Both Sides of the Polyhedron

Am I alone in detesting the tendency of Americans to accept or even applaud either/or thinking?

Black and white thinking is one of the most common informal fallacies, and it’s also a hallmark of the typical America mind. I’m old enough to remember “America: Love It or Leave It” bumperstickers. Perhaps it’s our two party system, perhaps it’s some pervasive character flaw. Whatever its source, the American tendency to reduce the continuum of opinion on arguable issues to either/or terms exasperates me.

Are you liberal or conservative? Democrat or Republican? “Denier” or “Advocate”?

Beware of people who, if asked one of those questions, instantly chirp an answer, happily slapping on themselves a reductionist label.

I’m lucky enough to have a friend who when asked if he was liberal or conservative, thought for a moment and answered, “On what issue?” We need more like him. Unfortunately, he’s rare.

From what I can see most Americans are happy with the reductionist black and white thinking that’s so typical of the immature mind. Most educators know that either/or thinking is typical in teenagers. It’s something we grow out of—or should grow out of—as we grow older and see more of the world.

A solid education can do wonders to speed the process. Even a cursory study of critical thinking soon reveals that issues are rarely simple and almost never black and white. Instead of focusing on literacy, I wish the education community would address our dire need for improved critical thinking. For example, most of the followers of Socrates could not read, but he taught them to think, to view the world through the lens of reason and logic. Hence, they were illiterate, yet educated. Now we are aiding and abetting generations who read, write, and blog, but show their lack of education by falling into the simplest logical traps. In fact, the Internet is one of the worst offenders in perpetuating wild oversimplification and raw, often vile, emotion.

Even worse, while too many blogs indulge the author’s I-Am-Right/You-Are-Wrong attitude, most elements of the monetary-driven mainstream media muddy instead of clarifying issues by giving coverage to “the other side,” even when those on “the other side” are driven solely by faith, emotion, or ulterior motives. This bland, uncritical presentation of He-Is-Right/She-Is-Right masquerades as “balance,” but usually it is not. Too often it lacks the quantification or context that would help a watcher to evaluate the authority of the “sides.” This scares me even more than the vitriol found in partisan blogs. Most blogs attract only a few already convinced readers so their impact isn’t great. On the other hand, when major news media render complex issues in terms of presenting “both sides,” the country is in trouble. And I won’t even mention “news” sources that broadcast “infoganda.”

Important issues generally require detailed, nuanced, and often qualified answers. Developing that type of answer takes TIME–for thought, for research, for reflection. Unfortunately, Americans usually find instant answers more appealing. Too often we accept or reject without thinking, without reasoning, without questioning. Name-calling and propaganda are, alas, the hallmarks of contemporary American life.

Anti-intellectualism has been a hallmark of America since before we were a country, but the tone today is the worst I can remember. Instead of recognizing that most significant issues are, at minimum, dodecahedrons of arguable or testable viewpoints to investigate, explore, analyze, and debate, too many in America just want to cheer a coin flip.

Here’s one of the links that inspired this post: “Featuring Skeptics in News Media Stories Reduces Public Beliefs in the Seriousness of Global Warming”

And, for the record, yes, for a number of reasons I can explain at length, I think it’s almost certain that anthropogenic climate change is already negatively affecting human life. And I can also explain why I think cap-and-trade is a bad idea. So there.



5 Responses to “Both Sides of the Polyhedron”

  1. babz Says:

    I feel very fortunate to work with critical thinkers, project planners, and problem-solvers; from the rookie fire-fighter to the Regional Environmental Manager. And they feel fortunate to have me on the front lines. So there. Too bad it’s sort of isolated, like a separate world.

  2. Jesse Says:

    Interesting. Socrates was a General and war hero. It always tickles me when he is brought up because most people of such background are poo-pooed by intellects of academia. By choosing camoflauge one is generally slammed into an instant “camp”. If one sought the lens through which Socrates birthed his critical thinking, would it not then be accurate in enlisting in the Army? He must’ve hacked at least one person to death with a blade. Today we view the bayonet as a violation of Geneva convention.

    Would Colin Powell ever teach at Berkley? No, you are correct in much of what you have posted.

    I guess some radical questions would be, “Is one nation supposed to save the world?” “If everyone was “smart” could everything that needs to be done, get done?”

    I think allot of the issue is consensus, with that ideology, no matter how many groups there are, nobody can be happy with the outcome. So we are in perpetual frustration. I think time spent on each issue is more fantasy. How many people in Haiti would be dead if debate raged in commitee. So it came down to help or not. We did and have to accept our leader’s judgement. Same thing if we didn’t.

    If GW didn’t go to war and did nothing after 911, how many women would’ve been hung, raped or mutilated by now? In Iraq, how many non-shiite muslims would be dead?

    If we say all human life is precious, where do we draw the line? The sheepherder’s daughter in Afghanistan? The unwanted daughter in China? Rwanda? The banker that chose to leap to her death instead of burn alive in the trade towers? Do we choose the environment over the displaced worker in Detroit? Because rescources are finite, there has to be a line. There has to be either/or. Critical thinking helps one decide where to draw it. Yes. But the line has to exist. Because it takes monumental unified effort to accomplish a great goal, unfortunately, it may all come down to a coin toss. Humans are very clannish by nature, it is a survival instinct and it is both amazing and terrible. The T-shirt “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups” comes to mind.

    You feel lonely because you are smart. I get it. I know a guy with an IQ of 185. He told me to imagine walking up and everyone had the disparity of IQ relative to your own, i.e. 100 IQ being you, everyone else, 100-85=15. So the world is packed with drooling people distracted by flashlights and wearing football helmets. That is what having an IQ of 185 is like. His solution to avoid depression is simply not to give a shittake because he is only one man.

    I am still curious, Cassandra, what are you trying to tell Troy? Where do you draw the line on issues? Love, Apollo

  3. uncommonscolds Says:


    Much of the life of Socrates is sketchy, but I’ve never heard that he was a general. From what I’ve read, he was indeed a war hero, saving the life of Alcibiades, but as a hoplite, a foot soldier. Are you perhaps confusing Socrates with his follower Xenophon? (If so, you might want to check out my entry on Xenophon on my horse blog )

    As to your last question, I don’t even know which line to draw. Lines overlap, tangle, meld with other lines. I see a Gordian knot of lines and I am Cassandra not Alexander.

  4. Jesse Says:

    I have run across reference that he was a general and that he was not also. But do give him credit as a war hero. He was also not fond of democracy nor the government of his time.

    As for critical thinking, I would suspect that the use of it is to reach a conclusion. Because time and events are fluid, as are circumstance, a constant critque does indeed become a mobius. Perhaps you have stumbled onto the arguement as to why educators and/or the intelligencia should leave the guidance of the peoples to the dumb?

    For Cassandra, I figured it was a literary referance to Cassandra being cursed by Apollo to know the fate of Troy and no one believing her. i.e. she knew the conclusion or had some “secret knowledge”. If asked she would be able to instruct specifically on how to avoid doom. But that may well be in a Gordian knot of space-time.

    For critical thinking and right/left dogma I find humor in the conclusions. For example, abortion. Personally I don’t care. A: I’m male. B: My child was planned.

    Christian fundamentalist(a big group somehow on the ‘right’) believes the abortion is wrong. Murder of an innocent.

    A hippy ‘leftist’ viewpoint is that nature is good. Things need to flow with the harmonious energies of the universe at large. Many reject hospitals in preference in birthing at home with midwives. Hence, cutting a child out is wrong. Even if the conception was violent or unwanted, it is against natures course.

    On the right, the idea is the government has no place infringing on our individuality. Gun control, embedded microchips, etc.

    The left view is that government infringment on individuals is bad. The draft, wiretaps, cameras on street lights, embedded microchips, etc.

    Taking the sums of both directions of critical thinking, abortion should be legal, yet, it is morally wrong.

    How does that happen?

    How do we protest cars and the technological industry that comes with it and the enslavement of animals at the same time? Morally we should use neither.

    How do we promote natural, organic foods, yet, attack those that harvest organic game animals as “gun nuts”? Should not game hunters be celebrated in “Mother Earth News” too? NRA members have virtue as non-industrialist conformists.

    If we believe we should be all inclusive of religions, why the animous toward creationism? If we believe that Christian morals and values are paramount to the US progression, why do we embrace science? All creation theories should be taught, none to be believed.

    If we should(right-wing) only take care of ourselves and we should(left-wing) get along with other cultures in harmony, then we should not be at war with “axis of evil” countries. We should embrace others’ beliefs in gendercide, slavery, genocide, and tyranny. But equality and freedom is inalienable(left). We are guided by christian moral values(right). Therefore we will crusade on behalf of the down-trodden and war with terrorists, interfering with their culture.

    Is this your Gordian knot/Mobius strip? Lol.

  5. Jesse Says:

    Thought some more with Corona and lime. The hypothetical future mom in the clinic. If she has an abortion to not be “trapped” with an unwanted child, maintain figure, go to school, etc. Nature libs will hate her. Christian conservatives will hate her. Libs will hate her for selfish promotion. 3 groups are negative.

    If she chooses abortion because it wasn’t her choice, christian conservatives will hate her, nature libs will hate her and conservatives will hate her for demeaning the value of life to an irratant.

    If she has the baby for religious reasons, nature libs see her as backward, libs see her as a conformist sheep and the same goes for the conservative because she has “thrown her future away”.

    If she has the baby for natural reasons, christian right will see her as flippant or “pagan”, conservatives will see it as “putting the child at risk w/o means to care for the child”. Same goes for the straight lib because she has a choice.

    So, no matter what, 3 groups frown. As she thinks about this potential person the window to abort is closing. What if the kids cures cancer or becomes a Mozart? What if it’s retarded or reminds me of my rapist/ex? What if I can’t raise this child and it grows to hate me? What if I am haunted by dreams of guilt? What if I’m not?

    A hard line has to be drawn. Abort or not. That decision will efect everything forever. That is what we all live with. Choices we have made and choices to be made. I have found that those that cannot draw hard lines are doomed to live with the lines drawn by others. They are also easy prey for manipulative deciders. Prone to doubt and constant critics that offer nothing. Strangely, faith and religious belief as well as political bully pulpit provide direction. They are things that give compass and unwind enigmas. This may be why agnostics seem to drift and why extremist views on anything don’t last long under pressure. People who have made choices and stand by them with faith may be viewed as weak or narrow minded but I still see them as more effective than the handwringing victim of everything. They lament choices made without their consent, as well as “seeing” the right choice but never acting on it. They put doubt in others, so they can damage as well as fix.

    Because I tend to think the world is full of pregnant mom with a choice to make, I think that most choose a hard line and accept it. That repeated daily turns into a soup where moral center is defined but not stationary. The winners of popularity contests try too woo it and make judgements on what they think is our behalf. But like the mom, there is always a majority of the dissatisfied. I call it normal.

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