Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Binary Society

I'm a bit disturbed by how entrenched a binary society has become in our culture. By binary society, I mean, that as a whole, Americans see most decisions as either one thing or the other. You win or you lose; you're successful or you're not; you're with me or you're against me. This perspective is in everything that goes on in our culture.

In politics, you're a Republican or a Democrat, and you either agree with everything in that party or you don't. The concept of politicians talking, negotiating, and reaching a compromise seems to not have just become foreign, but a negative -- as if the politicians are selling out rather than arriving at a better solution.

However, this sort of behavior expands through everything. Look at online message boards, call-in shows, any place people express themselves. You'll see how people are determined to be either good or bad, no gray, they can't be a bit of both. I was talking with my girlfriend the other day about American Idol. You see people constantly pointing out how people from that show, other than one or two are failures. Failure is a pretty absolute word. The fact is, if you're in a creative field - singing, acting, writing, etc - and you can actually make a living doing your art, you are an unqualified success. However, success is now determined to be ultra-rich and mega-famous, or you lose.

Is it any wonder than many Americans, especially younger ones, aren't trying as hard? The definition of success is almost impossible to meet. The with me or against me culture batters people and tears them apart, unless you're either overwhelmed with apathy or completely lacking empathy.

It's no wonder that most other cultures are having problems understanding us. However, we've also helped form a world where our main export is culture -- so, sadly, many nations are starting to adopt our methodology. It's something we've always wanted, right? Well, the problem is, what happens when their opinion differs? They won't back down or compromise because we won't. It makes our world much less friendly and definitely more dangerous.

It seems to me the biggest danger facing America is extremism, not from without, but from within. We're breeding extremism and it's time to step back from that chasm and start talking again -- not as enemies, but as neighbors.

If you hear a politician from either side use the language of enemies when talking about opponents, send them an e-mail and chastise them. It only takes a minute. If enough people did it, this sort of behavior would stop. Playground behavior has to end, and we have to expect everyone around us to act like adults.

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