According to a first-time commenter on the site named Terry, I’m apparently part of the “main stream (CFR influenced) Liberal media.” Those who regularly read the site probably find that just as amusing as I do, but I’m not mentioning it just to entertain us all. I’m mentioning it because of the sad point that Terry illustrates.
It seems as though it’s human nature to see the world in terms of “us vs. them.” There are many different positions that we can take — on political issues and most other things — but most people narrow it down to “what I believe” vs. “what the wrong people believe.” It’s just that the ways in which they segment the world are radically different. So even though most people see the world as “us vs. them,” they define “us” and “them” in very different ways.
Terry’s comment about me is a perfect example. He’s a Ron Paul supporter, and he took exception to my comments last week that straw polls are meaningless. It apparently would make his head explode to realize that there are more positions other than “Ron Paul is going to win and straw polls matter” vs. “the mainstream liberal media who are in lockstep with the Council on Foreign Relations.” It doesn’t seem to occur to the guy that someone could be in favor of liberty enough to reject the statist system he supports — and is actually much further away from the mainstream than he could dream of being.
When we get locked into systems of thinking in which we define everybody as either “with us” or “agin us,” we make errors of logic and judgment. It’s intellectually lazy, because it allows us to simply label everyone and avoid confronting the other person’s argument. If you looked at Terry’s comment — and the article he was commenting on — you might have noticed that he never even attempted to refute anything I said. He merely labeled me as part of “them” in order to call me “lame.”
As for the reason for this, there are two ways to look at it. One is to approach it as linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky does when he said, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
If you think about it, that’s exactly what we have in the U.S. political system. The range of acceptable opinion between Democrats and Republicans is very, very narrow, but they argue over those differences as though they were gaping chasms. Those of us who are making arguments for things outside the mainstream are completely ignored — by the media, by the politicians and by everybody else. Basically, we might as well not exist insofar as the real debate goes.
I believe Chomsky has a brilliant insight here, but I think he might be giving too much credit to the conscious intent of authority figures. I think it goes back to the human tendency toward binary thinking. (Have you ever noticed that many highly intelligent people — especially in very technical fields — are prone to doing this, in particular?) Western philosophy has had a strong binary bias — us vs. them, yes vs. no, black vs. white — that Eastern philosophy has been able to avoid. We westerners are comfortable with yes/no, but easterners are comfortable with shades of gray. (This is almost certainly why Asians were so much more quick to adopt and exploit the idea of “fuzzy logic,” something that makes a lot of western techies uncomfortable.)
If you find yourself simplifying the world into just two categories — in pretty much any field — stop yourself and loosen up. There are many different potential positions. If you’re trying to force everybody into just two categories, you’re going to misunderstand what people are saying — and then you’re going to look just as foolish as Terry did when you mouth off in your ignorance.