Language gap [reprise]

mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.





Problem with ‘Or’?

Pioneers or settlers. Thinkers or feelers. Introverts or extroverts. So forth or so on.

If there are only two kinds of people, then the list of possible iterations for those two kinds must be endless. Some divisions possess extraordinary power, e.g., accepted or rejected, rich or poor, esteemed or reviled, and, especially, us or them. After Aristotle, perhaps lurking, but always implicit in “or” is an exclusionary “either.”

Does this brief (2 min.) video identify the particular causes of the troubles in our time?

Well, no.

However, it points quite plainly to a general cause. It also points to a potential repair, please watch:



“Always playing with the two.” If only it were always merely “playing.”

Sometimes the relationship of Prickles and Goo—with each other, and with life conditions—is not reconciled in play. Historian Yuval Noah Harari offers a sobering passage in his book, Sapiens, that serves well as a clarifying example here.

In a chapter entitled, “The Capitalist Creed,” Harari discusses the role of “slave-trade investments” in the European exploitation of the resources being developed in the American colonies. In that context he writes:

This is the fly in the ointment of free-market capitalism. It cannot ensure that profits are gained in a fair way, or distributed in a fair manner. On the contrary, the craving to increase profits and production blinds people to anything that might stand in the way. When growth becomes a supreme good, unrestricted by any other ethical considerations, it can easily lead to catastrophe. Some religions [Goo], such as Christianity and Nazism, have killed millions out of burning hatred. Capitalism [Prickles] has killed millions out of cold indifference coupled with greed. [331]


Last week I quoted Harari regarding another divide in worldviews; namely, valuing individual freedom versus valuing equality—note: this is a perennial theological debate. These values are able to divide society because they are oppositional in some significant ways. Helpfully, though, their opposition creates dynamic tension in our human system (society). In last Sunday’s blog post (here) I imagined that dynamic-tensions generate gyrations that create movement and direction in human evolution.

lobster 300

Serious downside

Either/Or serves a totally necessary function in our thought and language. However, like an outgrown exoskeleton, Aristotle’s “excluded middle” formulation is simply not sufficient in serving as the exclusive way we frame all our discourse. In June, 2016, I wrote (in another, earlier blog) regarding the dynamic tensions transforming our epistemological framing and discourse from binary to plural:

“There are three major, interlocking characteristics common to any relationship system that has become imaginatively gridlocked:

  • an unending treadmill of trying harder;
  • looking for answers rather than reframing questions; and
  • either/or thinking that creates false dichotomies” [—Edwin Friedman]

I would suggest that the ground of the gridlock is that the UMC is caught in the liminal space of an epochal transition in ascendancy between binary and plural worldviews—again, true for U.S.A., too.


Edwin Friedman either or meme 3


In it’s day, Aristotle’s innovative ‘excluded middle’ axiom was cutting edge thought/language technology. This thinking/language formulation gave us the scientific revolution and the ‘exact sciences’ which made putting human beings on the moon possible. Now, we have the complexity of our digital-information age. Ironically, the incredible power of computers and artificial intelligence is animated by the binary paradigm, 1, 0. On/off. Either/or. Still, while quite necessary, binary framing is insufficient to help us navigate the difficulty in reconciling practical paradoxes in human dynamics—e.g., struggles between agency and communion, rights and responsibilities, and so on. 


binary 01 2


Our cultural and political milieu of materialism and polarized rhetoric makes it only natural for us to approach every conversation, every question with an exclusive either/or framing and terms in mind. The media has learned profits are to be found in presenting their products in terms of a bifurcated reality. 


Prickles and Goo


With ‘Prickles’ and ‘Goo,’ Watts is able to point to the real issue behind much human brokenness/suffering, that is, the myth of ‘only two kinds,‘ and the language gap it creates. Aristotle’s imaginary ‘excluded middle’ is extremely helpful in some arenas, e.g., especially the material realm (right-hand quadrants). However, life conditions urgently call us to reconcile many practical human paradoxes. Exclusive either/or framing to engage our public discourse is woefully insufficient. I suggest we need to stop framing our questions/discourse in exclusively binary terms. Instead, frame discourse keeping holism top of mind.




A holistic turn (Gooey-Prickles, Prickley-Goo)

I’ve written repeatedly that mystical holiness offers a way to bridge our divisions. We’ve discussed a quadrant mnemonic to help us keep holism top of mind. Holiness (wholeness) is never either/or. Reality is both/and (not-two), like Jesus’ cloak, seamless. 


Quadrant model
Holism mnemonic

—first published October 6, 2019

Your thoughts?




either or meme 300


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