Category Archives: Hate

Binary Thinking

As many readers know, I've been in recovery from alcohol and other addictions for a few years. I have another blog here where I post more-or-less daily on matters to do with that and other issues. Occasionally I may link to posts that I think might interest folks outside of the recovery community. If they please or offend you feel free to comment, but please keep it clean.

It seems that addicts, especially in early recovery, are exceptionally inclined to find fault with other entities, whether people or organizations. This is especially true early on when we’re in denial about most everything and our fellowships are beginning to strip some of it away as we kick and scream. But it’s also true about the world at large, and not only those of us who admit to addictions are guilty. Psychologists believe this is partially because it enables people to feel better about themselves, but also due to the human tendency toward binary thinking: wrong v. right, good v. bad, black v. white, our tribe v. them, our warriors v. theirs, and so forth.

Binary/black and white kinds of thinking may come from upbringing by caregivers who thought that way, religious influences, our desire–perhaps need–to believe we are superior to others and counteract our own doubts, or other reasons. Actually, regardless of the reasons, we’re stifling our ability to understand others and broaden our own horizons. Continue reading

It’s So Easy To Imagine That We’re Superior

If we can’t learn to work together on the things about which we are able to reach some agreement, we are fucked. That does seem more and more to be the case.

Despite that, I believe in compassion and doing what can be done to alleviate suffering, right here, right now. That’s why negative, non-constructive bullshit annoys me so much. It’s exactly the frame of mind that is going to destroy the human race. Don’t try, whine. It’s hopeless, don’t bother. That’s useless, don’t spend the money on it. They don’t deserve it, I do. I got mine, to hell with you. Roll over and play dead.

Oh, but look at those idiots! Look how fucked up they are! Boy, I’m glad I’m not like that. Let’s make fun of them (and maybe we’ll feel OK for a few minutes).

Apart from its inherent unattractiveness, the problem with that way of thinking is that it carries over to the issues we’re discussing. It breeds intolerance, and inability to see the good in people with whom we disagree. The habit of feeling superior can’t be turned on and off. It has to be unlearned. It can’t be unlearned without avoiding the kind of thinking that naturally leads to more of it.

That’s why I don’t look at sites like Walmart People, or tell or pass on ethnic jokes. Not because I worry that anyone will think I intend to be small-minded and mean, but because it is small-minded and mean, whether we want to think so or not. I spent roughly half a century thinking that way, then I realized that I didn’t like that person, so I’m trying to change. I try not to judge or make fun of individuals, I have too many issues of my own. As a society, however, we need a serious mental and emotional makeover.

It’s disheartening, and profoundly disappointing. But it’s no reason to stop trying.


I was thinking back to a time, some years ago, when I was involved in a dialogue with some Evangelical Christian folks.  As is often the case, the encounters began with an approach in an attempt to “save” me.  This sort of thing used to really bother me.  Eventually I came to realize that, unlike some lesser species such as TV evangelists, most Evangelicals are simply trying to do me a favor.  They believe in their hearts that my soul is doomed, and they want to help.  Viewed that way, it’s hard to remain insulted or angry.  Annoyed is, of course, a different matter.

Buddhists don’t proselytize, and most of us agree that it is wrong to attack someone’s belief system.  When one takes the risk of dismantling the structure that supports another emotionally, it is cruelty of the highest order to have nothing the person will be able to digest as a replacement.  Effective conversions occur over long periods, gently, and it is not my business to make them happen.

My usual response to such advances is to decline as politely as possible under the circumstances, and to do so firmly enough that it sticks.  Given the desire to treat others with lovingkindness, that can be a tricky process.  In that case, however, I decided to engage rather than not, and it was a valuable lesson to me about both human nature and missionaries.

Those of you who have experienced such things know that the usual approach is a gentle attack.  Generally, one is asked to explain one’s own beliefs, which are then related to contradictory “proof” from the scriptures of choice.  Carried out skillfully, such an approach can be devastating, especially if the target happens to hold many beliefs that more or less with the doctrine being advanced.  That makes it hard to disagree categorically, regardless of your opinion of the underlying dogma.

However, Buddhism does not conflict with Christianity in its basic teachings, although some Buddhist sects might. These folks were prepared to hear the misunderstandings (Buddhists worship Buddha) that they were equipped to refute, and instead heard an explanation of the Buddha‘s teachings (simplify, question, examine reality, be nice to other folks, understand the relative lack of importance of worldly things) with which they found it impossible to take exception.

Once we had a basis for discussion, the adversarial relationship disappeared and the conversation became quite productive.  We moved on to a comparison of Siddhartha‘s and Jesus’ teachings, their purpose (reduction of suffering) and so forth. Although I am agnostic, I didn’t argue theology with them.  I simply listened, and failed to disagree. I had later conversations with those folks, recommended some books they could read, and one of them showed interest in learning meditation techniques.  I’ve no idea if he followed up on that.

So OK, you’re thinking, what’s my point?

Just this:  On how many interesting relationships have I missed out by labeling others as — other?  How much common ground have I missed because of my inability to hear what others were really saying?  When I think of people with prejudices, how much of the judging is mine? How interested am I, really, in learning more about the world and the people in it — eEnough to keep my mouth shut, listen, and then find something I can agree with, rather than automatically disagreeing with those — others?  How important is it for me to be right, rather than happy?

Some days I seem to be improving in those areas.  Others, not so much.  How are you doing?