Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Darn Those Dichotomies!

I don't know why, but I've been thinking about this world and feeling increasingly discouraged by our prospects.  It isn't entirely based on language, but there's a linguistic component to this post, so please indulge me in this.

Humans naturally classify things.  By lumping people or ideas into nice little groups, we enable our own understanding of our world.  This tendency can, however, hinder our understanding if we aren't careful.

There is a broad spectrum of political views.  There is a broad spectrum of belief systems.  There is a wide variety of just about any social grouping or affiliation that you can think of.  The world isn't typically black and white, though people seem to see it that way more often than not.

Our own language structure makes this tendency quite clear.  You have positive and negative statements: "American vs. non-American", "Christian vs. non-Christian", "believer vs. nonbeliever", "white vs. non-white", "heterosexual vs. non-heterosexual", etc.  There are countless examples.  It seems like we're geared to split everything into splitting things into two simple groups.  

At the end of the day, this tendency leaves us with the "us vs. them" mentality.  Human beings are always talking about the battle of light vs. dark, or good vs. evil.  If we believe that we're right and that we're fighting for what's good, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that the people we see as "them" must be fighting for evil.

Perhaps this sounds a bit extreme.  We don't always see the people who oppose us as doing or advocating for evil things, though I've seen plenty of people in the news making such extreme claims lately.  And even if you don't see the people who think differently than you as evil or just plain bad, you still may see them as a threat.    

The impulse to create dichotomies runs very deep in us.  I'm sure many of you can think of examples I haven't even mentioned here.

In the days when humanity was much less advanced and lived in smaller groups, outsiders were typically perceived as a threat.  We survived because we trusted those who were like us, while we fought off those who weren't.  Survival required an "us   Though this is no longer quite the case (we still fight plenty of wars, I'll admit), we still tend to think of the people who aren't with us as being against us.

We're split into two sexes, male and female.  This may explain a little bit about why we tend to lump things into two groups.  It's deeply ingrained in our psychology.  The world has been run in two separate spheres, public vs. private (namely the home), for much of human history.  For a long time, people operated in each sphere within specific roles based on sex.  This is still the case in many instances.

For better or worse, these dichotomies aren't going away.  All I can do is make a simple plea.  Maybe we need to reexamine the "us vs. them" mentality.  There are situations where it's still appropriate, certainly.  Unfortunately, even in civil society, we have decidedly uncivilized encounters on a daily basis because people can't listen to one another.  We hold dearly to our beliefs and lash out at those who disagree.  Instead of talking and trying to be rational in our encounters, we degenerate to name-calling.  Politics gets uglier all the time. 

Lately I've read articles that weren't even about politics (at least not overtly), and people from the left and right start hurling insults at one another for no discernible reason.  It makes me wonder how we'll ever resolve anything.

I'm disgusted.  If only we had a strong third party.  The two party system (darn that dichotomy as well!) isn't working for me anymore.  We need more options.  If the two existing parties are too mired down in their own ideologies to listen, they don't deserve to lead us.

This is just my opinion, of course.


  1. You raise a lot of interesting issues. I'd like to think everyone can see different points of view on an issue, but once the crowd mentality takes over, the issue becomes two sided, like a football game. That way, everyone can be involved, at expense of mental functioning.

    In Australia, the two party preferred system of politics is getting ridiculous, but then politics in Australia 'is' ridiculous as well. Sometimes politics just makes me want to move to the moon.

    There is lots of food for thought here. It's great! Thanks

  2. It's the curse of the Internet, I'm afraid. It frees people to be completely open and non judgemental, but it also allows them to be utter and complete trolls. The gift and the curse of humanity, I guess!

  3. Hear, hear! I am 100% with you. Excellent point about the ancient, probably the very first, dichotomy of male/female. The depressing thing for me is that the only way people who are mired in their own ways can grow is to mix with different kinds of folks. That's not guaranteed to work, but it's often true that we're exposed to what's different, on a regular basis, in an average, everyday way, it ceases to feel weird/threatening. But as you noted, we gravitate toward what's familiar. (Well, all except for loners like me, who keep to ourselves because even the familiar annoys.) ;-)
    Some Dark Romantic

  4. I'm classifying you as a recipient of two awards. Come get them! :D

  5. Great post! You make some very interesting points. Great food for thought... Or not... Dichotomy or what? It's what also makes the world go round and means we constantly question ourselves and our surroundings.