I’ve mentioned the flaws of binary thinking before. The concept—framing things in terms of duality, or opposites—isn’t a new concept, and it tends to be the way that most issues are discussed in America and arguably, the West.
From a philosophical standpoint, the origins of this kind of thinking date back to Aristotle and Descartes. They first structured this type of logic, which consists of dividing, distinguishing and opposing items. When you see things in a binary construct, there’s no room for in-between or shades of gray; everything is black or white, good or bad, nice or ugly, good or evil, etc. It is the law of “all or nothing.”
Unfortunately, this kind of dualistic framework often leads to dead-ends, and at the very least, can divide people unnecessarily.
One of the best explanations and the one that really made me sit up and take notice, was written by John Michael Greer, and posted a few years ago at his blog, The Archdruid Report.
Greer takes the origins back even further than Aristotle and Descartes. He writes,
Most of the snap decisions our primate ancestors had to make on the African savannah are most efficiently sorted out into binary pairs: food/nonfood, predator/nonpredator, and so on. The drawbacks to this handy set of internal categories don’t seem to bother any of our primate relatives, and probably became an issue—like so much that’s part of magic—only when the rickety structure of the reasoning mind took shape over the top of the standard-issue social primate brain.
The problem with this snap-judgment way of seeing and making sense of the world is that in our current, non-hunting society, the binary framework eliminates the middle ground. In fact, we don’t even recognize a middle position. More often than not, it leads to division and conflict. Continue reading