Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On the evils of thinking in binaries and bundles.

If I could do one thing to make this world a better place it would be this: 

Discourage thinking in terms of ideology, be it religious or secular. 
Discourage binary thinking, either/or thinking, in general.

It is easy to fall into. We are creatures of Story, and story thrives on simple narratives. Villains and victims and heroes. Good and evil. White Hats Good, Black Hats bad. Believers to heaven, all others to hell. Our tribe AKA The People, truly human, all others not quite. And so on.

Well, how has that worked so far? I dare say humanity needs a different operating system and we need it fast. I believe that we face a bottleneck in our development. IF, and this is a big if, we pull together all the good things from all past and present cultures and traditions, then we just might have a chance to squeeze past another Dark Age with the gains of the last few millennia intact. Right now I am not too optimistic, but hope springs eternal.  I shall remain a possibilist till the bitter end.

What would happen if instead of teaching "If you are not for me, you are against me", we encouraged an appreciation of the deep wisdom built into the yin/yang symbol? The Tao teaches that opposites are complimentary forces, both needed. Balance is understood to be a dynamic ongoing dance, not a steady state to be achieved once and for all.

How would it work if every time we see the words either/or, we first ask ourselves if that could be and/and?  If searching for consensus was the default setting when conflict arises? It may not always work. There may be times to just take a stand and fight. In this world true evil does exist and may at times have to be fought on its own terms. But, just as a good healer tries a non invasive method before reaching for surgery or a harsh drug, so seeking consensus could be the place where we start when faced with conflict.

Our social discourse is rife with a certain way of thinking that drives me nuts. I used to call it 'block thinking', but it is more like a bundle, as in the bundle we get from the cable or satellite company. We may not care about sports, but the only way to get BBC is to pick a bundle that includes three sports channels.

In a similar way opinions seem to have become bundled. I am stereotyping to make the point here. The reality is more nuanced, but here goes. 

In order to don the mantle of the well meaning liberal one has to close one's eyes to excesses of political correctness. The victim is always blameless. Brown peasant good, white middle class person (especially if male, poor guy) bahahad. The talk is mainly about rights and little about responsibility. Park good, redneck who needs the logging job bad. 
Pointing out that some people truly abuse the public system can get you thrown out of the club.
Recommended reading for dogmatic leftists: "Life at the Bottom" by Theodore Dalrymple.

In order to be a card carrying conservative one has to value potential humans above poverty stricken incarnated ones and deny the science of climate change.
The discourse is mainly about individual responsibility. There is little attention to the social context in which that has to be exercised. If a man knows how to fish but has no access to a clean body of water he still goes hungry.   
Pointing out that the playing field is no longer level can get you thrown out of the club.
Recommended reading for dogmatic rightists: "Nickled and dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich.

I repeat, these are caricatures. The reality is always more nuanced. Anyway, there will be more blogs in this vein. Thoughts on babies and bathwater, margins of error, unexpected side effects, issues of scale.

Another one more or less on this topic is this one:

And finally, Melanie Boxall did an excellent one.

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

A good summary stereotyped or not. Ok I've always been impressed with the Tao....:)