Malcolm Gladwell’s 2006 essay Troublemakers provides an interesting discussion about how we use generalizations in organizing and regulating our society. He frames his discussion with a consideration of the 2005 law banning pit bulls in Ontario, but in between he refers to generalizations in insurance (young male drivers pay higher premiums), medicine (overweight males will be counseled to have their cholesterol checked), law enforcement (what markers are used to identify terrorists) and our perceptions about crime rates in New York City. The pit bull ban is the only law that he considers, the rest are practices or perceptions. Gladwell concludes that the ban on pit bulls is overbroad, because not all pit bulls are dangerous, and that it is unclear, because “pit bull” is not a specific breed and the definition in the law includes a dog whose appearance is “substantially similar” to that of a pit bull. He concludes that better generalizations could have been used to protect Ontarians from severe dog attacks.
His article was written several years before the Ontario courts upheld the pit bull law. A pit bull owner, as being contrary to her Charter rights, challenged the law. She argued that the ban on pit bulls was overbroad, because not all pit bulls are dangerous, and vague, because “pit bull” is not a specific breed. Her arguments were similar to the kinds of arguments that Gladwell makes in his article. The Court of Appeal ultimately dismissed her application.
Gladwell’s article is subtitled “What pit bulls can teach us about crime”, and his article, along with the court decision, addresses three significant ideas. Gladwell states that laws are often based on generalizations, and in this article he makes a point about how the pit bull law is a “generalization of a generalization of a trait”. Second it is important to use evidence to try and choose an appropriate generalization, because being too vague or too specific can have negative influences on...
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