The dan­gers of ei­ther/or

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - — Ed­i­tor-in-chief Neil God­bout

Trag­i­cally, a 47-year-old cy­clist died Mon­day af­ter­noon at the cor­ner of Queensway and First Av­enue. As soon as the in­ci­dent was re­ported, how­ever, there seemed to be only one ques­tion: whose fault was it? An RCMP in­ves­ti­ga­tion found the wo­man, rid­ing her bi­cy­cle on the side­walk and on the wrong side of the road, crashed into the semi truck and trailer as it turned from First Av­enue onto Queen­way.

No one likes to blame the vic­tim, par­tic­u­larly when that per­son loses their life as the re­sult of a bad choice, but it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize when the driver in such a crash is not to blame.

The same thing hap­pened on a much more hor­rific scale ear­lier this year. Ev­ery­one wanted to know which driver was at fault in the Hum­boldt Bron­cos bush crash. Af­ter a lengthy in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the RCMP did charge the driver of the semi truck and trailer that hit the Bron­cos bus and the case is be­fore the courts.

Even in what ap­pear to be easy sit­u­a­tions, how­ever, blam­ing solely one act or one in­di­vid­ual for a tragedy is of­ten a mis­take. Most peo­ple know that ba­sic truth yet still look for an easy ex­pla­na­tion – whose fault was it? – to help them un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, tak­ing such a sim­ple ap­proach of­ten does not bring un­der­stand­ing at all. Usu­ally, it’s down­right wrong.

Our pre­his­tor­i­cally shaped brains evolved to be great at mak­ing these snap ei­ther/or de­ci­sions and it served our an­ces­tors well at de­cid­ing whether the ap­proach­ing per­son was a friend or foe and whether the rustling bushes was ei­ther the wind or the beast about to eat us for lunch.

Sadly, the same brains don’t work so well in the com­plex, mod­ern world.

Osama bin Laden and his gang of thugs were to blame for 9/11, as the world marked that sad an­niver­sary this week, but stop­ping there ig­nores so many other con­tribut­ing fac­tors to the ter­ror­ist at­tack, from the fail­ure of U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and air­line se­cu­rity pro­to­cols to in­creased rad­i­cal­ism and anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment through­out the Mus­lim world.

It’s easy to ma­nip­u­late any­one who sees the world through a black and white lens, whether it’s to con­vince them to hi­jack a plane and fly it into a build­ing, vote for Don­ald Trump or Justin Trudeau, re­ject cli­mate change as le­git­i­mate sci­ence, re­ject vac­ci­na­tions as le­git­i­mate pre­ven­ta­tive medicine or pick Pepsi over Coke, the NFL over the CFL, Ford over GM.

Re­duc­ing the world to good/bad lit­er­ally reduces peo­ple’s worlds, com­press­ing them into a rad­i­cal­ism where only they and peo­ple like them are good and the rest are bad.

In his book How The Right Lost Its Mind, Char­lie Sykes writes about how this kind of binary think­ing led Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tives and evangelical Chris­tians to aban­don longheld po­lit­i­cal and moral tra­di­tions to sup­port Trump’s can­di­dacy and now pres­i­dency.

Trump’s views on abor­tion are fuzzy but Hil­lary Clin­ton be­lieves in killing ba­bies.

Trump doesn’t act very Chris­tian but Hil­lary Clin­ton hates Christ­mas and prac­tices witch­craft.

Trump doesn’t seem to care much about guns or same-sex mar­riage or cli­mate change or im­mi­gra­tion or health care re­form but Hil­lary Clin­ton does. She’ll take away your guns, force pas­tors to marry gay cou­ples, or­der in­dus­tries to pay fos­sil fuel taxes, open the borders to any­one and of­fer health in­sur­ance to ev­ery­one!

With such a ter­ri­fied world­view, truth doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be be­liev­able and any­thing about bad peo­ple or those who dis­agree is be­liev­able, no mat­ter how ridicu­lous and bla­tantly wrong.

From there, con­spir­acy the­o­ries and apoc­a­lyp­tic vi­sions take flight, un­bur­dened by truth or de­cency or fair­ness or any con­sid­er­a­tion of a per­son or a topic beyond best or worst, hero or heretic, saviour or de­stroyer.

Cana­di­ans are no bet­ter than Amer­i­cans at this, par­tic­u­larly in pol­i­tics. Stephen Harper and the Con­ser­va­tives spent years de­mo­niz­ing the fed­eral Lib­er­als in gen­eral and Trudeau in par­tic­u­lar as gun-hat­ing pot­heads too soft and stupid to govern.

Trudeau turned the ta­bles, how­ever, by de­mo­niz­ing the Harper Con­ser­va­tives as cruel, heart­less money man­agers who didn’t care about peo­ple.

Nei­ther is true but the ei­ther/or fram­ing of the politi­cians and their pol­i­tics made choos­ing sim­ple and avoided the hard work of look­ing at plat­forms and prom­ises for many vot­ers.

When we take the time to try to un­der­stand peo­ple and per­spec­tives we don’t agree with, our world ex­pands and our un­der­stand­ing broad­ens.

We see op­pos­ing in­di­vid­u­als and views as op­por­tu­ni­ties for dis­cus­sion, not as mor­tal threats to our way of life.

When we see beyond black and white, we see colours. When we gaze fur­ther than good or bad, we’re far more likely to see the sim­i­lar­i­ties with our neigh­bours, rather than just the dif­fer­ences. When we look through ei­ther/or, we are faced with a com­plex re­al­ity where lies and blame are eas­ier to find than facts and truth.

When we at least make the ef­fort, we have a much bet­ter chance of see­ing the world as it is, rather than the easy to un­der­stand way we wish it was.

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