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November 3rd, 2020
A dichotomy is best represented by an either/or statement. They represent one of the simplest frameworks for making sense of life. It’s with dichotomies that we begin the process of teaching children language: up/down, yes/no, good/bad. It’s this last dichotomy which becomes the master umbrella under which many if not all other dichotomies directly fall. At the very least they gain a loose association.
For example, even the 3 dichotomies already listed represent this association quite well. Moving upward is associated with good. Moving up in the corporate later through promotions, and it even has the spiritual reference of apotheosis - that of ascending to the heavens to become a god. Whereas, the opposite - moving down - has the exact opposite association.
It can be difficult to move beyond this dichotomous way of looking at the world and develop a perspective of nuance.
Nuance is the antithesis of the dichotomy. Or rather, it is the synthesis of a dichotomous pair. The primary difficulty with dichotomies is that the choice of one over the other is often an attempt to negate the existence of the one not chosen. This is innocuous for some situations that work well with a dichotomy, like
Do you want to eat Thai tonight?
Injecting nuance into these sorts of questions often just creates more trouble than it’s worth. But notice how it’s exactly this sort of situation in which we are most likely to inject nuance in an attempt to show consideration for the other.
Notice further that nuance is exactly what is needed in situations when it’s most likely rare. For example when countries are on the brink of war or political parties are at a stalemate.
The hunt for nuance itself becomes a dichotomy that we forget to consciously incorporate into our retinue of consideration. More explicitly that dichotomy is a choice between using an either/or perspective - or - diving in deeper to find if there is a subtle shade between the two that needs to be uncovered.
One of the oldest sets of dichotomies is useful for picking through this notion of whether to use a dichotomy or not: virtues & vices.
Temperance and Gluttony make for a good selection. Doing only one or the other both result in a life that is perhaps not all that great. Pure gluttony leads to some pretty gross places and absolute temperance isn’t.. well, fun. So perhaps, we might wonder if there’s some nuance between the two that makes for better living?
The middle road between these two highways is often phrased with the modern aphorism: moderation in everything.
The one thing this moderation forgets to moderate is, of course itself. What if, instead of constantly borrowing a bit from both temperance and gluttony, the two were pulsed. For example, celebrating gluttonously after an intense couple of months of hard work and diligent temperance, as opposed to dulling the intensity of work with a constant meagre stream of half-assed gluttony.
There’s another modern aphorism that’s best used to edit the first: go big or go home. And that’s not injected here to apply just to the gluttonous celebration as is often assumed, but also it’s to apply to the stringent period of work before hand: if you’re going to do something, do it. And don’t let anything else slow it down or get in the way.
Already it should be obvious that there can be nuance even in the way we apply a dichotomous framework. And this occurs primarily due to time. These frameworks exist through time, and because of that there are some situations where one is appropriate and not the other, and other situations where some mix in the middle is best mandated.
But in spite of the blatant obvious fact that we exist through time, we speak of life as a static thing. We regard our political parties, our views, our beliefs, even our decision making process as static entities, and because this is the way discussion has evolved to describe these things, it truncates our ability to communicate by allocating descriptions to primarily dichotomies.
To remember the variable of time and the inevitable ingredient of change which it brings is to realize the key flaw in all dichotomies: it’s never either/or, it’s always somewhere in the middle, a mix of the two.