The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 37.0°F | Fair


Fighting Dichotomy

Andrew C. Thomas

If I had the means the money and the manpower, I would spend the great bulk of my time and effort waging war. Not a war of bullets and bombshells, but a war of ideology. I would fight black and white.

If there is one philosophical concept I think has caused more trouble than any over time, it is dichotomy. The idea that one object, per se, can be evenly divided between two groups, is incredibly powerful and yet incredibly troublesome.

Dichotomy is the root of logic, and thus of mathematics. Either something is, or it ain’t. By evenly splitting statements into two groups -- true or false, correct or incorrect -- we establish a very clear set of rules. For thousands of years, logic and mathematics have proven themselves both formidable tools, nearly infallible to criticism, since they are completely sufficient on their own terms.

Well, more or less. Kurt Godel proved that no mathematical or logical system is completely self-sufficient. That this snafu is resolved by the application of a little faith is unimportant, because what we can purposefully extract out of this tools works. We can accept with our own eyes and senses that these concepts work. Thanks to them we have such wonders as global communications and atomic bombs.

Surely, though, it should be evident that dichotomy cannot and should not extend past certain areas. This forbidden territory is firmly entrenched into the basic human condition itself.

It’s ridiculously simple to suggest that any question can be answered yes or no. Even a question like “what color is the sky?” defies a simple answer. The defeat of logic as a practical tool for exploring every element of our existence comes at the threshold of experience and communication. I could give a bitmap description of the entire sky at sunset, but it’s beyond your capability to appreciate it in the same way unless you had seen it for yourself.

American two-party politics, however, is the absurd extension of binary logic. Two giant organizations have sliced up the country between them roughly evenly and take opposing answers to the same problems. Immediately there is a logical problem. America was not based on one question with a yes-no answer -- aside from “Do we want to separate from Britain,” another overly dramatic simplification. It should be obvious that neither political party can possibly be completely right in their methods for running the country, since if their track record was that good they never would have relinquished control of power.

A question many people have asked, typically in a comedic setting, is how a person can be for the death penalty but against abortion, or the reverse. This is an attempt to draw a line at what point it is morally acceptable to kill. Opponents typically try to argue that a woman has a right to control her body, but that no one has a right to kill any other fully formed human being. Both of these positions do have logical evolutions based on bona fide moral premises. But why not consider the moral idea that life is sacred? Under that supposition we should not have the right to kill the unborn or the convicted. There are many people who follow this moral code, and yet this position sees no major representation in the American political system.

It is a fair point to make that there are several third parties, some of which could legitimately cause this change, bringing American political thought into a new paradigm entirely. Some day I hope that at least two of these parties will emerge to join the giants. Only one would be dangerous, and would likely gravitate towards one party or the other, as was seen with the Green Party in the 2000 election. Some balance does need to be seen for this evolution to be stable.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that black-and-white thinking is unhealthy. On the contrary, we would not have the society we do today without it. And it still must be applied in the political system; surely, every voting citizen has a different opinion of the way things should be. I do not believe that America, or at this point any country on earth, has the political maturity to function on direct democracy and avoid the drawing of party lines.

It’s certainly a shame that neither party would logically support the addition of other powerful entities. It would be, among other things, bad for business. Perhaps it is the love of country that both parties seem to preach that will help them realize that a move away from black-and-white division might actually be in their best interests.