to talk to anyone with complete honesty trying to probe who that person is, for your theory to break down. The internet allows even the most lonely people in the world to find someone to talk to and learn about and in the process break down such barriers.

The Conclusion

I want to make you think beyond your current idea of "them" and see what you discover and what your conclusion is.

What I discover when asking such questions is that whatever label, set of characteristics or descriptors I ascribe to any "them" is for the most part actually completely meaningless. In fact it is impossible to truthfully do that because you can never know precisely who you are talking about and what his or her characteristics are until you really know each and every individual supposedly belonging to this "they" category you put them in.

Nations thus don't really exist. "The poor" and "the rich" don't really exist. "Religions" don't really exist. "Government" doesn't really exist. These are all just quite imprecise mental handles that so many of us have unfortunately learned to ascribe traits to that can in reality only be ascribed to individual human beings. Many people think of these labels as if they were real individuals and then think that the label exists as something outside of our minds. Then whenever someone exhibits any of those traits they're labeled, as if you know who they really are just because you can put them in some imaginary category.

But only individual human beings really exist. Thus only an individual matters. That's what all of us are. We all matter individually not as part of some mental label, category or some other WORD, but as who we actually are as persons.

I conclude that whomever I am I certainly am not a word. I am me.

Image by Chad Davis available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike


Daniel Memetic



Re: Who are "they"?


'Nations thus don't really exist. "The poor" and "the rich" don't really exist. "Religions" don't really exist. "Government" doesn't really exist.'

Yes, all of those exist, but it is important to recognize that they are merely ideas. You cannot literally point to government just like you cannot literally point to love, but they both exist.

Re: Who are "they"?


That's kinda the point. They don't exist outside of the mind since ideas cannot exist outside of the mind. And the mind can conceptualize almost anything whatsoever so this existence within the mind is practically irrelevant to the real world except as something that influences how you feel and how you act upon the real world.

It is worth recognizing this because it allows us to step back from these conceptualizations and try to reform them in the image of what really is out there. Failure to do so can lead to treating concepts without representation in the real world as if they did have such representation, which is a path to self-delusion.


Daniel Memetic

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