Tag Archives: debate

The Nature of Dichotomies

One noticeable pattern when it comes to formulating an argument is the use of binary thinking. In its most extreme it boils down to an “us versus them” mindset, at its least as “both sides” of an issue.

This is something that I know I’ve been guilty of. It’s probably impossible not to be. How often are political issues framed as conservative versus liberal, or Republican versus Democrat? In the mainstream media, one might argue almost exclusively. Clearly it isn’t this simple–there are always more than two ways of looking at an issue. And even between any two perspectives there is a spectrum.

This isn’t a new revelation. But at the same time, it’s difficult to perceive the world in such a complex way. Social psychologists have suggested some possible reasons for this. One is the need for self-image maintenance–the need to feel individual or unique, or in cases of prejudice, to boost self-esteem. Another reason is simply the need to sort information in a way that can be processed quickly. Easier to come to conclusions based on two possibilities than, say, a potentially infinite number of possibilities that would be involved otherwise.

But what happens when the majority of opinions are overlooked? It’s not surprising that people feel alienated and misrepresented by what is considered mainstream. And no wonder people are conflicted. How can we expect otherwise?

A set of dichotomies is applied to so many of the topics we hear about. You’re either for or against, say, abortion. Or war. And that’s what gets reported. The same thing when it comes to countries. It’s the U.S. versus whoever the given enemy is at the time. By overlooking commonalities, the humanity is removed from an entire group of people. And this is no way to resolve a dispute.


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