I’ve been seeing a lot of posts, tweets, articles and diatribes defending one way of life, one choice, against another. This isn’t anything new in our society. You may read something that says, “the problem with our society is…”, or that claims the downfall of human civilization, this country or our families, lies in choosing the wrong thing over the right one, imploring others to choose their way.
Whether those pieces discuss your chosen mode of thinking (science and spirituality), your chosen political party (red and blue), or something so silly as your chosen pet (dogs and cats), someone out there has posted prose or memes saying that one is inherently better, more valuable and commendable, than the other.
I, like most of us, also have the capacity to think this way. I can get angry, resentful, fearful, and feel a self-consuming sense of injustice which, if left un-tempered, can lead me to polarize myself. There have been times in my life when I thought and felt, ‘if only those people would choose this thing I believe/think over what they do, then the world would be a better place’.
Occasionally the objective truth does imply that I’m correct. But declaring that truth, and imploring others to agree with me, does not necessarily lead to the better world I’m working towards.
In my gradual maturation process I’ve come to believe it is the polarization itself we should be cautious of — choosing a side in the first place. Because, in our human reality, both sides have always existed and will for the foreseeable future continue to exist. The side I now choose is the people as a whole, with the goal of a better future for all of us — not just one part of us. Call me a radical moderate, for now.
Let me share three examples with you:
We can see this clearly in the Science vs. Religion debate.
Some of the book-lovers, nerds, geeks, scientists, sci-fi lovers, higher education graduates and autodidacts of the world (myself included) may fear that without questioning our knowledge and approaches to life, without applying inquiry, testing and investigation, we are in danger. That’s a totally rational fear!
If we all blindly follow religious doctrine without even reading it, rest on our laurels, and forsake the scientific method, we can end up with damaging “medicine”, irrational biases and stunt our mental growth as a collective species.
However, if we say Science beats Spirituality, that Intellect is better than Emotion, we are, in effect, professing that emotion and subjective perspective have no value. We are disenfranchising those who aren’t usually intellectual.
We are, in fact, going against the scientific method when we claim that religion and spirituality are wrong — because we don’t have evidence of it — since god/s and consciousness are technically unanswered hypotheses.
On the flip side, some of the artistic, creative, religious, spiritual, emotion- and relationship-focused people of this world (myself included) may fear that without intuition, respect for beliefs, love for the oversoul of humanity, concern for ethics and relationships, we are in danger. That, too, is a totally rational fear!
If we only value the cold intellect of logic, pursue only an objective truth without respecting others’ subjective experiences, trust only our current evidence (which can later be disproved) over our intuition and empathy, and tell ourselves there’s such a thing as an amoral action (an action that will have no ethical weight whatsoever), we can easily cause a great deal more suffering for the majority of humans.
However, if we say that science is inherently adverse to ethics, religion and spirituality, we are, in effect, declaring that questioning and testing our ideas in the shared reality has no value.
We are, in fact, ignoring the teachings within nearly every belief system that the goal is to know Godliness and constantly improve ourselves— which both entail the application of inquiry and thinking to our relationships and beliefs. Science answers the how, and religion answers the why. We have different answers, and that’s a good thing. The trouble is when we conflict on community matters.
Therefore, I now believe that what we actually need is a balance of these two poles. An embracing of both ways of being. If we choose one over the other, we are continuing the pendulum cycle of mode-of-thinking supremacy. One decade it may be a dangerous distrust of all things intellectual/scientific, while the next decade it may be a dangerous distrust of all things intuitive/spiritual. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that balancing both paradigms promotes growth.
Declaring that there isn’t any value within the one we don’t prefer only gets us to the other side of the pendulum swing — it doesn’t break us out of this cycle.
Whether we’re fighting a War on Science or a War on God, the only way to stop that war is to make a mutually beneficial peace agreement between both sides. Continuing that war will only pile up the casualties of minds and hearts — it will not solve the problems we think it will solve.
When scientists respect spirituality, maybe even try to learn from it, and religious/spiritual people respect science, maybe even try to learn from it, we can all do a better job of achieving our own goals.
Believe me, and try it for yourself. I’ve been on both sides of this (at different points in my life). Pretending one has no value only makes us look foolish to those who have wisely decided to include both in their lives. (Such as Tesla, Einstein, Enoch and Jesus). The great leaders we invoke on both sides of this issue did not forsake one for the other. They all had intuitive spiritual/religious belief systems and questioned their paradigms through inquiry. Those great minds and hearts sought to incorporate both aspects of human existence within themselves. The logical intellect and the illogical heart.
The danger of polarization is, perhaps, no clearer than when we look at politics.
Consider how many political issues have been argued over for decades, only to result in the argument continuing. I ask you to ask yourself, do you agree with every single platform of your party? Do some of those platforms contradict with one another?
As a disclaimer, I’ll tell you right now that I label myself as Independent.
For instance, the contradiction within the Democratic party platform: If the economy were ethical in the first place, we wouldn’t need such high taxes to mitigate its damage. If the most powerful businesses behaved ethically, paid fair wages and hired more people with the money that’s in top-level pockets, we wouldn’t need such a tremendous food stamps program (SNAP). We may only need to help the abandoned stay-at-home-parents and orphans, not such a large portion of the population. We may even be able to help them through self-initiated charity (not government), if the need was reduced in this way. The unethical power players climb both the ladders of business and of government. Pretending such injustice only comes from the economy is irrational.
In parallel, how can we convince gun advocates to recognize the danger of minors wielding assault rifles when we try to take away self-defense weapons and hunting rifles too? We’ll have an easier job of convincing them to compromise on mass-casualty assault weapons if we drop the advocacy for regulating every single weapon.
For the sake of transparency, reason and love, I’ll share my own position with you: I believe that, if we have any regulation it should be focused on limiting the nearly-absolute power of transnational corporations, to prevent them from labor abuse and pollution (pollution being the more pressing issue shadowed by global warming debates) — which is very much in line with Democratic thinking. The numbers tell me that if this economic structure were thus modified, we wouldn’t need such high taxes in the first place.
I, like those who label themselves Democrats, fear that reducing these programs would result in more suffering and that the economy will never change anyway. But, I don’t let that fear keep me from seeing these economic facts and the circular logic of this platform. How can we work towards economic justice if we give those companies a financial reason to over-charge and under-pay? How can we identify the injustice if we give them a way to save face through these programs?
Similarly, there is the contradiction within the Republican party: If we want a small government that doesn’t tell us what to believe or do (such as prevent us from bearing arms, or praying in a school in a community that is entirely Christian), how can we put the choice of abortion into the hands of the government?
In parallel, how can we convince anti-gun advocates to get off our backs about manual revolvers when we let kids shoot up schools with automatic assault rifles? We’ll have an easier job of convincing them to compromise on hunting rifles and self-defense weapons, keep them out of our constitution-protected armories, if we drop the advocacy for the AR-15 — a weapon not conceived of by the founders of this country.
For the sake of transparency, reason and love, I’ll share my own position with you: I personally believe life begins at conception. I never want to have an abortion and thank my version of God that I haven’t had to make the choice. Most importantly, I don’t think any less of someone for having one. We kill people every day (especially when you count non-humans), so why should we make them count more in the womb? Most relevantly, I do not believe it is the government’s right to tell me what choice to make — that’s between me and my soul — and that belief is actually in line with Republican logic. I, like many who label themselves Republicans, fear that paying for these programs will lead to an increase in irresponsible sexual behavior. However, I don’t let that fear keep me from seeing these facts of soul responsibility and the circular logic of this platform. Because in reality, most people use Planned Parenthood for STI testing and core healthcare. That includes those who have been raped, not just ‘promiscuous teens’. More to the point, how can we let Cosmic Justice be the judge, if we prevent someone from making their honest choice? (Also, with so many kids in need of parents, we could start there before wasting energy arguing over this.)
On the gun issue, I have two fears that only contradict when I try to side with one party. I am equally as afraid of children being slaughtered in school as I am afraid that the government will take away all of our weapons (as the Nazis did in Germany before the Holocaust). Both notions make me shiver. But, the solution is a balanced compromise — demilitarize the police, reduce violence on a global scale, stop producing the AR-15 and similarly effective guns; but remove regulation of self-defense weapons. (It doesn’t work anyway. In the places where it’s necessary for self-defense it becomes a gateway activity to feeling outcast). Regulation doesn’t actually remove guns from the streets, it just reduces “legitimate use” and increases black-market sales anyway. Instead of fighting for my absolute ideals, I seek a compromise that will actually improve life for the people in this country. Of course, a true compromise comes after a process of discussions.
You might agree with my compromise for entirely different reasons, or have a different idea I’d agree to.
In the case of politics, it comes down to realizing that the two-party system only perpetuates animosity between people. It gives people a reason to choose a side for the sake of one issue, letting another issue they may disagree with be advocated for by the party they chose. Rather than polarize ourselves via these parties, might we not benefit from addressing each issue in turn, seeking to compromise and find a way for everyone in this country (or at least the majority, rather than the less than half who chose one party), to live with and be okay with the laws we agree upon?
We have the technology for a direct democracy. We don’t really need this crap anymore, even for minor functions. How about true representation for everyone? That’s what this society is built on. We can keep the rest of the system rolling smooth, just change the voting component, and we could change a lot.
Dogs and cats.
It probably seems silly to debate such a thing, but people do. This issue reveals the silliness of polarization in the first place, and will hopefully improve your mood after reading the first two sections.
Full disclosure: I self-identity as a both-person. I have some qualities from both “sides”, and I lack some qualities from both “sides”.
I need not break this down for you too deeply. I merely need to remind you that some people who want dogs may choose cats because of the rules in their rental home. Some people who want cats may choose dogs because someone in their house only has a cat allergy, but not a dog allergy. Others may choose whoever is next up to be euthanized, regardless of species; while others may choose whoever matches their decor. People have all kinds of reasons for choosing their pet. Once that choice is made, they may switch their identification as a dog-person or cat-person, or drop such identification completely.
Additionally, we are stereotyping dogs and cats in the process. Some dogs are reserved loners, while some cats are very sociable and playful.
Some clinical psychologist/s may tell you their sample study is definitive. However, later studies reveal that the distinction is much harder to pin down. Still, some people subscribe to this polarization, based on research, without keeping up with the newer results.
Whether you utilize the notion that the inquiry is incomplete, or the notion that such a study cannot see into a person’s soul, such categorization is moot.
More to the point, what are we achieving, or actually informing ourselves about, when we subscribe to these theories? If neurology tells us that the brain continues to grow throughout life, and psychology tells us that people can and do change over time, what useful information are we actually gleaning by studying such a transient identity?
Here are some examples of people implying that “cat people” are better (more intellectual, curious and egalitarian):
Here are some examples of people saying that “dog people” are better (more sociable, make more money, more tolerant of others):
Finally, here is a graph of the results from a study in 2011. When I look at this graphic, I don’t see as much of a difference between these “types”, as I do see a similarity between humans.
(Hergovich, Mauerer, & Riemer, 2011; from psychologytoday.com)
What this graph shows me is that people in this study, perhaps in general but not definitively, are all more open than we are extraverted, more agreeable and conscientious than neurotic. That’s not a polarizing fact, it’s a beautiful message of hope…
*My original article is here: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/the-counterproductivity-of-polarization-69dae171b671