Thinking has gone out of style; it’s not trending. People don’t even seem aware that thinking is an activity with strict rules and straightforward outcomes. In a thinking society a person can confidently put forward the following syllogism:
Premise #1 --It is illegal to handle classified materials on a personal server. Premise #2-- The FBI found at least 110 classified documents on Hillary’s server.
Conclusion -- Hillary broke the law.
See how easy that is? How inescapable? A thinking person can’t look at both premises and come to the conclusion that there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to see, no need for an indictment. And yet on July 5th we watched the director of the FBI – a person we would expect to be good at basic thinking – do just that. We need a national refresher course on entry-level thought.
This is our first brush-up lesson – binary thinking. (If you are a millennial, this may be an entirely new concept since all your school years you were taught to sneer at the simple and direct.) Binary thinking – either/or thinking -- stems from the three rules of logic.
1. The Law of Identity. A persimmon is a persimmon: it isn’t anything else. See, already we’re in trouble, “identity” being such a loaded word these days. What if the persimmon feels more like a pear?
2. The Law of Non-contradiction. A persimmon is not a pear, nor a lamp, nor a gearbox. It is not, what it is not. Aristotle thought this was the most important law – without it, we would be unable to make distinctions. We’ve been trained to suppose that it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is. We’ve been indoctrinated in the idea that a family is just any friendly group of people, that a man can be a wife, that an AR15 is a machine gun, that a Republican is a racist. Just calling things whatever you want to call them, regardless of whether or not the term contradicts the reality, is a handy habit and will be hard to give up, i.e. “ISIS is the JV team.”
3. The Law of the Excluded Middle. There is no middle ground. No comfortable, non-committal, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too position. Things are either persimmons or they’re not. Binary – two choices. One does not choose one’s sex; it is what it is and not something else; there are not 51 options.
The truth is (I know, I know – I used the T-word. Sorry) that most decisions are binary decisions. “Should I stay, or should I go?” chants a recent TV commercial. Either/or. Is an action moral, or not? Is a person lying, or not? You can’t travel, sort of to, say, New Orleans. You can’t cheat on your wife just a little bit. You can’t kind of tell a lie. Hillary didn’t just sort of break very explicit laws. I know that the term “absolute” is not trendy either, but these things are absolute, and if we cannot deal with truth as an absolute concept, we can’t think. We have to get a grip on the fact that a thing is what it is (which is why we can’t morally screw around with the language), that a thing is not what it is not, and that there is no third choice. (May Republican delegates understand this.)
Let’s look at the first caveat and explore a couple of examples. Oppression is a word we hear a lot these days. White people “oppress” blacks. Really? The word oppression, when I look it up, has the following synonyms: domination, coercion, cruelty, tyranny, and subjugation. Those terms would be appropriate if we were talking about actual slavery where you were whipped if you disobeyed and shot if you tried to escape -- but we (white people) ended slavery 151 years ago. Follow me now, this isn’t rocket science: oppression = slavery, slavery = being bought and sold and forced to work. It is not being arrested for stealing cigarettes from a convenience store. It is not collecting a welfare check every month. A thing is what it is. (And Slick Willy is the only person I know of who is uncertain of the meaning of is.
Let’s look at the term Islam. Remember, a thing is what it is. Islam means submission; it does not mean peace. Submission means obedience, compliance, capitulation, surrender, acquiescence. Those synonyms make perfect sense in a religion that collects converts via jihad, but are at odds with the concepts of peace and love. Our president seems so confused by this that he can’t string the words Islam and terrorism together in the same phrase. I can’t imagine how we can hope to stop jihad from overtaking us if we can’t even face the fact that it is what it is.
Now turn to the second law – a thing is not what it is not. Black Lives Matter is not an organization concerned with the deaths of black people. We can tell this by the fact that the members seem not at all exercised about the millions of innocent black babies aborted each year, but are instead claiming to be upset about the demise of a handful of violent felons. They are not complaining about the alarming amount of black-on-black murder in the inner city. They aren’t worried about the dismal state of education in black communities, nor are they worked up about the high unemployment rate amongst young black males. They are not what they are not, and yet the media would have you think otherwise. We cannot possibly fix any problems if we cannot use accurate terminology.
The Law of the Excluded Middle is a really tough one for the 21st century – we are surrounded by choices. But all choices eventually boil down to yes or no. I can shop for shoes and try on 270 pairs, but, in the end, the choice boils down to buying or not buying. I can peruse a menu of 20 items and still I must either follow my diet or blow it.
No matter what the situation, in reality, there are only two choices. Let’s take the agnostic, for instance. He can look at the religious options and conclude that he can believe, not believe, or declare himself neutral, like Switzerland. But that isn’t true. A person can, for instance, choose to believe that her calico cat, Spot, is God. Or she can declare that proposition preposterous and refuse to buy into it, but what if she doesn’t choose one way or the other? That would make her an agnostic, however, remember the Law of the Excluded Middle -- this undecided cat-owner is merely a subset of the set of nonbelievers. She may not be an anti-catian, but the bottom line is that she is not a believer. She has not yet declared for Spot. To Spot or not to Spot: that is the option.
We have a choice in November to vote for socialism or capitalism, establishment cronyism or no-nonsense, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead leadership. Neither will be perfect; both will cause upheaval, but they are clear, diametrically opposed choices. Disgruntled Bernites and Cruzites can choose to stay home, but that just places them in the opponent’s corner, so not choosing is always choosing, it’s just doing so passively.
We also have clear options in that we can decide to either return to carefully constructed thought or barrel on, like nap-less 2-year-olds powered by nothing but anger and adrenalin. We can either choose to call a thing by its right name, or continue lying by pretending it’s something else. We can face up to the stark choices in front of us, or muddle along imagining utopian third options. I heard Hillary the other day trying to sell the crowd on the idea of “the third way.” She, of course, didn’t say what that would be.
Thought has always been a human being’s ace in the hole, but we have to think according to the rules or we end up with non-thought. And, after all, a thing is what it is and it is not something else. And there’s nothing in the middle.