I wish it were a black and white world – then I would be able to pick a side and have a 50% chance of being absolutely on the correct side. Us versus them. Right versus Wrong. Left versus Right. Good versus Evil. Taste Great versus Less Filling.
There is something gloriously appealing to a simplistic worldview that can easily be boiled down to the phrase, “chocolate or vanilla”. It is convenient to know that I’m going either to heaven or to hell and the outcome is determined solely on whether I profess a belief in a savior – or not. It is wonderful to believe that “you are either with us or against us.” Ah…mission accomplished…or not. See how comfortable it is to say such things. Such simple duality is easy on the brain because it doesn’t take any effort to choose.
A black and white world would certainly be convenient – I personally think there are entirely to many brands of toothpaste.
On the other hand – there is something dangerously insidious about a simplistic either/or world. For example, “if it weren’t for ‘them‘ we wouldn’t have these problems.” Simplistic but problematic.
Especially if you replace the word “them” with words such as cracker, nigger, crumpet-sucker, chigger, crunchy, paddy, kike, beaner or one of a 1,ooo other racial slurs. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, as the Irish came across the Atlantic and blacks made their way to opportunity in the north, they were commonly greeted by signs that read, “Irish and niggers need not apply”. Which is why another old slur for the Irish was “NINA” – “No Irish Need Apply”.
Well at least they knew where to look for a job – somewhere else.
We want simplistic – it is much easier to manage. This is the difficulty with complicated issues – these refuse to be boiled down to an us versus them, either/or option. We want it to be simple which is why we label those people who disagree or are different than us as conservative or liberal, fascist or socialist, Nazi or communist. There are a small minority of people making a living propagating simplistic worldviews – views that limit discussion, limit the free exchange of ideas and limit solutions. Unfortunately, these people can be seen broadcasting into billions of homes around the world delivering an exciting, loud, entertaining and simplistic blend of hostility, humor and zeal.
After all who wants to watch two reasonable moderates who mostly agree?
It is this simplistic world view that gives power to the likes of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Osama Bin Laden, Joseph McCarthy, Glen Beck and my high school football coach – all idealistic fascists. We want it to be simple. We don’t want to see the other side of the story, walk in another man’s shoes, broaden our perspective or consider all the facts. All of these actions require us to swallow our pride and ego and admit we might not really know. “Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem,” wrote educational psychologist Thomas Szasz, “That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.”
Complicated issues such as health care reform, terrorism and energy give us a headache because like all forms of exercise it forces us to stretch our brains. Americans are the most obese people in the world: most of us refuse to get off the couch to exercise our bodies – perhaps instead we should use our couch time to exercise our brains.