To present it simply, dichotomizing is the practice of trying to divide the human race into two categories. If you try to separate the human race into two distinct groups, you’re dichotomizing.
You’ve heard it before. Someone says, “There are two kinds of people in this world: ______________and_____________.” Fill in the blanks with the current trends. Does the person saying this think a human couldn’t possibly be something in between, or, even harder to believe, further along the abstract spectrum?
Some examples of dichotomies are these: Aborigine/Immigrant, Idiot/Maniac, City/Country, Common/Extraordinary, Sane/Psycho, Patriot/Traitor, Moron/Genius.
I’m sure you can look at these examples and see that there are not only degrees between the two, but also separate possibilities that break the so-called mold. Not everyone fits in an oversimplified stereotype. In fact, some people manage to live their whole lives outside of these categories.
Dichotomies tend to be oversimplified and illogical. They’re not always about people. They don’t generally benefit an argument. Avoid using them in a debate because they’re highly transparent.
Politics and political debates are saturated with dichotomies. For instance, if you tell someone you’re not a Democrat, what do they think you are? A Republican! As if there couldn’t be any other way. How do politicians and the media rate a state? It’s either a blue state or a red state. Why can’t there be green states and purple states? Because the people who rate them are so limited in their views. Limited thinking is the antecedent to limited vision.
Dichotomies are enemies to lucid, critical, logical, and especially creative thought. Isn’t that what we need more of these days? Creative thought? Our leaps in technology didn’t come from people being stuck in a funk about “impossibilities”. The leaps came from people believing there was another way. Then they sought and discovered the other way. Don’t we need more flexible thinking in our police departments and our judicial systems? If everyone judges by the fake limits of a stereotype, or a false dichotomy, then we’ll be doomed to repeat the misjudgments of the past. Couldn’t we use more creative thinking in our politics? We can quote the politicians of the past because they had creative notions on life. Today? Not so much.
Dichotomies are difficult to avoid, because they’re everywhere. Sometimes we use them without knowing. It’s not impossible to remove all of them from your everyday words. If you’re careful and selective you can eliminate most of them from your presentations and conversations. Point out the illogical dual divisions for others, so that they’ll see them too. Eventually we may get the whole world to make sense. Sound ideal? So, you’re either an idealist, or you’re not. And that last bit, well, that’s between me and my psychotherapist.