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Two Equally Good Ways of Looking at the World?

Sometimes people argue that there are two (or more) equally good ways of looking at the world.  So, for example, moral psychologist Haidt argues that the dispute between globalism and parochialism found in the Brexit and Trump movements can be explained by two different personal approaches: liberal and conservative.  Liberals are universalistic and optimistic about human nature, conservatives notice the importance of tradition and are pessimistic about human nature.  However the notion that there are two equally good fundamental ways of looking at life is an approach found in many popular applications of personality theory.

The problem with this approach is illuminated by the question: from what perspective do we make the statement “There are two equally good ways of looking at the world?”

Is it a conservative point of view?  No.  is it a liberal point of view? No.  It must be a third point of view arrived at by noticing that people have different perspectives.  It aspires to be, in other words, the correct point of view.

Either parochialism is correct, or globalism is correct, or a more nuanced view that takes into account when to be parochial and when to be globalist is correct (by the way almost certainly that).   However if we are able to form a more nuanced view then we are not divided by our personalities into two groups: the optimists and the pessimists, the universalists and the parochials, the hipsters and the squares.  We have the ability to weigh the attractions of both sides and to act.

The view that there are two kinds of people who are equally right is a way of waffling on the issue of how we want to be.  Even if there are statistically two kinds of people — racists and non-racists, cruel and kind, brutal and sensitive — we don’t have the option of standing to one side noting the fact.  We have to choose one, both or neither, though when we do so we put our souls at peril.   Pick hot or cold.  The luke-warm gets spat out, including the luke-warmness of noting there are two kinds of people, those who pick hot and those who pick cold.

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5 thoughts on “Two Equally Good Ways of Looking at the World?

  1. Susan says:

    Today I don’t agree there are two or even three types of people. I think there is one kind of people. They are people who exactly like you and me have been conceived, born, lived, reproduced, and will die. Period. We use labels far too often to define other peoples lives to satisfy our own needs. Conservative, Liberal, Parochial, Optimist? Just labeling me a woman or another as a man is limiting. IMO

  2. I think the more resources you have, the more you can pick neither/lukewarm/a moderate.

    More specifically, the more you have a rate of accumulation of resources that is steady – washing machines burn out, computers die, houses deteriorate, water bills must be paid, etc. The less you can do about any of this, the more you’ll pick an extreme.

  3. Categorization and labeling of people is usually the result of intellectual laziness, or the inevitable result of the wide pan perspective, wherein there are simply too many people and points of view to accurately and intimately know and understand, and the only way to absorb the entire scene is to throw people and ideas into clumps in order to see all people at once. I suppose too, there is the notion that many people like to believe in the “us vs. them”, “me vs. the world” mentality, people who enjoy the unity with those on his side and clearly marked enemies, made possible by such black and white contrast.

    It is easier to take something as complicated as a human being and reduce everything they are into a simple description and idea than to understand them for who they are. Easier to boil down policies and ideas to simple and vague, generalized descriptions then to actually think, understand, and put together solutions. Easier yet to discuss people instead of ideas, easier to simply defend what you believe and fight those who disagree, then to actually understand the complexities of problems.

    Is alcoholism a disease? Is it a descriptor of a man, or is it his very identity? Does the medical professional or the policy maker have the luxury to understand what the man is, his condition, or must he simply force people into boxes? Is a man defined by what he does, what he believes, his heart, his soul, or a combination? Does he drink because he’s sick, or is he sick because he drinks? Does his enjoyment of long walks or short talks change much of who he is? If a man is so complex, our understanding of the individual metaphysically limited, how do we accurately define and understand him, or do we include our acknowledgement of our ignorance in our summary?

    Does a man’s job define him, and how? If his station in life is, say, a master baker, what role does that play in his identity? If this man helps his friend the plumber do some plumbing, does this make him a plumber, or a part time plumber, does it make him any less of a master baker? Does his work out of his field change his identity? Do we attach every single action and placement to this identity like something sticky? Where do our actions count, where does the man and his place in the universe count?

    Very good article, as usual, and I agree with everything. from the terrible world we live in of either/or, rigid people, rigid ideology, and the fake moderatism created by the middle ground fallacy. Sorry if I wrote to long, yet again.

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