Thursday, August 2, 2007

There aren't always two sides.

This has been an effective 'debate' tactic for too long. It crops up everywhere people are discussing anything. The problem is once again rooted in the misapplication of folk wisdom. I'm referring to the adage that states there are two sides to every story. It's easy to remember, puts a dose of caution in you when you listen to other people, and it can be good advice. Like all wisdom though, it breaks down if you take it literally. It is really meant to remind you that you might want to rely on more than one source of information to guide your decision making process. Well, that is good advice. What's wrong with that? Nothing, unless you take it literally. By taking it literally you make it possible to lock yourself into a simplified worldview. Once you put on those polarizing lenses, everything looks like: career or family, patriotism or treason, good or evil, happiness or wealth, black or white, us or them.

So, these people with their simple worldview and visions of false dichotomies dancing in their heads have opinions and naturally share them with others. As long as people agree, everything is fine, but if you disagree watch out! You can't have a different opinion from them. You're either right or you're wrong, for them or against them, a team player or a God Damned Individual. If you are lucky, they like you and will attempt to amend your wrongheaded thinking. You'll have discussions and if they can't personally sway you, they'll give you literature, take you to meetings, or otherwise bring you into contact with more proponents of their outlook. Unfortunately for them, their limited worldview tends to make their 'philosophy' shallow and circular, so you really just end up recycling the same few discussions. At some point they'll get frustrated with your (what?!) stubbornness and call you close-minded. If you're really lucky, before they turn on you, they'll paraphrase their error to you by telling you that you are being unreasonable and that you shouldn't even argue about it anyway because you wouldn't understand until you saw it their way.

Life is neither fair nor binary.

There isn't always another side to a story, and I don't need the 'other' side of the story if that 'side' is invalid. If I catch you stabbing an infant in the chest with a rusty screwdriver am I supposed to take a reflective pause and hear your side?

The truth is that:

There are as many sides of a story as there are witnesses and opinions.
You can have your career and family in any mix that you can personally tolerate.
There are many degrees of loyal citizenship between patriotism and treason.
Good and evil are not absolutes, actions are. The judgements of, and rationalizations of; said actions are opinion.
Wealth and happiness have the relationship you choose for them to have in your life.
There are a multitude of tones and colors outside of black and white.
Us and them are plural pronouns which, by definition, "have a very general reference"; so we're back to opinion.

8 comments:

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

2+2=4

There can be many opinions about that story, but only one of them is going to be right and all of the rest of those opinions are simply wrong.

There are "two sides" to the answer to the above equation: the correct side (the answer is "4" and the incorrect side (all of the other alternatives).

Not every issue has such a clear and bright line between what is correct and what is incorrect, but it isn't true that all questions have a variety of answers. Some assertions are simply "true" or "not true."

Mwangangi said...

Not so fast.

2+2=4

If you assume a pental or higher system. Using a clock-3 system, 2+2=11.

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

See, that's not something I'm at all familiar with. So, even to this apparently simple story, there is more than one valid perspective. And I had a feeling that there would be an exception of which I was not aware.

I was just reading a book by William Sanders Scarborough, who was born free during the time of slavery. Hi father was a free Black and his mother was a slave. He recounts the various white people who helped him learn to read and become educated even when it was illegal to teach Blacks and when doing so could lead to severe penalties.

Scarborough says that there are people who criticize and reject all white, but his personal experience tells him that not all whites are bad, and some have earned his lasting respect and gratitude.

This obviously is the "other side" to the story that "all whites are racists" who secretly want to limit our opportunities. Actually, I would have to say that that generalization - that all whites are racists who want to limit our opportunities - simply doesn't stand the test of close observation. It is too broad a generalization and could do actual harm.

For instance, if William Sanders Scarborough's family had believed that, they might not have sent him to learn literacy and subjects like Latin and Greek from whites, and then he would not have become a learned professor.

The tendency to broad generalization is something that often blinds us to important distinctions. For example, electricity comes in a couple of standard voltages: 220 and 110. A person who insists that "electricity is electricity, it's all the same" is a person who is going to burn out all of his electrical appliances if his broad generalizations are ever put to the test.

Patrick said...

Excellent point. I think Foucault's allegory of the Pan-opticon brings to mind the omni-sided points of view on any issue.

Eddie G. Griffin said...

Trying to see "the other side" of an issue means "putting yourself in the other person's shoes", which is not easy to do, considering the two views may originate from different points of observation (known as the "observer bias").

If my view of the world is X-Ray, how is it possible for someone to see what I see when they are only accustomed to seeing only the visible light spectrum.

An unscientific empirical worldview is okay for superficial observation, just as a two-dimensional cartoon world is okay for entertaining children. But when it comes to the real dynamic world, a static, two-dimensional observation can lead a misapplication.

For example: The Object A today may be Object B tomorrow, because things change. A1 at Time T1 is different from A2 at Time T2. Nothing stays the same. If you are shooting at a moving target, you must anticipate that the target will not be in the same spot as it was at Time T1.

Here, I borrow a page from the Niels Bohr-Albert Einstein debate, with the introduction of Werner Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle"... there is a little bit of truth in everything. If you want absolute truth, go to the bible.

VinNay said...

Wow. Where to begin?

Let's start with the basic idea of this blog entry - which, to my understanding, is a condemnation of the polarization tactics used by politicians and mass media and activists and well, just about anyone.

Whether this is rooted in the folk wisdom adage "There are two sides to every story," I am certainly not qualified to answer, but I do feel with certainty that the polarization of the issues our country and world faces only serves to divide the human race and not to better the world we live in.

This is not to say that everything is subjective and everyone's opinions are as correct as another's. Nor is it to say that the majority opinion should always prevail, lest we become subject to the tryanny of the masses.

As a human beings, we are not (in most cases) isolated and alone and have, willingly or not, entered into somewhat of a social contract with one another. This does not preclude individualism, but to the extent that any individual wishes to participate in society, there comes along with that somewhat of a responsibility to society.

To polarize the nations problems into Patriot vs. Terrorist or Dem vs. Republican or Black vs. White or Us vs. Them simply does no good. For example, I think people on both sides of the political fence feel there is a problem in our country with the Heath Care system. Politicians would have you believe that the two choices are Free Health Care for All (liberal freeloaders) or Eliminating Medicare to reduce costs (greedy conservatives). So either you are a freeloader or a greedy bastard. Please come to the polls and cast your vote.

People polarize issues so they don't have to talk about them and find common ground. Politicians do it to make it easier to get votes, the mass media does it to get viewers, activists do it to get new recruits, and regular folk do it to avoid thinking.

This problem has been growing in our country steadily for many years, and in my opinion had greatly stagnated our societies growth and is a major contributor to the stratification weath and class. Mind you, polarization tactics are used by both the rich and poor, to no ones benefit.

Now, on to some of the comments (and my response to some unfair treatment of them). The 2+2=4 debate is a matter of difficulties in language. I could say "In base 10, 2+4=4." You might come back with a witty retort, and make me further clarify myself, but it is a matter of communication, not truth or falsehood of the idea. Busting out Clock-3 systems is just mean.

Francis - you say in your comment -

"This obviously is the "other side" to the story that "all whites are racists" who secretly want to limit our opportunities. Actually, I would have to say that that generalization - that all whites are racists who want to limit our opportunities - simply doesn't stand the test of close observation. It is too broad a generalization and could do actual harm."

As a white person, I find it somewhat offensive that you think it takes "close observation" to decide that all white might not be racist. You go on to say that attitude "could do actual harm." Could do actual harm? Anyone who thinks ALL white people are trying to limit blacks opportunites, are most certainly doing harm to themselves and society. Of course, there are whites that do this, I am not claiming otherwise - but to think the there is only the possibility of harm done in thinking all whites do this is insane. In fact, it most probably harms that believer the most, but self limiting what they think they can accomplish.

One more tidbit for francis - I noticed (in your comment, and also on your blog) that you always capitalize the word Black and never the word White when speaking of race. While I agree with you that that intel ad was racist (or at least completely ignorant), I kinda feel the same way about your capitalization habits.

Patrick - I'm not exactly sure how the Visible vs. Unverifiable dicotomy of the Panoptican applies, but I feel like there is something there, please elaborate.

Finally, as a physicist, I get aggrivated at the misuse and/or misunderstanding of scientific principals in popular culture. But, since I feel the original post was more about opinions people cling to and how they refuse to look deeper and not about defining what truth is or what truth can be known in the natural world - I will leave the Uncertainty Principal debate for another time.

Mwangangi said...

Originall posted by Vincent:

"Now, on to some of the comments (and my response to some unfair treatment of them). The 2+2=4 debate is a matter of difficulties in language. I could say "In base 10, 2+4=4." You might come back with a witty retort, and make me further clarify myself, but it is a matter of communication, not truth or falsehood of the idea. Busting out Clock-3 systems is just mean."

I merely chose a way to disprove an assumption using the the most elegant means available.

You and Francis write at great lenghth to basically agree with my point. I guess that is part of the wonder of the internet, communication as you say.

natural muze said...

well i don't have anything to add...but i just feel so smart when i read your blog! lol.

thanks for the 'flip side' link. i owe you.

If you assume a pental or higher system. Using a clock-3 system, 2+2=11.

^^ love it. so true.