All or nothing thinking and how it hurts us all


I have a FB friend, who will remain unnamed here. We argue a lot, and these arguments are pretty frustrating for me. Clearly not as frustrating for me as they seem to be for him, however, because he has unfriended me several times (yet keeps on re-friending me and starting fights again). What does this have to do with anything? This: one of the things that seems to make our conversations difficult is that is seems to me that this friend is unable to see both good and bad in people or things. If somebody did something bad once in their lives, they are a bad person forever. This was especially apparent in a recent “discussion” about Jimmy Carter. I posted an article about Jimmy Carter’s grandson dying, and how sad I found it. He felt the need to point out that Carter was a horrible president, and a racist. The thread is gone now, because my other friends jumped all over him for being callous, and he got angry for not seeing Carter as a racist, and then I said something about him being so full of hate and anger and needing help…then he was gone and the thread went with him. Thinking about this all, and our interactions, and what I see from many others on the news, this issue, this all-or-nothing, black-or-white, good-or-evil thinking is at the heart of so many things that divide us as a nation. It’s something that I think needs more attention.

In some ways, this is all related to something I wrote about in an earlier entry called “Please stop confusing explaining and justifying.” That post was mostly begging for people to give people like me our grieving process, a process that includes trying to understand things, and not accuse us of taking the side of something or somebody awful. I’m becoming more and more convinced, however, that these differences in approach to life have a lot to do with more than just the grieving process that I focused on earlier. It seems to be a fundamental difference in how people talk about, and maybe view, the world.

There are many examples to pick from, but on the drive home earlier this week, I was listening (as I do many days) to one the local conservative radio guys. This one, Tom Bauerle, was ranting about Donald Trump not being a conservative. I tend to agree with him about that, and I find it very odd that self-described conservatives like Trump at all, but that’s not the point here. What struck me about this particular rant was how Bauerle fell into this all-or-nothing, black-or-white type thinking. He started by saying that he has a problem. His problem is that he doesn’t know who Donald Trump is. He doesn’t know what he stands for. But, he went on to say, he understands why people like him:

“It’s because they’re sick and tired of being told that America is an evil place, that we owe everybody an apology, and that we don’t deserve anything and that we basically ought to throw ourselves off a cliff. We’re sick of it. Donald Trump is I think in that sense, the anti-Obama. “

The emphasis is mine, but this is how he sees the world. People like me (and Bauerle includes Obama in this list) who recognize that, as a nation, we have made some mistakes, that we are not perfect, that we have done some things that anger others, are saying that we owe everybody an apology, are saying that we don’t deserve good things, and that we should just kill ourselves. I’m willing to chalk this up to radio personality hyperbole, but I think it’s illustrative nevertheless. We are either a great country, or we are a horrible country. His way of thinking apparently doesn’t allow us to be a great country that does some things wrong. [This isn’t entirely true, because if you listen to Bauerle enough, you’ll know that he spends lots of time complaining about stuff we do as a country, and stuff that Americans do. Somehow when others complain, however, they are anti-American.]

Here’s another example. The video below is from a FoxNews segment a couple of years ago. A report was issued about the use of torture on terror suspects. Along comes Andrea Tantaros, who makes the arguments that a) “the United States of America is awesome” and b) “the reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we are not awesome…they want us to look bad..” Yes, those are really her words (with some between the highlights). Starts a little after the 1-min mark.

She seems to seriously believe that the goal here is to make us look bad, all because some feel it’s important to take an inventory of what we have and haven’t done well, and perhaps prevent the bad stuff from happening in the future.

Personally, I don’t believe that Andrea Tantaros really thinks that the Obama administration wants to make America look bad, at least not in the sense that I would consider something making somebody or some thing look bad. I think she has an all-or-nothing mindset. I think that, for her, identifying anything wrong, means that the whole thing is wrong. To pay any attention to a negative, means that the positives can no longer exist. Again, like the Bauerle story above, this certainly could be just another media personality reaching for hyperbole, but I suspect that it goes deeper than that. Even if she is just reaching for ratings, striving for some attention, she is going the route that she thinks will appeal to her audience. An audience that shares her worldview. An audience that would find that kind of talk appealing. That Obama hates America, not because she sees any evidence of what I would consider hatred of anything, but because Obama is willing to reflect on our behavior and is willing to accept an imperfection in something he loves. For them, acknowledging that imperfection moves the needle from the good side to the bad side, because there is absolutely no room in between.

This kind of thinking pervades the discussion repeatedly. The Affordable Care Act, a law that expanded some government health insurance programs, changed the regulations that apply to private health insurance, provided a website that could be used to shop for health insurance, and that mandated insurance coverage…was called socialism. Socialism? When challenged on this label, about whether it really was government ownership of the health insurance industry (which would be socialism), people would retreat a bit and say something like, “it’s certainly a step in that direction.” I live in a suburb of Buffalo, about 2,200 miles, as the crow flies, from the Pacific Ocean. Yes, if I leave my house and walk to a friend’s house that’s a few blocks to the west, I’m taking a step toward the Pacific Ocean, but fearing that I’ll drown in the ocean, or be eaten by a shark off the coast of San Francisco, all because I moved a mile or two westward seems crazy to me. But that seems to be what happens. A small imperfection, a small blemish, and the whole apple is ruined. One bad apple spoils the bunch? Unless you pick out the bad apple and eat the good one next to it. I can’t tell you how much I hate that saying.

The world is not a perfect place. I don’t know a single perfect person. In the same way that I don’t know anybody who is completely evil. Time for Hitler? OK, let’s go there. Were there any redeeming qualities? I bet Eva Braun thought so. She was seventeen years old when she met him and clearly loved him dearly. My guess is that he loved her too. Can somebody evil feel love? Is love something that exists in pure evil. I don’t think so, maybe I’m wrong. But if we acknowledge that Hitler was capable of loving Eva Braun, does that mean he was a good person? Is there anything wrong with somebody being a combination of good and evil? Is there anything wrong with seeing somebody as a mix of the two? There certainly isn’t for me. Does that make me like Hitler? Does that make me a supporter of the holocaust? Of course not, only a fool would think that, but I imagine that there are some who would read this and think that I’m making the case for seeing Hitler in a positive light. Because, for some, it’s all-or-nothing. Hitler is either good or evil. Obama is either good or evil.

I should point out that this isn’t something that I only see in right-leaning people (although I wonder if it’s more common in one group or the other). In fact, a recent viral post/article/story had me pretty aggravated and upset with people I usually side with. Not too long ago, somebody created an image and posted it on a FaceBook page for Donald Trump fans. It was a picture of Trump with the words, “As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice” and attributed the quote to Donald Trump. People on the page seemed to like it. It was shared more than other posts and got more likes than other posts in the group. But it was a plant. The quote wasn’t Trump’s, it was something that Hitler apparently said, and the left-leaning blogs went nuts. Look at them, they like Hitler!! Really? How stupid is that? What if Angela Merkel said something positive about Germany? Would it be fair to say that she’s like Hitler because Hitler liked Germany too? Do you know what else Hitler did? He breathed air, and peed, and ate, and had sex, and pooped in the potty. When I was toilet training my kids, would it have been fair to say that I was making them be like Hitler, because Hitler also used a toilet? Give me a break. But if you see the world as all-or-nothing, as good-or-evil with no room for anything between, that’s the response. So the next time you sit on a toilet, think about how similar you and Hitler might be…both using a toilet. Then think about how lucky people are who live in cultures that don’t use toilets, because they don’t have to be like Hitler nearly as often…except when they breathe, because Hitler did that too.


7 thoughts on “All or nothing thinking and how it hurts us all

  1. Pingback: In a world of fear – Hitting Bregma

  2. Pingback: Oh my, how things change. – Hitting Bregma

  3. Pingback: The shallowness of symbols – Hitting Bregma

  4. Pingback: When our heroes fall – Hitting Bregma

  5. Pingback: Politics and brand loyalty – Hitting Bregma

  6. Pingback: Are we the same? Dislike of Trump and dislike of Obama. – Hitting Bregma

  7. Pingback: First- vs third-person view of the world and how COVID fits in – Hitting Bregma

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s