We’re only ordinary men

I cheated this time: I wrote this as a comment, and decided to steal it from myself for a post.

It began as it usually does: the simplest question, WHY?  When I read a description such as this, I immediately wonder why someone gets trapped into thinking in such terms.  Something has gone out of whack, clearly.

Think of it as a balance of impulses and desires, all sitting heavier or lighter on a large platter, and a fulcrum upon which they pivot.  That fulcrum is the will of each person.  I have a desire to be bold and daring, and a desire to keep from being hurt.  Given an event – think of it like a pebble dropped on the surface – I tilt towards reacting boldly or cautiously.  And since we’re all “weighted” differently, and face different tugs and forces upon us, and seek a different balancing point for all of this, we all wind up quite different people, and thank goodness for it.

Now, what I’m looking at in Morgan’s description is not balance, however, but failure of balance.  Something’s gone wrong and the platter has tipped way over.  No matter what drops onto that person’s plate, it’s going to roll and tumble its way down to the low end, and get the exact same reaction, no matter where it initially came in.  The normal metaphor is that “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  Everything that hits an unbalanced mind becomes a confirmation (or a victim) of this bias in one direction, exacerbates it, and sooner or later the platter tips into the dirt and everything tumbles right off.

People can function a suprising time despite this, but it takes a lot of energy – in the same way that you can just slump over on the couch, but walking along a narrow curb takes concentration and effort.  Their minds have to unconsciously simplify everything for them instead of investing time and energy they can’t spare.  One simplification is to move from “right vs. wrong” to “us vs. them.”

There’s of course a resemblance: you can be right or not, with us or not.  The difference that gets elided is that there are so many more approaches to right and wrong.  You can be on the right track but not quite there, or wrong on principle, or hopelessly muddled, or etc. etc. You can reach the right conclusion stupidly. You can outsmart yourself and be completely wrong despite years of training and experience.  And everyone else around you can be in similar states of approach or withdrawl, their voices can carry more or less weight in the discussion.  You can tip off in any of a hundred directions.  And one major point is that you can disagree but still be an “us”.  Heck, you might not even care about dividing things into an us or a them.

None of those things is possible in “us vs. them.”   There are only three categories, and the only one of them that’s RIGHT is US.  If you’re not an us, you are either a them, or raw material.  A THEM is always wrong because it’s not US, and the undecideds have to be gathered up into RIGHT/US, quickly, before they are “misled” by THEM.

So, if that means that an US changes position, then the previous position is either something they never really believed, or were “evolving” from, or forced upon US by THEM.  (Incidentally, this is how THEM become simultaneously devious geniuses, and morons.)  Things are given their value based on who is saying them, not necessarily on what they’re saying or why they’re saying it.

This is enough of a problem, but there’s a worse problem behind this oversimplification of thought: it’s dumbing down a concept that itself is already diluted.  “Right vs. wrong” is already a diminution of “good vs. evil.”  A thing is either right or wrong, after all, but a person has a lot of right and wrong bundled inside them all at once, and also bunches of other things that have no intrinsic moral quantity – taste in clothes and colors and music and food, their hair and skin and laughter and sense of humor, where we were born, what we drive, etc.  It’s how we pursue those things, and how we use them, that turns them into material for morality.  And the tough cases are when the wrong thing to do becomes morally just – such as, say, punching out my lights to stop me from burning down a house.  I ought not to be punched, but I make it necessary in that case.

You can test the results for yourself.  It’s putting “us vs. them” and “right vs. wrong” in front of “good vs. evil” that tends to lead to outrageous abuses and tyrannies in the name of “progress.”  That’s the process in use when freedoms are set aside in favor of “it’s for your own good.”  It’s how people who forward a critique based on behavior or policy are told that they really only oppose or question things due to personal animosity, or mental impairment, or moral defect.  Ultimately, it’s how people themselves become objects.  By making all things personal, persons themselves are squeezed out, lose their personality.  Mere things are the thing, and no thing is innocent or inoffensive, and no thought or behavior is private.

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One thought on “We’re only ordinary men

  1. House of Eratosthenes May 18, 2012 at 9:01 am

    […] gives it a good think: [T]here are so many more approaches to right and wrong. You can be on the right track but not […]

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