Time to get philosophical.

Let’s say that a certain person – let’s call them “X” – is an ass.

X could be an ass for any number of reasons. Maybe X kicks puppies. Maybe X doesn’t tip. Maybe X is just a generally mean-spirited human being. You can assign X whatever attributes you normally associate with asses. The bottom line is that you’ve studied X long enough to conclude that he or she is most certainly an ass.

Now let’s say another person comes along. Let’s call them “Y”.

You know virtually nothing about Y. You don’t know his or her origins, interests, hobbies, or level of education. You don’t even know his or her gender.

The only thing you know about Y is that he or she spends a lot of time hanging around X. They seem to get along quite well.

The question is: Based on this knowledge, and this knowledge alone, how safely can you conclude that Y is also an ass?

Let’s take it one step further. Suppose a third person, Z, comes along. You know nothing about Z, except for the fact that he or she spends a lot of time hanging around Y. They seem to get along quite well. But you’ve never seen X and Z have any sort of interaction. can you safely conclude that Z is an ass?

I think the answer here has to be no, because if the answer is yes it means that person A, who hangs out with person Z is an ass. And person B, who hangs out with person A is an ass. And C is an ass. And D is an ass. And E, F, G, and H. And taken to its logical conclusion, every single human being on the planet. is an ass. And while that theory is appealing, I don’t think it’s correct.

Going the other way, it’s also appealing to conclude that everyone is their own person, and that you can’t judge people at all by their associations. But I don’t think that’s right either.

As with most things, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle: People who hang out with asses are just more likely be asses than people who do not hang out with asses. But this begs a couple of questions: How much more likely? And how many degrees of separation are we willing to accept before the connection with the initial ass becomes too tenuous?

And perhaps being an ass isn’t a matter of black or white. Perhaps asses ought to be assessed on a spectrum. Maybe that’s it.

Maybe “assness” works a little like radioactive decay, and has a half-life of one degree of separation. In the above example, person X is 100% ass, person Y is 50% ass, person Z is 25% ass, and so on down the line. Beyond one degree of separation, assness drops to a level where it is no longer that person’s defining characteristic.

Obviously, no one exists in a vacuum. People hang out with more than just one person at a time. But does that change anything? People are influenced by those who surround them, for better or worse. If someone chooses to surround himself with more asses than non-asses, aren’t they likely to be at least something of an ass?

*******

That all sounds very silly. And yet… the world does work a little bit like that, doesn’t it?

Think about it.

Judging people by the company they keep is a practice that goes back literally thousands of years. We all do it, often subconsciously. When you see someone you’ve never met hanging out with a person you really don’t like, your opinion of that person drops, doesn’t it? If you see someone hanging out with the class bully, you don’t stay neutral towards that person. Consciously or subconsciously, you judge them for it. Perhaps it’s a good thing, perhaps not. But we all do it.

So be careful about who you choose to associate yourself with, just as you’re careful about how you speak and behave around other people; at any given point in time, someone is judging you for who you’re standing beside.

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