Binary Thinking vs Critical Thinking

Here’s an interesting meme-quote making the rounds on Facebook:
“The road to fascism is lined with people telling you to stop overreacting.”



I suppose there are others who would say something similar:
“The road to communism is lined with people telling you to stop overreacting.”

Are fascism and communism opposite ends of a political continuum? If so, what would be in the middle of this continuum? Some might say that this would be the combination of liberal democracy and capitalism.

Going left to right, we have mentioned three major schools of thought:

  1. communism,
  2. liberal democracy and capitalism, and
  3. fascism.

In my opinion, one should try to lay out a number of important view points and gather up readings on each to form an eclectic overview. This is the approach I associate with the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. This is also the approach I associate with critical thinking.

In my view, there is a popular approach that is not in keeping with the principles of critical thinking. Here, I am thinking of binary thinking, which is associated with two fallacies:

  • the faulty dilemma
  • the slippery slope

A faulty dilemma argument asserts that there are two and only two options. Therefore, if one is shown to be wrong, then the other has to be right. When textbooks on critical thinking discuss the faulty dilemma, they point out that there may be more than two options.

A slippery slope argument asserts that a course of action should be rejected because, with little or no evidence, one insists that it will lead to a chain reaction resulting in an undesirable end or ends.

The two meme-quotes regarding fascism and communism suggest that we should not criticize those who oppose fascism (or communism) for over-reacting, because the road to fascism (or communism) is lined with those who criticize over-reacting.

However, note that communists sometimes defend their regimes by saying that they are reacting to the threat of fascism. Similarly, fascists sometimes defend their regimes by saying that they are reacting to the threat of communism. And, finally, liberal/capitalist democracies defend their policy of switching sides by saying one of two things:

  • During this historical period, we need to oppose fascism by making an alliance with communist states.
  • During this historical period, we need to oppose communism by making an alliance with fascist states.

Here are two examples of the binary thinking exhibited by liberal democracies during different historical periods:

  • fascist vs non-fascist
  • communist vs non-communist

During World War II, the non-fascist allies included the USSR, which was clearly identified with communism.

After World War II, the non-communist “collective west” (i.e. the USA, the European Union, and NATO) formed an alliance against the communist states in the Warsaw Pact countries and other communist states such as China. Today, even though the USSR and the Warsaw Pact are no longer, there is a great power rivalry shaping up between the collective west on one side versus Russia and China on the other.

As some of you know, I am not a big fan for binary thinking. Here are some examples of how binary thinking has led to disastrous results in the past.

To get us started, here are some historical facts: During WWII, the US and the UK sided with the USSR to defeat Germany and Italy. Also, Japan was in an alliance with Germany and Italy, and some would say Japan was a fascist state at that point.

During WWII, some thought the fire bombing of Dresden was an overreaction, but others thought it was justified because the road to fascism is lined with people saying that we should not overreact.

Similarly, at the end of WWII, some thought the whole-scale fire bombing of Tokyo and other cities, as well as dropping two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was over reaction. But, as in the Dresden case, others thought these actions were justified because the road to fascism is lined with people saying that we should not overreact.

After WWII, there were some in the US military (e.g. General Curtis LeMay) who thought the US should nip communism in the bud by massively bombing China with nuclear weapons. I guess they thought the road to communism is lined with people saying we should not overreact.

During the Cold War, the US, the UK, and other NATO countries decided that liberal democracies (which are, generally speaking, also capitalist countries) needed to join together to oppose communism in the USSR, China, Cuba, North Vietnam.

Also during this time, these western powers decided to support some very nasty right-wing dictatorships to oppose communism. There were those who thought that the liberal democracies in the West should not align with nasty right-wing dictatorships, but others on the right thought we should. The latter argued that the road to communism is lined with people saying we should not overreact.

References


Beshears, Fred

A Reading List on Critical Thinking
Fred M Beshears
https://memeinnovation.wordpress.com/2022/02/14/a-reading-list-on-critical-thinking/

2 thoughts on “Binary Thinking vs Critical Thinking

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