Thursday, June 30, 2016

Binary Thinking and Seventy-Two Raisins

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday Western Civilization seems to be under siege, disintegrating as if we’d Hiroshimed ourselves with fundamentalist fools terrorizing our precepts and inciting a band of disgruntled armed followers. But enough about Donald Trump.  

His cousins calling themselves ISIS also practice binary thinking. The enemy is defined as anyone who doesn’t agree with the dogma or slogans. They can be ordinary folks in an airport terminal, night club or protest group or person of color. Decapitate or delegitimize. Waterboard, torture, insult, smear or bully. Anything goes because They are not like Us.

Binary thinking leaves no room for nuance or pluralism. They have zero tolerance for compromise or shades of olive. It is either raining out or it isn’t. You are for us or get out of here. They have whittled a complex tree of life into a simplistic hunk of wood. The illusion of order is insisted upon. Fear of outside forces leads directly to hatred of otherness. Any perceived threat can justify violence.

Dichotomies such as night and day, male and female, coffee or tea preclude third choices. They are exclusionary and they narrow the mind needlessly. When I was twelve I remember thinking since X is bad Y must be good. Or since FDR was a near-God therefore the opposition party must be near-Evil itself.

Those caught up in the binary have a way of inventing facts to support a rigid mind set. So Donald swears there were Muslims rejoicing in New Jersey over Sept. 11th. His imaginary convictions are buckling and require propping up with a constant supply of fabricated facts. Brexit supporters also concocted their own faux-facts to scare the disaffected. Truth becomes an expediency to convert those wandering in the storm.

Fortunately on Tuesday, Thursday and weekends sanity seems to prevail. The half-light between day and night could just as well be dawn rather than dusk. That demon approaching may be a reflection of ourselves.  The unrecognizable new idea or technology or neighbor can turn out to possess some eternal verities in an unfamiliar form or dress. It is reassuring that so much of the new technology in the past century has brought people together.

I think it’s fair to say that when I was twelve I was also eight in some ways and eighteen in others. Maturation comes only when everything else fails. We grow as old paradigms no longer hold up. Eventually, as we ripen, we can even carry opposing views in our heads at the same time and not require resolution.

Terrorists have a hard time with that. There is no pay-off for hatred. No 72 virgins. That promise turns out to be a mistranslation of 72 raisins. Nor is there any reward for striking terror in a constituency with real grievances when you offer nothing but vitriol-laced Pablum.

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