As the dust settles in Paris, self-amplifying dichotomous noise reverberates. Extremists celebrate a “Victory.” Hawks ask “Who is to blame? Who should we be killing?” Muslims in Paris brace for more Islamophobia. Pundits scratch their heads in disbelief and everyone wonders what will happen next? Of course the law enforcement community should go after the perpetrators and the intelligence community should continue to try to identify and disrupt similar organizations, but there is something the rest of us need to start doing. Its time to declare war on the real problem, the human problem, the problem we have been dealing with since we lived in caves.
For years I have resisted putting it this way, but I think it is time for an all-out war on dichotomous thinking. Every time there is a serious problem, our approach is to declare war on something. “War on Terror” sounds good, but it is clearly not working. Perhaps it is time for a new approach in addition. I propose the word “dichotomous” become an immediate part of the lexicon. I propose it be recognized as referring to the process by which simplistic Black-and-White or dualistic thinking usurps or interferes with higher level problem-based goal oriented thinking. I propose the terms cortex and reptilian brain be used to support this distinction. I propose that educators adopt, as a priority, anti-radicalization curricula based on the idea that everyone has two brains in their heads, a big brain and a little brain. The next generation needs to be more resistant to radicalization.
It is time to stop tolerating arguments centered exclusively around blame. We have to start pointing out every time a small-minded idea is used to usurp a goal directed process. As much as we may deplore “evil”, it is time to start treating “evil people” and “evil acts” as problems that need to be solved rather than things that need to be “opposed” because they are “wrong” . This means cortical thinking. This means nuance. The information age is failing us and we are loosing the battle because simplistic dichotomous ideas flow so much more easily over the internet. It is much easier to spread hatred and division than problem-solving and cooperation. It is time to recognize this process. Rather than attacking specific people or ideas, it is time to start attacking a mindset.
No amount of killing or bombing will frighten the terrorists into submission. Every dead terrorist only amplifies the noise and promotes radicalization. It is just as stupid for us to think this will solve the problem as it is for them to think that acts like the killings that took place in Paris yesterday will somehow lead to the West embracing Islam or adopting Sharia law or even ending its involvement in Middle Eastern affairs.
Otherwise normal people will stop turning to terrorism not because they are afraid but because they realize that randomly murdering people does not promote the presumed goals of spreading Islam, brining about Sharia law or curbing Islamophobia. The one and only barrier to this realization is dichotomous thinking. “Attack the evil doers. Make them suffer” in place of “What are we really trying to accomplish and how can we accomplish it.” There is not much we can do about those that are already radicalized but we will never stop the spread of radicalization without acknowledging the contribution of dichotomous thinking to the process.
I fully realize that taking on the DT problem today will not do much to improve our current situation with regard to the growth of terrorism. No matter what, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Beyond that, the debate over how much violence to inflict and on whom will simply reduce to how far down the road do we want to kick the can. The sooner the rest of us start to address the root problem, the sooner we have a chance at turning the corner.
The only battle that really matters is between the cortex and the reptilian brain.