WERELD & DENKEN
 
 
Uit: Language in Thought and Action, door S.I. Hayakawa.

Chapter 13 The two-valued orientation

[Introduction]
 
  People with college educations, the student said, know more, and hence are better judges of people. But aren't you assuming, I asked, that a college education gives not only what we usually call "knowledge" but also what we usually call "shrewdness" or "wisdom"? Oh, he said, you mean that there isn't any use in going to college!  
 
-  Francis P. Chisholm

Once we have cast another group in the role of the enemy, we know that they are to be distrusted - that they are evil incarnate. We then twist all their communications to fit our belief.
  -   Jerome D. Frank

In the expression, "We must listen to both sides of every question," there is an assumption, frequently unexamined, that every question has two sides-and only two sides. We tend to think in opposites, to feel that what is not good must be bad, and that what is not bad must be good. When children are taught English history, for example, the first thing they want to know about every ruler is whether he was a "good king" or a "bad king." Much popular political thought, like the plots of television westerns, views the world as divided into "good guys" and "bad guys"-those who believe in "one-hundred-per-cent Americanism" as opposed to those who harbor "un-American ideas." The same tendency is clearly discernible in those who do not believe in the existence of "neutralist" nations; any nation that is not fully committed to "our side" in the cold war is believed to be on the Russian side. This proneness to divide the world into two opposing forces - "right" versus "wrong," "good" versus "evil" - and to ignore or deny the existence of any middle ground, may be termed the two-valued orientation.
    In a situation of actual physical combat, the two-valued orientation is inevitable-and necessary. Total absorption in the fight reduces reality for the time being into two, and only two, objects of concern-myself and the enemy. This narrowed view of the world is accompanied by accelerated heart-beat and circulation, increased muscular tension, and the release by the adrenal glands of hormones into the blood to contract the arteries and thus slow down the flow of blood in case of injury. This ability to direct and mobilize one's entire mental and physical resources in the face of physical danger which the physiologist Walter B. Cannon described as the "fight or flight" mechanism - has been necessary to survival through most of the long history of the human race, and probably remains so.
    However, for the symbol-using class of life at a high level of cultural development, fighting and fleeing, the primitive outlets for fear, hatred, and anger, are not available. Although we may sometimes get angry enough at our rivals and enemies to want to strike them down, or even to kill them, we have to content ourselves most of the time with verbal assaults: calling them names, criticizing them, reporting them to the boss, writing letters of complaint or accusation, outmaneuvering them in social or business competition, or in rare cases instituting lawsuits against them. Words are not blows, name-calling breaks no bones, and even a smashing insult results in no loss of blood. Hence, some individuals - especially those who are quick to lose their tempers and slow to regain them-are in an almost constant state of overstimulation under the influence of a higher-than-necessary concentration of adrenal hormones in their systems. For such people, the two-valued orientation is a way of life.


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