The Jan. 6th New York Times headline "In Retreat, Populism Hardens Its Us-vs.-Them Attack on Liberals" recently caught my attention. I sighed, shook my head and leaned back, closed my eyes, and tried to let go of yet another reminder of the loss of civility in our society. And not just our society. Author Max Fisher reported that Germany, Sweden and other countries are also locked in a battle rooted in us-versus-them thinking. I wonder, did the entire educated world ditch Philosophy 101 the day false dilemma was taught?
Granted, I had to strain to remember this logical fallacy’s name. I was taught to avoid either-or thinking because our options are rarely either this or that. There are almost always more than two choices in any problem-solving situation. Us-versus-them thinking creates a win-lose worldview. Maybe the folks who cut philosophy class also missed Business Management 101 the day they taught the power of creating win-win situations. The simplicity and fallacy of either-or thinking assumes there are only two groups, two answers and one must lose in order for one to win. As if all the problems in this world could be solved by one big Super Bowl. I’m right and you’re wrong. My team wins and your team loses. Ta Da! Everything’s fixed. (Athletic competition, in which there is only one first place, is nearly the only situation that works for us-versus-them thinking.)
I have to say, though, I gave myself a chuckle. I was pondering logical thinking and solving all of the world’s problems when, in our current reality, it seems no logical thinking or problem solving is being attempted. How did we get to the point in which our societal creed is something like “love yourself-hate your neighbor?” More importantly, if I choose to believe love God-love your neighbor, how do I act on that belief? I’m pretty clear on the love God part. But, who exactly is my neighbor and where is Mr. Rogers when you need him?
Science tells us—that is peer reviewed, evidence-based sound research—all humans share 99.9 percent of the same DNA. Only 0.1 percent defines human differences. (This is not fake news.) Then, may we conclude that, genetically speaking, every human being is my neighbor? I think so. And I think science blows this illogical us-versus-them mindset out of the water.
Speaking of blowing things up, I’m guessing that in us-versus-them camps that “them” are not my neighbors. The either-or thinking leads to beliefs, such as, “Either you worship my god, or I will kill you.” In the U.S., over holiday dinners with family, that might play out more along the lines of “Either you agree with my political beliefs or you don’t get any pie!” Wouldn’t it be nice if the conversation was more like “Both your opinions and mine are valid. Now, I want ice cream with my pie. And, let’s take some to the neighbors.” After all, both them and us are 99.9 percent the same.
Hatfield Clemenson, Fargo, is the author of "Witness to Violence - A Hatfield Family Story." This column was submitted for consideration in The Forum's search for "the next great columnist."