Dichotomous thinking

I was reading a letter in the MOFGA newsletter the other day that sounded to me like some ignorant old man complaining about organic hydroponics: “There isn’t any soil in hydroponic production.” Yes, that’s the idea. And, “Big money is presently invested in ‘vegetable factories’ and ‘vertical farms’ where production is hermetically sealed in huge warehouses filled with LED lights and nutrient pumps.” It’s implied that all these things are wrong, but it’s never mentioned why they’re wrong. And then I see the letter was written by none other than Eliot Coleman who literally wrote the book on small scale organic ag.

Democrats are not just “wrong” or “right”. Video games are not just “good” or “bad”. Solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars are not a panaceas. Given a predictable audience, the word “lobbyist” can be an insult and stating a company’s big profits evokes we’re-too-honest-to-make-that-kind-of-money shakes of the head.

An old couple in a discussion after a movie screening took the floor, jumped on the chance, to easily solve the crisis of industrial agriculture, concluding with “We just need to get these people to make the right decisions at the grocery store.” And then after a lull, the husband: “I have never been to Wal Mart.” This is the worse kind of opinion to have (maybe personality too). To so strongly believe in something that you’re lecturing people while poking at their chests but not do the in-depth research, not understand the situation fully. Because it’s easy to hear words like “organic” and make the immediate jump to “healthy” and then “good” and then basically treat it as the word “good” and not what it is. What it is is, of course, astoundingly complex, which is why it’s important to have movie screenings and discussions.

Now in order to be able to talk about anything we basically have to make like sweeping generalizations all the time, which makes sense, it’s alright, but there is a subtle pernicious effect I think that has on our way of thinking. Because so much of the information we’re receiving is condensed it’s almost too easy, tantalizingly easy, to make these assumptions, tiny little jumps of logic and judgment that maybe allow us into some larger group. And much has been studied about our desire to “go with the flow”.

But in order to actually solve real and difficult problems the exact opposite needs to happen. We need to talk to and have compassion for people we think we hate, have the humility to say we don’t know or we’re wrong. This is so obvious that I feel a weird embarrassment writing about it, even! And yet, in my own mind too, I see dichotomous thinking too often. In our search for order and meaning we’re sacrificing communication and nuance.