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Ways of Thinking, Perception and Analysis


Ways of Thinking, Perception and Analysis
Symbolism and other metaphors
Projection and denial
Quality of discourse vs propaganda
Comprehension of alternative perspectives

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Part 3 of 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way from Binary Thinking (2001)

Binary thinking

According to Colin Powell (16th September 2001), the response required of other governments is "yes or no". It is "binary" he asserts -- reflecting the "excluded middle" pattern that characterizes the poverty of western conceptualization in comparison with others. Do the intellectual elites of the USA genuinely believe that using this highly restricted conceptual framework is adequate to address cultures notably characterized by the higher dimensionality of three- and four-fold logics?

Tony Blair asserts (3 October 2001) that: "It is to be a battle with only one outcome -- our victory, not theirs". Constrained by the binary thinking of the coalition, is he willfully ignorant of the other "outcomes" of previous conflicts undertaken with such enthusiasm -- such as World War I and the Gulf War (from which the CIA estimated that a million civilians subsequently died, and without removing Saddam Hussein)? What will be the equivalent of the other unforeseen outcomes in the case of the "war against terror"? Was the derogation of vital clauses in human rights treaties and legislation a foreseen outcome?

Gerhard Schröder made no secret of the fact that it was Blair's energetic promise of a "Third Way" between heartless capitalism and artery-clogging socialism that he had made the cornerstone of his own electoral campaign. In June 1999, Schröder and Blair expressed this determination in a joint release of a formal statement by Blair's Labour Party and Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD) entitled "Europe: The Third Way". Is the single outcome predicted by Tony Blair for the Afghanistan campaign evidence that this "Third Way" is effectively another uni-dimensional approach, rather than a shift beyond the binary approach? How is "three" distinguished from "one" in binary counting?

In setting our their objectives prior to the attack on Afghanistan, the USA and the UK stressed a three-pronged approach: military, diplomatic, and humanitarian -- to which it was understood that equal weight would be given, and so ensured the coalition support for the initiative. Given the emphasis on binary thinking, is it difficult to understand why it proved impossible to manage this ternary objective as envisaged, or why it degraded into a binary approach with minimal humanitarian sensitivity?

If "those who are not with us must necessarily be considered against us" (Hillary Clinton, 12th September 2001), to what extent will those who fail to associate themselves whole-heartedly with acts of retribution themselves be subject to some form of punitive sanction?

Decoded, is it really that "if you are not for US", then "you must be against USA"?

On the day of the attack against Afghanistan, bin Laden released a video that used the same binary language -- separating the world into Islamic believers and infidels attacking Islam. Does binary thinking necessarily evoke binary thinking?

The "terrorists" adopted binary thinking long ago -- recognizing that those who were not for the causes they upheld (their understanding of justice, equality, etc) were necessarily against them. By responding in binary mode, has western civilization walked into a trap that it effectively designed for itself by such insensitivity -- and, in so doing, has collapsed its rich ecology of human values into an ugly stunted pattern?

If visitors to the USA or the UK are not "with us" does that mean that they are necessarily to be treated as suspect as "terrorist fellow-travellers"? Will this not further aggravate the challenges of the tourist industry?

All member countries of the United Nations have condemned "terrorism". But assuming that only some 10-20 countries are part of the loosely articulated US-led "global" coalition "against terrorism", does this mean that over 150 countries are effectively "for terrorism" or to be suspected of supporting or condoning it? What percentage of the world population is thus defined as condoning terrorism in some way? How many such people really need to be "rooted out" by the coalition? What we will be done with them?

Oddly some translations of Osama bin Laden's statement at the time of the coalition riposte were rendered as the world now being split into the camp of "belief" and the camp of "disbelief". Is this a fruitful way of viewing humanity's responses at this time to spirituality, to meaningful significance, to confidence in the future, to hope, and to the merits of the coalition riposte itself?

Is religion at the root of binary thinking and its reinforcement -- with the constant focus on "good" and "evil" and little capacity to give form to the worlds between, and beyond, in which most people are obliged to learn to live their communal lives?

"All the religious wars that have caused blood to be shed for centuries arise from passionate feelings and facile counter-positions, such as Us and Them, good and bad, white and black." Does the strength and richness of western culture not lie in its efforts to "dissolve" harmful simplifications through inquiry and the critical mind? (Umberto Eco, Guardian, 13 October 2001)

If only 80-90 percent of Americans support the Bush administration's war policies, does this imply -- according to the "with us / against us" binary logic -- that those against them are to be considered necessarily as supporting terrorism? Do 10-20 percent of Americans therefore support terrorism? Should they be "rooted out"? Or should such dissenters be required to wear distinctive armbands?

If 74 percent of Britons support the bombing of Afghanistan (Guardian, 12 October 2001) in response to the coalition's perception of "terror", does this mean that 74 percent would accept the logic of being bombed by others who perceive key coalition states to have been engaged in "terrorism", supporting it, or condoning it on the part of their allies? Would they see this as just retribution?

If over 50% of Americans believing that Arab-Americans should have special identity cards, whilst the Taliban legislate that Hindus wear special insignia on their clothes -- do these chilling similarities return us back to Europe sixty years ago? Would it not be ironic if the Israelis imposed such identification on their Arab citizens and on Palestinians working in Israel?

If there is only to be a single outcome according to Tony Blair, why is the House of Saud so worried about the possibility of "secondary effects" in Saudi Arabia (4th October 2001)?

What inhibits intellectual capacity in politicians and leaders -- even encouraging them to aspire to reduce binary thinking to single-factor explanations? Why, by contrast, do engineers aspire to develop engines from single stroke, through two-stroke, to V-8 and multi-cylinder variants?

One of the significant dangers to life on the planet is unforeseen combinations of seemingly innocuous factors. The military exploitation of this takes the form of "binary weapons" -- notably innocuous chemicals which when mixed have explosive or toxic effects. To what extent is collective intelligence, operating according to binary logic, able to detect such unforeseeable destabilizing effects on society?

In responding to crises, does the tendency to reduce the focus to a single individual, or an organization, or some other single causative factor, blind collective intelligence to wider systemic patterns? Does the pursuit of "local" closure reflect a lack of open-mindness to "global" systemic ills?

Given the highly courageous role performed -- with their own sacrifices -- by the emergency services at the time of the disaster, has the strategic danger been of projecting that necessary "fix it" binary logic (appropriate in a given context and culture) onto the wider challenge of responding to the message behind the attack as a symptom of global societal malaise?

The Mayor of New York, in addressing the UN General Assembly (1 October 2001) stated: "I ask you to look in your hearts and recognize that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism. You're either with civilization or with terrorists...We are right and they are wrong". Does that mean that anyone who dares to disagree with him is with the terrorists and subject to arrest when visiting the UN in New York? What scope is there for genuine international meetings there?

How can policy-makers, politicians and their constituencies learn to count beyond two? How does their failure to do so undermine capacity to build complex enduring coalitions, articulate complex sustainable strategies, comprehend subtler patterns of coherence in the governance of society, engage in richer forms of dialogue amongst widely different belief systems, and move beyond obsession with "winning" and "losing" in relation to those with whom they dialogue?

To what extent does the intervention in Afghanistan based on "bombardment plus humanitarian aid" depend upon insights gained in the more severe forms of interrogation of prisoners -- alternating between ""good cop" and "bad cop" to disorient as part of a brainwashing and dependency-creating process? Like the terrified prisoners, how traumatized is the Afghan population scheduled to become in trying to anticipate whether an overflying plane will drop bombs or food? Or bombs disguised as food?

How many civilians will be killed by food aid dropped from a great height?

If binary thinking is to be the policy modality of the future, then surely those who are not in favour of peace must be in favour of war? Those whose are not against environmental pollution must be in favour of it? Those who are not in favour of protecting endangered species must be in favour of endangering them further? Those who are not in favour of assistance to the vulnerable must surely be in favour of their exploitation?

"September 11, we are told, demands a new kind of war against a highly elusive enemy. But terror and elusive enemies were not invented on that day. Around the world, proliferating weapons (sold by the US-coalition members) and deep-seated anger are fuelling conflicts that cannot be adequately understood, or combatted, as the struggle between two teams, let alone between good and evil. Ultimately, will the only defence be to defuse the underlying anger? (David Keen, Guardian, 7 November 2001)

How will binary thinking be successfully applied to the challenge of nation building in Afghanistan -- especially in the light of the multiple shifting alliances amongst the various ethnic groups, and the number of countries bordering on Afghanistan? Is that why the USA is avoiding the challenge after dropping its bombs?

Robert Zoellick, US trade representative, to the WTO talks argues that "by promoting the WTO's agenda, these 142 nations can counter the revulsive destructionism of terrorism". Open markets, he claimed, are "an antidote" to the "terrorists' violent rejectionism". Is the conduct of WTO trade negotiation by the western world to be "bundled" (Microsoft-style) inside the with-us-or-against-us logic of the war on terrorism? (Naomi Klein, Guardian, 8 November 2001)

"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" - said Mahatma Gandhi. New logics have to be integrated in the process of new learning, both in a theoretical and in a practical way. Is it so difficult to see that binary thinking is precisely the favored ground of terrorists? Is it so difficult to see that violence always engenders violence in the absence of a new logic? (Basarab Nicolescu, 16 October 2001)

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