2009-10-20

Dichotomy

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of dichotomy, and how it's promoted and ingrained into our society until many people literally cannot think in any other terms but black and white, left or right, liberal or conservative, republican or democrat, christian or secular, whatever the two opposing viewpoints are.

It's almost as if our country runs entirely on the fuel of dichotomy and staged battles against groups of people on either side of certain issues. It seems that we've done this for so long, and with such fervor, that many people are now completely unaware of this fact, and are completely incapable of thinking about life in any way other than in dichotomies.

Here's how it goes: if you're a republican, anyone who doesn't agree with the republican 'agenda' is obviously a democrat, or at least a 'liberal'. If you are a democrat, anyone who doesn't agree with the democrat 'agenda' is obviously a republican, or at least a 'conservative'. If you're a Christian, anyone who doesn't agree with your accepted Christian agenda is a liberal, secular, and is probably trying to take away all your rights, and if you're not a Christian, the Christians are probably all trying to bang your door down to tell you how evil you are.

Obviously this is a generalization, as not everyone behaves this way - but this kind of behavior has become so rampant that I feel like it's the majority rather than the minority who are entangled in this mess.

Here's why I feel this is damaging. Life is just not this simple. You cannot simply group and categorize people by these labels, ascribe a set of beliefs to them, and then just make all kinds of wildly radical statements about what they do or don't believe, what their agenda is, how they're trying to ruin everyone in your own category, etc. All this tends to do is alienate people, make them feel misunderstood, and want to lash back. It certainly doesn't help solve anything, except maybe for easing your conscience by allowing you to dismiss huge groups of people as irrelevant.

Another reason this is damaging - if you get used to thinking about life in these categories and labels, you cease to be able to comprehend something that doesn't itself claim a label. For instance, in the U.S. right now, it's difficult for many people to understand a person who rides a bicycle for transportation as just a regular person who happens to use a bicycle instead of a car to get around. Mostly, they are just labeled "cyclist" - which carries with it all kinds of sports baggage, bad traffic behavior baggage, funny clothing baggage, and a tangible sense of "other-ness." To give another example, people often refer to 'liberals' as people who completely follow the American democrat agenda, believe in huge government with lots of spending, limitation of individual human rights, agreement with any philosophical view that comes along, wish-washy and of course, out to undermine anyone who comes up against them. If you think though, about the people who would usually be grouped into that category "liberal" - there are so many different viewpoints and beliefs and ideologies that there is no way you could generalize and say that everyone in that group is the same - and in fact, many of the viewpoints expressed by those in that group would be quite similar to viewpoints expressed by people in the group who would label them as "liberal".

Dichotomies are a great way to promote enmity, strife, and hatred. They do several things - they give you a sense of belonging by dumping you in a box with other people; they give you a sense of working against something - that is, the people in the other boxes; and they give you an easy way to not really think about the people you're fighting against in any concrete terms, but simply as an object with a label. It's exactly the kind of mindset you see surface on a mass level during war time - 'we' group together as 'us', and label 'them' as 'them' with all of the obviously negative connotations that we can attach to them, and then it's easy to just say "we have to eradicate them, because they represent everything that is opposite of what we represent." We did it with Germany, we did it with Russia (and likewise, they did it to us) - because if you can portray the 'other' as being obviously opposed to the 'we', then you have a good reason to promote war. In reality, our societies, and especially the people in those societies, are not all that different, but we have to make them so in order to justify eradicating them.

In the same way, the people in the groups of 'liberals' and 'conservatives' or 'christians' and 'secular' or 'democrats' and 'republicans' are not that different either, and the people in each group display a wide range of beliefs, opinions, viewpoints - if you actually get down to looking at them. But while we're all wrapped up in these little ideological wars all over the place between groups of people that don't really even exist in any kind of concrete way, we cease thinking about or doing anything that really matters.

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