Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chrome Plating the False Dichotomy

How Republicans Get Hill Billies to Vote for Them.

A student of modern animal biology sees a common thread which runs through extinctions.  The phenomenon is often, perhaps rather superficially, attributed to overwhelming changes in environment, that is, changes so grave that the extinction candidate can simply not change quickly enough to adapt to its new conditions.  However, a possibly more threatening view of the process is inclined, instead, to focus of the extinction candidate's infatuation with the precise "bad habit" of not changing as its environment changed.

Although the blue berries fit nicely into the nutritive needs of the Bulgarian White Tree Squirrel, the species had always eaten exclusively red berries.  Even after the last of the red berry bushes had expired, the final Bulgarian White Tree Squirrel was still uninterested in so much as sampling one of them.

In the political or social sense, the Bulgarian Squirrel had not noticed that the Earth was moving under its little squirrel feet.  It continued to look for red berries until the very end.

MeanMesa sees, in a case far too similar to our squirrel's, a troubling development in the overly attractive simplification of all sorts of political decisions, both domestically and abroad.  In fact, it is not so much the actual decisions as it is the presentation of gravely over simplified political arguments which are posed as the frame in which those decisions -- and their consequences -- may be considered by under educated and under informed plebiscite.

The primary mechanism of this style of opinion manipulation is the carefully groomed false dichotomy.

The political questions facing the world are not simple ones.  They are also not outright imponderables, either.  However, all manner of social, psychological and cultural deceptions have been "woven into the frock," each one with the single purpose of manufacturing "decisions" based on shockingly destructive, false parameters.

The Foundation of Democracy - "An Informed Electorate"  (image source)
A Few Example Dichotomies

Let's consider a few examples. They are legion.

Gaddafi's Dichotomy

"All you Libyans will have to put up with me or suffer the violence of my carefully crafted tribal chaos. There are no other options."

Mubarak's Dichotomy

"All you Egyptians and foreign investors will either have to contribute to my autocratic fortune and obey my security thugs or the savage Muslim Brotherhood will take over and torture you.  There are no other options."

Walker's Dichotomy

"The citizens of Wisconsin have to crush organized labor or go broke.  There are no other options."

The "W's" Dichotomy

"It's either 'Stay the Course' or 'Cut and Run.'  There are no other options."

There are plenty of other examples running the full course from the Stalinists in the old Soviet Union to the religionists with their "original sin" to Reagan's "supply siders" and their "trickle down" idiocy.  In each case, the false dichotomy is simplified to a point where its consumption doesn't even require so much as chewing before it can be successfully swallowed.  As the process and efforts are meticulously refined, facts mean less and less.

Absolutist Thinking -- Easy, Convenient and Effective

We have to ask ourselves why these essentially insulting simplisms emerge so frequently in the place of more reasoned thoughts.  The superficial answer to our question is clear -- they are employed, over and over, because such dichotomies offer a risk averse population the opportunity to have an opinion absent any unsettling doubt. 

The "opinion product" of such work can rest passively as an unchallenged conclusion, not a dynamic thought product representing a momentary opinion resulting from changing conditions.  Ouspensky, in one his typically overly dramatic explanations, attributed the process in the mind of the "receiver" of such a simplism to be the activity of the "mechanical intellect."  The idea was, roughly, that such "input" was automatically contaminated with subjective thoughts before it was ever even actually considered in the dynamic process of the main elements of a man's mind.

The effectiveness of the approach laid not in its persuasive nature, but rather, in the intellectual ease with which it produced a "pseudo-conclusion" which seemed legitimate.  Persuasion  results from a resolution of the contradictions in an idea, but it remains dynamic.  When the foundational conditions change, the conclusive product may also be subject to change in the thoughts of an energetically rational human.

This environment describes the theoretical system of manipulation found in media reporting, political speeches, debates and the like.  False dichotomies  target the advantage of establishing irrefutable false conditions, not irresistible arguments which might lead to persuasion.  Modern humans have an interesting abhorrence of ever being wrong, an observation not missed by those who would employ false dichotomies in their efforts to deceive them.

What we are describing here is the contemporary phenomenon employed in controlling mass opinion.  More than a theory, populations which have, in the past, garnered some opportunity to rule themselves based on their own interests -- that is, based on their own conclusions after considering the alternatives in any decision -- have, more and more, moved to a new process where those alternatives are presented as simplified false dichotomies rather than robust issues of reality with predictable -- and apparently inevitable -- contradictory possibilities.

The Price We Pay

All this careful work on the part of those who would benefit from such a limited style of personal "self-debate," now inundates our national discourse, and especially, our popular political discourse.  And the discourse which suffers is both external, between ourselves and our countrymen, and internal, that is, between the conflicting possibilities inherent in any decision as we consider it in our thoughts.

"Will yew hurry up, Erma Lee!  We gotta' go vote"  (image source)

Imperfect, intermediate solutions to the challenges we face are swept "off the table.""the two opposing sides" in pre-packaged, carefully manufactured pseudo-paradoxes offered in hopes of better ratings.

The price tag of "fair and balanced" has inflated dramatically while the value of  "fair and balanced" has suffered a miserable collapse.

Worse, our considerations now are plagued with a constant  dereliction of due diligence.  Rather than careful and thoughtful cogitation, we are able to conveniently discharge our human responsibility to complete our own thoughts with a simple "Well, that's all we have time for right now."

Yet, the dichotomies rage on.  And, we keep "eating them up" as if they actually represented something nutritional.

"You have to take what is offered because the issue is simply too complicated for you to understand it."

"There is simply no way to avoid unexpected consequences because people like you can never actually figure this out."

"We have to go back to ideas which have failed before because we are convinced that there aren't any alternatives."


We not only have to take the risk of actually thinking as we arrive at conclusions, we have to pay attention to the process of forming those thoughts as we employ our human assets to reach those decisions.  Laziness, lack of education, lack of effort and the hypnosis of attractive false dichotomies have left us is a terrific bind.  Day by day we are becoming more convinced that we cannot solve the challenges which confront us. 

We have a gnawing suspicion that something about our thinking may not be quite right, but too often, we seek to mollify that unpleasant sensation by mindlessly continuing with precisely the same thought quality which delivered us to this precipice in the first place.

So, that's MeanMesa's "fair and balanced" observation of the problem, and "that's all the time we have right now."

No comments:

Post a Comment