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    • The Lack of Belief In Good
      Are humans good, bad or neutral? It’s an old philosophical debate, and not just in the West. Confucius thought they were born neutral, for example, while the later Confucian Mencius felt they were good, noting that everyone who saw a child fall into a well would be horrified. Others, including many Confucians and the Christian church, with original sin, have […]
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The Pit at the Bottom of the Slippery Slope of “Both Sides”

Without attempting to delve into the biological, neurological, or psychological research, it seems intuitive to think that human beings are predisposed to think in terms of twos, “bi’s,’ or ‘dyads.” We are bisymmetric, one half of our body is virtually identical to the other half. We have two eyes, two ears, two hands, two legs. We speak of left and right, up and down, top and bottom. We see most things in terms of twos, and we compare and contrast them. Presumably, if there is a planet where the organisms were cubes, they would look at things in terms of sixes; but who can say? 🙂 In our world, we have “this or that,” “yes or no,” “up or down,” “like or dislike.”

Of course, there are more complex ways to look at things, but the bipolar is the most comfortable. A distinguished professor of philosophy whose class I took, said that it was fascinating how each person seems to have their most comfortable way of viewing the world, and dividing up alternatives. Some always see things as either/or choices; some like to view them in terms of three choices, or more. I think that I am more apt to see things in threes; maybe two opposing views, and then the compromise, or maybe a third way, less considered, but maybe the best. And I like to use three adjectives, or three adverbs, or three famous names as examples, in writing, though I am not inveterate in that. 🙂

So if we consider the propensity for most humans to see the outer world in groups of twos, whether as opposites, or equals, we are apt to view issues in the same way. In America, we have two viable political parties. Occasionally a third or fourth party comes in, but we always revert back to two. In professional sports, we have two leagues, so that they can compete in the finals They are usually divided into conferences or divisions, but the overarching division is two. A sporting event features two teams vying against each other, and only one can win. A Super Bowl or World Series features the winners of the two conferences or two leagues, in a winner-take-all competition.

It is psychologically comfortable to view things in those terms. Somebody wins, and somebody loses. Someone is right, and the other person is wrong. Of course, most people see more complexity than that, but there are many who do not. And even when we see things in complex and multiple terms, we often feel compelled to ultimately reduce it to a “bottom line”; “when it comes down to it, who wins, and who loses in this contest/deal/debate?”

That explains much of this “bothsidesing” that we keep seeing in the media. Of course there is more to it, there is the need of media to mollify both parties to a preexisting bipolar debate, to keep as much audience as possible. That each issue being debated is usually seen as having two sides to it, is already set up as part of our psychology. Even if we see three or four sides, we want to boil it down to two. It is so much more convenient that way. “Zero-sum games” are easy to understand. And the media, more than almost any other entity, is determined to describe politics and governing in that way.

And because we are bifurcated, we feel very uncomfortable with only one side. Where is the other side, we wonder? Why do some cultures greet by kissing on both cheeks, not favoring one? Maybe that is a trivial example, but I think that we often feel compelled to give credence to another side, so as not to appear one-dimensional, literally or figuratively. We are very much conditioned to it. The metaphors of sports pervade our culture, or maybe it is that sports is a manifestation of it.

The media simply cannot see only one side, they act as if that would seem too intolerant, unfair, leaving one side out. They would prefer not to see or describe three or more sides, that becomes confusing and open-ended. So we get two sides, almost like a fetish. Some people believe that it is important to be vaccinated, some do not. Some think that Biden won the election, some insist that Trump won. One group believes that textbooks should cover evolution, some don’t want it covered. One group of people say that we are facing drastic and frightening climate change, another group says, “No, we are not.” That is the way that it is conveyed by most of the media, “just a disagreement, either side could be right, who knows? Each side should be respected.’ This is idiotic and terribly dangerous, of course, as it makes each side of any “dispute” seem legitimate. Some say the earth is flat, after all.

Obviously, when things are framed so that there are two sides, there is a tendency to see both as somewhat equal; as opposite sides of a coin, or as legitimate points of debate. This is terrible, of course, because in the effort to not offend anyone, or to seem unfair, it raises crackpot and inane theories and viewpoints to the level of the combating one. It can be fun in sports: do you love the Cowboys or hate them?, because there is nothing at stake except fandom. But the need to be vaccinated is not legitimately open to debate, just as saying that some believe it is dangerous to jump off a cliff, and some think it is reasonable, reduces a crucial matter to just another thing to argue about.

Once someone is able to convince others that there are two sides to every matter, and both deserve equal consideration, they have gained immense power, and may be on the way to taking over autocratic control, once they can vanquish the other side, in a zero-sum contest. At that point, they simply eliminate everyone on the other side, so that there are no more two sides to battle about any longer.

As I am writing this, I am listening to Nicolle Wallace reading a news piece which speculates that the radical changes to state election laws now underway, would lead to endless conflicts about the vote counts, and fights among judges as to whether these votes, or contesting slates of electors, should be given preference. That is the ultimate pit that you fall into when everything has two, and only two, sides to it. There is no obvious or empirical right or wrong, it is just a matter of opinion. We could see the Republicans never accepting any Democratic victory in any race. Can you imagine having this go on every single election cycle? Of course, if Republicans win the elections, then they will not complain; is that the extortion going on?

If everything is seen in terms of “both sides,” then it validates each of them. It is the kind of mind-bending that totalitarian states are adept at; where you are told to question everything except what the Leader tells you. It is a technique of mind control; where if you cannot be sure what to believe, you either go mad, or you seek the assurance of one person or one body which tells you what is true, and what you must follow. How does “both sides” turn into one side? Because reflexively defaulting to a “both sides” narrative, elevates both the rational and the insane to equal footing, in which case we are told that no one has the right or the qualifications to decide which side is true; and thus there is the need to look for someone to make the ultimate decision for you.

But one side is really not as good as the other, except in a few rare cases. “Some people loved Hitler, and some hated him,” is a dreadful way to look at it. We used to have the Church or or the Emperor tell everyone what they should think, what was unlawful, what was a sin. We moved past that, to a more complex and relativistic way of seeing things, but that leads to uncertainly and anxiety, so many people yearn for an authoritarian ruler to tell them what to think and do.

The hope of the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment was that humans would use their senses, reason, logic, and science, to arrive at self-evident truths, which most would accept as such. But when unscientific and irrational ideas, formed by prejudices and invented realities, are given equal footing with the others, the whole thing falls apart, and we are back in the Dark Ages, where only might makes right.

The media, in its self-serving need to have eyeballs on the screen, and for “must watch, all heat, no light arguments,’ unravels what those two philosophical periods tried to develop. And we are left with any idiotic or hateful idea being given equal status with any logical and rational one, until the one with the most monetary, propagandistic, and violent power wins. Hitler should never have been invited in to form a coalition government with Von Hindenburg. That is the concrete exemplification of the “both sides.” approach.

Oh, and I just saw a chyron this morning which said that Trump told John Kelly a couple of years ago that “Hitler did some good things.’ That he admires Hitler is as unsurprising as it is horrifying. This is what we got because some very foolish and spiteful people just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, a very humane and compassionate person of great intelligence. And because the media felt compelled to put perhaps the most evil person in American political history as a reasonable alternative to Hillary, in their stupid and even deadly game of “both sides.” Putting that chyron up now doesn’t somehow vitiate what they did in 2016.