The bipolar culture. How either/or thinking affects our society.

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Every once in a while my family and I gather together, one topic leads to another and usually we end up noticing some system problem, social problem etc.

The interesting thing is that no matter what the problem or issue might be, no matter if it is a social innovation challenge, a personal challenge or a business challenge we end up noticing how the common factor of the problem usually ends up being limited thinking models being used.

One of the most prevalent models is either/or thinking that takes on a logic that things are either “black” or “white”. This type of thinking is everywhere we look, science, college textbooks, high school text books, in our speech, in our thought models, in the speeches of our administrators “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists”, it’s everywhere.

This type of thinking is one of the roots of dogmatic systems, it is one of the roots of extremist ideologies, it is one of the roots of facism, it is one of the formulas of dictators, it is one of the roots of most of the systems that hurt people and our ecosystems.

How either/or thinking takes other forms
It surprisingly takes on different “shapes” in our logic, not only in providing people two choices in most matters, but also in questions: “are you A or B?”; “are you A and B or C ?”; “If A then why B?”; “If A and B then why B?”; “how could A and B be possible?”;

It manifests in the form of manipulation: “well, if you loved me you’d do this…”

It manifests in the form of limited value: “If it can’t be exchanged for a dollar today it has no value”. (excludes: love, trust, honesty, ethics, etc). “If I can’t see it how could it be true?”

It manifests in the form of organization systems: “Item A has to be filed under this box only and not any other” (this may affect findability, usability, limit multidisciplinary links, different modes of searching etc.).

It affects how we value knowledge: “folk knowledge valid? well, what kind of degrees do these folk have?” (either you have a diploma or your knowledge has little &/no value)

It affect how we understand intelligence: “if they’re so intelligent why are they poor?” (either you are intelligent and rich or you’re not intelligent)

It affects how we operate in organizations: “That’s not my responsibility, that’s marketing’s responsibility” (either is my responsibility or marketing’s responsibility).

It affects how we solve problems: “If the solution is not A or B then what in the world could it possibly be?” (single answer or dual answer dynamics).

It affects how we relate to people: “If you’re of ethnicity-A then you are like this and like that. If you’re ethnicity-B then you are like this”. (racism, stereotypes)

It affects how we judge people: “if you believe in X then you must believe this and act and think like this– if you don’t then you don’t believe in X”. “If you are a patriot then you do this, otherwise you are not a patriot”.

Either/or thinking may have its applications in logic – my question is what would happen if we assume that it has become “crutch” or a “rut” thought model and we abstain from its use for a while? What if we were to entertain other options and other possibilities between the polar extremes? How would that change our system dynamics?

Related

Either/or thinking” search results >>

Daniel Montano

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4 thoughts on “The bipolar culture. How either/or thinking affects our society.

  1. zizio

    I was doing an assignment for my study, then as i was reading i came across this concept of ‘either of thinking’, i find it very interesting and i think it explains a lot about the social, economic and political problems we face in the world, today and in history. personally, i find that the arguments or social and cultural problems that we face, and to a larger scale, such as the problems between Islam or the East and the Western countries lies with the concept of either or thinking. because we can not seem to find common ground or common agreement over certain issues. Although, i could be wrong but because of my fascination with this idea, i couldn’t help myself, i had to contribute my opinion :).

  2. Thanks for your comment. I later read The Assault on Reason by Al Gore, I recommend it as it is very relevant to this topic. Also I recommend Jimmy Carter’s “Our Endangered Values” and finally Daniel Goleman’s “Social Intelligence”; Fuzzy Thinking by Bart Kosko; they are all are great books. I haven’t read Steven Pinker’s books on thought and language but those may be relevant as well. Finally, the most obvious recommendation – I’d recommend taking a class on critical thinking…that’s where I first learned about this fallacy.

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