Whether the Tsarnaev brothers were self-radicalized or influenced by the direct efforts of others, one thing is for certain. The process was a victory for dichotomous thinking. Thoughts like “America is bad” or “America has to be punished” replaced thought like “There is a problem and here is what we should do to address it”. If we want to make it more difficult for this to happen in the future, we need to teach children at as early an age as possible how the brain can be divided into 2 parts. One part is the lower level reptilian (dichotomous) brain and the other is the higher level (goal oriented) thinking brain. There are times when we need the reptilian brain. “Yes that is a tiger and you’d better run.” And there are times when things are not so black and white and we need to really think about what we are trying to achieve and how to achieve it.
Had the Tsarnaev brothers been taught this idea at an early age, their radicalization would have been more of an uphill battle. One or both of them would have been more likely to ask “Will killing a bunch of innocent people do anything to reverse the effects of modernization and globalization on our beloved Islam?” “Will killing a bunch of innocent people do anything to discourage the U.S. from invading other Muslim countries in the future?”
People constantly ask, why do tragedies like the ones in Aurora and Newton happen? What can be done to prevent them in the future? While the solution may not be simple, the nature of the problem is obvious. The problem lies in the way these individuals think and reason. We may refer to them as delusional or deranged, but they do function at a level that allows them to carry out these heinous acts. It may not be possible to really know what is in the mind of an individual who can do what these men have done, but consider the possibility that the noise in their heads went something like… “They hurt me and I am going to hurt them back.” “They say I am bad, but I’ll show them.”
Tragedies such as these are blatant examples of how dangerous overly dichotomous thinking can be. What if these individuals had been taught at an early age about the potential dangers of dichotomous thinking? What if they had been shown at an early age to question the utility of dichotomous thinking? What if they had been taught to value goal-directed thinking and been shown how easily dichotomous thinking can derail goal directed thinking? What if the people around them were more aware of this problem? Even the strictest gun control will not prevent individuals like them from acting out. It’s time to address the real problem. It’s time to start thinking more critically about the way we think.
It is true that the US government would never tolerate a significant portion of the US population vulnerable to rocket attacks. It is also true that it would never tolerate 100% of the population living under occupation and subject to control by a foreign power. No one can deny that people have a right to “defend” themselves.
Targeted airstrikes may decrease the total number of terrorist leaders and the total amount of munitions, but does it really bring us closer to the day when Palestinians become serious about peace? Will Palestinian rockets ever bring us closer to the day the Israelis become serious about peace?
Will the innocent victims in Gaza blame Hamas or the Israelis? Does blame do any good? I think it can if it is aimed correctly. The group that deserves the “blame” is the small minded. There are small minded individuals on both sides of the border. They conspire together to promote their way of thinking. Every Palestinian rocket and every Israeli airstrike has the same effect. They support the small minded and undermine the problem solvers. Until more people start to question the way we think, to question the fundamental way we use information, there is no hope of solving problem like this.
The economy and social policies are certainly important, but when choosing a president, the two areas that the president shapes almost exclusively by him or herself is the Supreme Court and foreign policy. In no aspect of government is small-mindedness more dangerous than when it comes to foreign policy. In no area is there more of a tendency to take complex situations and reduce them to simple dichotomies.
From the transcript of Governor Romney’s 10/08/12 speech: “[The] struggle that is now shaking the entire Middle East to its foundation … is a struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.” Good vs evil. Do people really get up in the morning and root for tyranny, oppression and despair. Are these causes that people rally around? To me, of course, it is a struggle between the goals of most people vs mental laziness and small mindedness. Tyranny and oppression flourish when there is a lack of will to ask the hard questions. What is the nature of our problems and how do we address them? Tyranny and oppression flourish most among people who can not get past the us vs them mentality.
“There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East” “I believe that if America does not lead, others will—others who do not share our interests and our values—and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us.” If they are not with us they are against us. We need to help our friends (the good guys) and defeat our enemies (the bad guys). I suggest that the problem is not the number of good people vs the number of bad people. The enemy (or problem) is the small-mindedness. The real “value” he is talking about is the belief that all people yearn for a similar set of common goals (peace, justice freedom prosperity, etc). The greatest barrier (that humans have any control over) to achieving these goals is small mindedness, dichotomous thinking.
“[It] is the responsibility of our President to use America’s great power to shape history—not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events.” “[T]ens of thousands of Libyans, most of them young people, held a massive protest in Benghazi against the very extremists who murdered our people. They waved signs that read, ‘The Ambassador was Libya’s friend’ and ‘Libya is sorry.’ They chanted ‘No to militias.’” This in a country where the US lead from behind. Do we still see such pro-America demonstrations in Iraq or Afghanistan, where we sacrificed so many lives?
I agree that America should take a leadership role in the world. It should be an intellectual leadership. We should be promoting evolution and intellectual development. There will always be small-minded people who want to subjugate others. The goal is not to try to kill them all. The goal is to make their task harder by promoting goal-oriented thinking infavor of dichotomous thinking. An America that acts as if it can use its military might to “shape history” i.e. control rather than influence the world only increases dichotomous thinking and makes the task of the small-minded easier.
There is a general belief that, private profit-driven organizations are more efficient than government. There is also a belief that private profit-driven organizations are inherently evil because they are based on greed. While I can not claim to have a simple answer to such a fundamental question, I’d like to propose a systematic way to think about it?
Step one: what are the goals? What are the goals of the individuals? What are the goals of the organizations? Individuals in the private sector act to please their bosses and earn their pay checks. The goals of private organizations are to make money for their owners. The goals of politicians are to get elected and to promote their individual careers. Finally, the goals of government are to promote the general good, to facilitate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As President Obama said at the debate last night, to create ladders and frameworks.
Step two: How do their goals square with the task at hand? Can the problem be solved in a profitable way? Is government really best suited to address this problem? Do the individuals share my values? Whether its voting for a particular politician or patronizing a particular businesses, a good choice depends on an understanding of the goals of the people and organizations involved.
Step three: Are the actions or proposed actions consistent with the stated goals? Is dichotomous thinking derailing a goal-oriented approach to the problem? Is there a lot of noise? Finger pointing? The blame game?
It has been about a year since I started this site. I had hoped it would stimulate dialogue. It looks like there are return visitors, but almost all the replies so far have been spam. If there is something here that resonates with you, I would love to hear from you, either as a reply to the site or a direct email to me at DichotomousThink@aol.com.
This is still an idea in evolution. With time, I become more and more convinced that there is something fundamental here. Unfortunately my training is in science. I have no formal training in philosophy, political science, sociology or journalism. I am open to help and feedback (positive or negative) from anyone. Thanks.
Paul Ryan recently criticized president Obama for deferring our foreign policy leadership to the UN security council. “Why should we give Russia and China a veto?” There is no doubt that by blocking action in Syria, Russia and China have blood on their hands. Of course what many people do not realized is that their reason for blocking action is the betrayal they felt after going along with resolutions regarding Libya. To them, NATO used this as a green light to get involved on behalf of one side against the other.
It appears that the president is using his community organizing skills on a global scale. Brining together diverse groups with differing values and agendas is an inherently difficult task. It requires overcoming a great deal of entropy (the natural tendency of the universe to become more disordered). It is much more difficult, from an intellectual point of view, than simply dictating what will be and making it happen with overwhelming military action.
It is unfortunate that this approach is costing lives in Syria and no one likes to be perceived as weak. I support this approach, however, because it goes beyond the simple weakness vs. strength dichotomy. It treats the world’s problems as problems. It is path to long term development of mutual trust among nations. It may be slower, but any progress that is made is more likely to be sustainable. At this point, any trust that may have developed will be gone if the U.S. were to go back to the days of “cowboy diplomacy” and throwing our weight around.
It seems that you can not watch an interview these days without the journalist asking the guest “Who is to blame?” The answers tend to range from the equally small-minded “Blame the people I don’t like” to the obvious “What good does blame do?” or “There is enough blame to go around.”
Instead of blaming ‘people’ how about we blame ‘processes’? Why can’t congress get anything done? Dichotomous thinking. Why can’t there be peace in the middle east? Dichotomous thinking. We can shovel facts around supporting the argument that this group is bad or that group is good, but at the end of the day, the barrier to progress is always in the thought process. Dichotomous thinking replacing goal-directed problem-based thinking.
I was involved for several months with various OWS working groups. I started with Education and later moved to Demands. Given my near obsession with the importance of goal-directed thinking, I finally gravitated to the Vision and Goals group. I met a wonderful and diverse group of individuals. There was a real dedication to the goal of drafting a document that would represent the entire OWS movement. Unfortunately this never happened during the time I was part of the group. It was hard enough for us, as a working group, to come up with something and whenever we did present to the General Assembly, there were always enough detractors to prevent anything from be ratified.
It is wrong to say that OWS has failed or fizzled, and it certainly has had an effect on the debate in the US. That said, it never blossomed into the American Spring and it is clearly not where we all hoped it would be 1 year later. Was OWS a victim of dichotomous thinking? In part. There was a certain amount of “me, me, me” replacing “us, us, us” along the way. The real problem was entropy, that natural tendency for things to become more disordered. People did not appreciate the amount of work it takes to create order among such a diverse group. Inclusivity is great, and I am glad OWS was never co-opted by lager interests like the Tea Party was. It is an unfortunate example of how important goals are to human activity.
OWS needs to go beyond the simple dichotomous “Wall Street is bad.” Until there is a clear Vision and well formed set of Goals, I am afraid that OWS will remain largely ineffective in the future.
A film is made apparently with sole intention of criticizing,
insulting and upsetting the Muslim world. In response, a mob murders a group of innocent individuals. The goal of the mob is presumably to discourage such films. “They insulted our prophet, we have to respond.” Now the American
right-wing (as expressed on Fox News) is upset that there is not a greater “outrage” on the part of the Obama administration, claiming all they have done is apologize to the Muslims. Reporting by Al Jazeera English suggests that all the
administration has done is to condemn the killings without condemning the film.
While condemnation of both an inflammatory and hurtful film
as well as the murder of innocent people may each be appropriate, what does condemnation really accomplish? What is the goal for which condemnation is a solution? The real problem is the small-mindedness. Will such a film bring
about any positive changes among Muslims? Of course not, it will only encourage small-minded Muslims and make it harder for others to move their community forward. Will the murder of the US ambassador, in anyway, discourage the making of subsequent anti-Muslim films? Of course not. The notoriety will only increase backing by other small-minded individuals. Will strong anti-Muslim rhetoric called for by the US right-wing discourage further violence? No, it will just lend more support to
the wrong people.
In all aspects of this situation, there is a disconnect
between the presumed goal and the dichotomous actions taken or called for. Ultimately, these events clearly demonstrate how dichotomous thinking leads to more dichotomous thinking. The first step must be to shift the focus from dichotomous thinking to problem-solving. The fist question should always be “What is the goal?”
Asking “What is the problem and how do we solve it?” should
never be characterized as an apology or appeasement or weakness. It is this way of thinking that is the greatest barrier to our moving forward as a species. Clearly this is not going to happen over night, but it is still worth working for.