Monday, February 17, 2014

The persistence of binary thinking

I was watching "Real Time" the other night and it hit me again how trapped we all seem to be in thinking that for every problem there are only two answers: The Right Answer and the Wrong Answer. The panel was discussing the Obama administration's use of drones for targeted assassinations of possible terrorists. There are huge problems this whole notion, of course, ranging from violations of international law and the moral repugnance of planning to kill multiple innocents ("collateral damage") in an attempt to take out just one mastermind, but those aren't the subject of this post.

No, what struck me was Bill Maher's persistence in framing the discussion as an Either/Or question. You know, we either use drones to blow up someone's house or we do nothing. In Maher's world view there was only one Right Answer. It was like Maher was trapped thinking in Basic: for him everything was either a 1 or a 0; there were no other numbers. Dylan Ratigan kept pointing out that there were alternatives to drone strikes, such as special operations teams (e.g., Seal Team Six), that could be sent in to extract high profile human targets. Jeremy Scahill was being quite persistent in reminding everyone that drone strikes are not particularly effective. Among other things, they do a really nice job of recruiting new persons into supporting anti-U.S. terrorism. Blowing apart a wedding party or a gathering at the local coffee shop with a U.S. drone strike is a really good way to persuade the survivors they want to sign up with Al Qaeda or the Taliban after all. A more effective strategy might be to come up with ways to reduce support for terrorism, not bolster it. Maher wasn't having any of it. In his mind, there were two possibilities: doing nothing or using drones.

This is a situation we encounter all the time in our every day lives. We all know people who can't seem to figure out that for any situation there can be multiple responses. They decide that there is one Right Answer, and if for some reason that answer doesn't work out, they're paralyzed. The idea that there can be multiple right answers never sinks in. I'm not sure where this tendency comes from. It is the end result of being told over and over in school that there's only one right answer for any homework or test question? Have we been brainwashed by too many generations of politicians who insist publicly that there's only one policy solution to any particular problem? Are we humans just naturally lazy thinkers? We're always exhorting each other to "think outside the box" but we almost never do. It's a mystery.

8 comments:

  1. Ah, shades of grey, my head is full of them. But I'm pretty sure that I'm taking this new fucking tablet back to the store tomorrow.

    Guess I'm too fucking old to learn these new fucking mobile devices with a start up guide on three short pages that don't tell me shit.

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  2. The S.O. has been talking about getting a tablet. I guess it would be handy when we travel -- easier to tote around than the laptop -- but other than that I don't see much use for one. Still, I would hope that when we are traveling there's enough stuff to see and do that neither of us would be interested in staring at an electronic device very much.

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  3. If he wants to try setting up and using a new tablet make sure he buys it from a store that will let him return it in a few days. I didn't get anywhere with mine so I'm returning it today.

    My lap top, or note book isn't all that big and I know how to use it.

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  4. I run into this at work all the time. People so caught up in what they want that they can't be open to other options. They whine and moan about what isn't available and can't see what is!

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  5. it is easy to Monday morning quarterback. Glad I don't have to make the decisions. However, like computers and tablets, drones are a fact of life now and we can't put that genie back into the bottle. It is a new weapon and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as usage. There should be other alternatives to war and killing - but I understand the value of a program that doesn't require boots on the ground. It is a scary future on the horizon. Global warming and natural disasters aside - Mankind is mankind's biggest danger.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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  6. Ol' Buzzard, the "value" of a program that doesn't require boots on the ground is that it allows a nation of cowards to kill innocents without ever having to think about it very much. Drones provide the useful illusion that the U.S. can meddle in foreign affairs without there ever being any blowback. Karma's a bitch, and sooner or later we're all going to pay for our leaders' arrogance.

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  7. Me thinks that who will pay are the youth of today.

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  8. Nan, I have so missed reading your posts. I hope I can keep up again.

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