You decide to patronize a fancy restaurant based on a friend’s glowing recommendation. You enter the establishment and you are immediately impressed by the ambiance. As soon as you walk in, you are greeted by a friendly host who guides you to your table and introduces you to the server. As you scan the menu, you order a glass of water with no ice. A few minutes later, the server returns and hands you a glass of water with a lit candle floating in it. Perplexed, you ask the server why there is a candle in your water. He responds, “you said you wanted a glass of water with no ice, so obviously you must like fire in your drinks”.
If this really did happen to you, of course you would think that the server has severe issues and you might take a detour to Yelp to write a not so glowing review of the restaurant. I mean really, just because you did not want ice does not mean you are requesting flames in your high quality H2O. Yet, as ludicrous as this scenario sounds, when it comes to politics and a plethora of societal issues that confound us, this type of binary thinking dominates our conversations. We have been trained and conditioned to see the grandness of this world through the smallness of ideologies and identities. “If not x, then y” is as common as bluegrass in Kentucky when it comes to most people’s world views.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been accused of being a Republican simply because I had the temerity to condemn Democrats. Oh wait, it gets better, I’ve also been accused of being a “self-hating black man” and a Trump supporter because I had the gall to criticize Barack Obama. This does not just happen with some on the Left, some on the Right revel in this same type of absurdity. If I dare question the excesses of capitalism, I’m immediately bashed as a commie. Binary thinking is global pandemic, all flash points seem to require a dose of equal parts false equivalencies and strawmen. When I point out Israel’s cruelty in ghettoizing Gaza, I’m branded a Hamas supporter. If I speak against the way some collectively judge Jews for the sins of a few, I’m dismissed as a Zionist puppet.
To be nuanced in a world of zealotry is to court indignities. For too many, justice is an all or nothing enterprise—either you are 100% with them or you are 100% their enemy. This is how natural allies and co-victims are made to fight each other; instead of finding a common ground for agreement, we would rather withdraw to our defensive postures and attack others who think differently. In this paradigm, morality is ever shifting and continually predicated by our predetermined outlooks. One day liberals hate NAFTA, the next day they are defending free trade. Likewise, conservatives who used to be about family values now support a man who brags about grabbing women by their private parts. All along, the establishment get a kick as they toy with us as if we are a society of Pavlov’s dog. Yesterday it was Roseanne Barr, today it’s Samantha Bee, virtue signaling, gas lighting and separable grievances have become the debased (I refuse to call them the elites) modus operandi to stir us into derangement.
As with all things, extremists command attention while measured thinkers are given a short shrift. This is true of social media as well, the people who are the most vocal on various platforms are the die hard fanatics. The prevalence of radicals has a way of warping conversations, we tend to understand the world through the echo chambers of demagogues and their devoted followers. I truly believe that there is a rational majority who yearn for a life free of the duopoly and unencumbered by ideologies/identities. Sadly, the humble many are drowned out by the vocal minority. Click To Tweet
Binary thinking is at once the chain that imprisons sycophants and lashes non-conformists. Those who remain wedded to their ideologies and identities become the unwitting enforcers of the status quo. On any given day, families are broken and friends are lost over political and social differences. There are some in this world who would throw their own mothers on train tracks in order to take bullets for their political idols. I’m not trying to be judgmental here, I too once went out of my way to defend my erstwhile favorite politician before I had my awakening. I too used to bash people who did not agree 100% with me. It took a mugging by reality and a stint of being neighbors with society’s invisibles for it to dawn upon me that the lesser of two evils is still evil and for me to finally realize the folly of ‘all or nothing’ thinking
Our political system thrives on ghettoizing people based on identity, ideologies and wedge issues. The duopoly in DC and the media-politico class enrich themselves by splintering humanity into factions and then incite our emotions so that we fight each other instead of realizing the true sources of injustice. The farmer in Kansas is upset about the same issues as the bus driver in Chicago; from left to right, black and white and all in between are all up in arms over a system that takes from many in order to enrich the neo-aristocracy. We are being blinded to these things because we keep viewing life through binaries. It’s time for us to change. We are not computers, we don’t have to be mindless zombies and blindly accept the lanes that are drawn for us.
If we are to free ourselves from this world wide web of deceit and disinformation, we must start by inspecting the part we play to empower the status quo. The inanities of mainstream media and the fatuity of these duplicitous politicians and pundits flourish because we let our worse instincts guide our moral decisions as a society. We must rise above the pettiness of the moment, gravitate towards compassion and stay the hell away from those who preach acrimony. We don’t have to feed the machine of antipathy, there are plenty who make it their duty to speak up for truth without bias to dogmas and demographics. In her latest article, Caitlin Johnston noted:
Real revolution will require humility. We will have to admit that we have been duped. We will have to admit that our heroes and villains were all just a two-handed show of the puppeteering deep state, and while we were laughing and crying and shaking our fists at each other, it has always been business as usual for the real power establishment.
The status quo is not working for us; the feelings of anger and antipathy that hang in the air is not a residual side effect from drinking tap water nor an unintended consequence of global warming. We are all fed up by the unfairness of a system that takes from most in order to nourish the oligarchy. But freedom requires rational decision making instead of being led by the nose by firebrands and “us versus them” thinking. That is the truest binary we must overcome as humanity: we are all in this together—don’t let false constructs and fake personalities deceive you into thinking differently.
If I speak against the frivolous nature of our politics, it’s because I was once knee deep in it—I know the perils of conformity. For those who refuse to see the world through binaries, here is to liberation and the sense of unbelonging that comes with it. Stay strong, there are a lot more free thinkers out there even if it does not seem like it. After all, this article was inspired by a Tweet I posted yesterday on this same topic that has managed to draw the attention of thousands of people. For those who remain married to politics and put ideologies above humanity, here is to hoping that you too will find a way out of that confinement. I just ask you be a little more thoughtful in the way you react to people like me going forward. Just because I don’t like the politician you love does not mean I love the politician you hate. Don’t be the waiter who brings candles when I order water with no ice in it. #No2BinaryThinking
The chains at the feet are nothing compared to the shackles in our minds::
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.