Binary Thinking

There a problem I’ve noticed and it seems to be particularly bad within the COVIDiot crowd. You can see it when they make their arguments about why they don’t want a life saving vaccine, or why they shouldn’t wear masks. Tell me, how many times have you come across something like the following:

Even vaccinated people are getting sick. I’m not going to get vaccinated if it’s not going to give me immunity.”
or perhaps even
People wearing masks still get sick, so masks have no effect on the virus. It’s just a mechanism to make us compliant to big government intrusions.“[1]

You can see it within the Christian community when they offer up Pascal’s wager and make the assumption that it’s either Christianity or atheism, without considering the possibility of other choices.

All of these are examples of binary thinking. Binary thinking can be dangerous because it ignores the nuances of situations, or in the case of vaccines where it ignores that there may be benefits beyond the simple “get sick”, “won’t get sick” dichotomy. Even when it comes to mask wearing we know that there are benefits even if they aren’t going to completely protect you (and yes, before anyone gets into it, there are good studies showing that masks do have some protective effect against transmission of the virus.)

On the “get sick – won’t get sick” dichotomy, to think of it only in binary terms would also ignore the benefits that getting the jab is known to have, even if it doesn’t offer complete immunity from the virus. We already know that the majority of new cases, and in particular hospitalizations and ICU admissions, are coming among those who have not yet been vaccinated, even though they now represent a minority of the population. States with the lowest rates of vaccination are the ones with the highest case loads and the most at risk of hospitals being overrun. We know that those who are most likely to die of the virus are those who have not been vaccinated, again representing a minority of the population.

False binaries are an easy, but seductive, trap to fall into. We, as humans, seem to like to think in binary terms, but it isn’t always correct to do so.


[1] I’m not even going to get into some of the insane depths of conspiracy thinking that people will engage in.

11 thoughts on “Binary Thinking”

  1. And fundamentalist religions usually push their membership into this kind of binary thinking. “With us or against us.” “Saved or going to hell.” It’s a way to reinforce their tribal identity, by identifying a clear out-group that they are then free to dehumanize and hate. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    And I have seen some atheists also fall prey to this kind of thinking, especially those who have come out of a fundamentalist background. They may not even realize that the black-white dichotomy style of thinking was pounded into them as part of their indoctrination.

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    1. Curious, Ubi … what would be an example of this black-white thinking on the atheist/non-believer side? Kinda’ like the “you’re either for us or against us” type of proposition?

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      1. One example that springs to mind is when Matt Dillahunty (from The Atheist Experience) will state to a caller that “You’re either convinced of the existence of a god or you’re not.” He doesn’t leave room in that for the nuance of someone who was totally convinced but now is much less so, or is going back and forth on the question, or is just sitting on the fence. Now I like Matt, and he does a good job taking down a lot of nonsensical theist arguments, but sometimes I’ll see him using black & white thinking when that’s not really what’s needed when talking to someone in the process of deconversion.

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  2. Are you sure there is any actual thought involved? Many people think they have opinions when all they have talking points supplied by Fox News. It is sad to think that quite a few of those people who think they are “owning the libs” on this issue are going to die or suffer symptoms for years because of this.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “Are you sure there is any actual thought involved?”

      For some, quite clearly there is not.

      “It is sad to think that quite a few of those people who think they are “owning the libs” on this issue are going to die or suffer symptoms for years because of this.”

      I have to admit that this whole “owning the libs” has never made much sense to me. I suspect I’m nowhere near angry enough at society in general that I’ll do anything I can to make others suffer. But yes, as you say, their absurdity is quite literally killing them.

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      1. On this point, my feeling is let them choose to kill themselves if that is what they want. We have already heard from lots of people on their death beds with Covid saying they were stupid to want death. But by that time it is generally too late to save them.
        We used to look at evolution as the survival of the fittest. I think it is time to reframe that. With Covid, it is non-survival of the stupidest. And thus the world gets a tiny bit smarter every day.
        I remember I once said that if something had to kill me, let it be tobacco. With every cigarette I smoked, I added another nail to my coffin. Until one day I woke up, and threw away all those nails. That was about 40 years ago. And here I am, still undead.

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        1. If their piss poor decisions didn’t have ramifications for the rest of us I would strongly agree with you. As they fill up the ICUs to the point where services cannot be effectively delivered their bad choices don’t just cost them their lives, but potentially the lives of those who tried to be safe.

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  3. My boss/supervisor in an addictions program once told me the difference between he and I was that he could only think in black and white, while I thought in shades of grey. Damn fool fired me!

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