Binary Choice

Any deliberative process will eventually work its way down to a binary choice — A vs. B. The danger in all deliberations is that the last two options left at the end of the winnowing will not be the best two options that were available to you at the outset, which is to say that you will overlook or undervalue other alternatives that were actually available, and thus dismiss them at an earlier step in the deliberation, such that you arrive at the moment of final decision without your true best option (or options) on the table at all.

When a man deliberates poorly in this way, reducing his thought to what is in effect a false dichotomy, we say that either he lacks practical reason or else he was ignorant of his real alternatives. If, on the other hand, his practical reason were being intentionally stunted, or his awareness of the real alternatives knowingly concealed, then we would say his resulting poor choices were at least in part the result of intellectually corruptive or perceptually distorting external influences. Such is the case today in so many areas of public discourse and private action. All of our politics, along with the guilded professions (medicine and education being the most obvious cases) and much corporate marketing operate in ways designed to obscure real options, and thus to reduce the mind as quickly and intractably as possible to a false dichotomy, a binary choice that represents not so much the last step in a deliberative process as the shortcircuiting of any proper deliberation.

It behooves us then, in this age of universal intellectual corruption (we call it compulsory schooling) and ubiquitous perceptual distortion by forces (political or commercial) which see their own advantage in pretending to represent one side of a binary choice, when in fact they are often merely nonsensical ideas that would have been cast aside at the very earliest stages of a rational deliberative process, to step back from all the apparent dichotomies before us, recognize their falseness, and then seek out or rediscover the options we have been trained to dismiss out of hand. For somewhere among those discarded alternatives we will likely find answers better than the ones we all have learned to regard as the only choices available, under the ignoble influence of men and women whose own petty self-seeking ends are advanced by our failures of reasoning.

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