In many, many areas, the US and (to be grandiose) perhaps the world is under siege by black and white thinking. Or maybe black- and-whitism. Or perhaps we could say the failure of dialectical processes. Now that sounds ominous, communist even! Definitely Buddhist. What I mean is the failure to listen to the other side, to make movements towards a perhaps shared perspective, a perspective not necessarily in the center, but perhaps even off the straight line spectrum depending on what we discuss and learn. This is a failure of enormous proportions.
Obama tried to bridge the gap in politics by positioning himself in the middle and by being very, very polite to people who were not in the least bit polite. He failed I think at least in part because he did not realize that his opponents depended on extreme positions for their power. And they are lovers of power. He got tepid support from his own party because its members also love power and are beholden to some of the same interests that Republicans in Congress are beholden to.
But now, out of maybe right center field comes a new player who has single-handedly brought the dialectic process back to life. Jeffrey Goldberg, an Atlantic Monthly writer who is as pro-Israel as you can get in this country and still remain respectable wrote an article in which he expressed great fear that Iran was going to lead the world into atomic warfare. A diatribe, you could say. (Goldberg is a delightful writer and actually can address other issues)
But wait! Goldberg's article, with his full approval, turned into an Atlantic Monthly debate on Iran and Israel with all sides participating.
And wait again! FIDEL CASTRO read Goldberg's article and invited him to Cuba to discuss it. You can read Goldberg's first two posts on this extraordinary visit here and here. And please do! Far from being the ravings of a senile old man, we find an elder statesman articulating the need to break down fortress Black and White (among other things).
One of the lessons we should all learn from these various exchanges is that we need to break away from politicians and bring together people of diverse views whose views aren't tied into their need for power or their fears and hysteria.
Of course black and white thinking is not just in evidence in politics. It is a driving force in medicine and health care. Two camps in opposition are, on the one hand, the large, lumpy, unwieldy bunch of medical scientists and practitioners and government types who consider themselves the defenders of evidence based medicine. Evidence-based medicine can seem very cold and mechanical. On the other hand, there is the large, lumpy, unwieldy bunch of medical non-scientists, practitioners, et. al. who consider themselves holistic practitioners or natural healers or whatever who believe they are the compassionate ones who really care for peple. Now I have to state my position right away. If I have high blood pressure (I do, though it is controlled), I want to go to a well-informed allopathic physician. (And I would add, this well-informed physician, in spite of what the "holistic" world might think, had better prescribe exercise and diet changes in addition to medicine where needed.)
But the first group which I by my nature tend to trust more is engaged in its own blindness. The issue isn't really evidence-based medicine vs. alternative medicine. When the issue is framed in this fashion, the evidence-based folks become as rigid as their opposition. They come up with more and more cold measures of efficiency, of cost-savings, etc. etc.
But then along came Marya Zilberberg, a research physician, to break down the wall by introducing GRAYS in terms that all of us can understand. Evidence based medicine is a TOOL in the practice of medicine. A very important one. But good medicine is more than that. So now we have a whole, nice gray area that we can wander around in and discuss things in. I hope from the bottom of my heart that policy makers read her articles! You should read her posts, too. They are here, here and here. And while you're at it, you might as well read this post, too.
I'm sure you can think of a hundred other areas where we've boxed ourselves into a black and white thinking mold.