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When the Coachman Beats The Horse: The Non-Binary Truth

As humans, we are emotional creatures and rely on emotional facts for survival. This article explores the dangers of reducing complex situations to binary choices, and encourages us to take the high road and stay in the driver's seat, no matter how spooked the horses get. Don't let yourself be framed by others - broaden your view and search for the non-binary truth.

Exploring the Non-Binary Truth: How to Overcome False Dichotomies and Embrace the Spectrum

By Michael Levin

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Emotional facts are more important that rationale ones. Humans tend to value the stuff Star Trek channels so well through the Vulcans, vaulting value on logic and reason. But the truth is that we are emotional creatures, and evolution made us able to survive and thrive by being able to make snap decisions based on emotional facts.

I’ve been criticizing the AIpocalypse crowd for using fallacious reasoning, often based on the false reduction of the situation to black and white, insisting things will either be this way or that and nothing in-between. In particular, the Sci-Fi writer Eliezer Yudkowsky has been playing Chicken Little on my Twitter feed ad nauseum, and as a seasoned Sci-Fi fan, I see every audience manipulation trick in the book. I try to tell people it’s on a spectrum… it’s shades of grey… it’s a rainbow of…

And I find all my metaphors ruined by popular culture. You can’t even tell someone things are on a spectrum anymore without the exact opposite result of polarizing them, because every awesome term from spectrum to weakest link in the chain and rabbit hole has been claimed by some polarizing group, movie or gameshow.

Few things are as straight forward or simple as you think, no matter how people trying to win you to their side try to reduce it to a simple binary. That’s called framing. When you fame a picture, you crop out part of the total image to make people zero-in on and focus on the bits that you think are important, that they want you to see. It may make for a more compelling image. And it’s certainly going to appeal to your emotions more than a full picture that your brain is going to have to promote to the conscious level and then analyze rationally.

Don’t let ‘em frame you. You’ll know you’ve been framed by peoples’ attitudes towards you suddenly changing. It’s easy to frame someone because emotionally, we want a simple picture of people so we can make fast binary decisions about them. Do I hire them? Do I fire them? Should I believe what they say or should I dismiss it out of hand? Is it safe for them in that household anymore even though they’re told they’re not welcome in that household? Is it safe? Sounds like a simple yes/no.

But it’s not. It’s a spectrum. It’s a rainbow. It’s a full picture. Those people must be speaking from an emotional place. She couldn’t possibly be planning to kill that cat. But children can’t always see the difference, so it becomes emotional abuse. But rescuing them from that situation is going to cause emotional trauma of another sort.

Instead of a binary black and white rescue, you can plan a rescue of another sort: a rescue of the mind. First, understand that the person is speaking from an emotional place. They can’t help it. Their mommy and daddy didn’t equip them with the tools to keep their sympathetic nervous system from taking over and making them say things they don’t mean. Their eyes widen, their voice raises, and they start making threats.

If you push them at that point, their fight-or-flight response will kick in and they’ll start to fight. They will get violent in the same way a young child who has not yet learned to control their emotions will get violent. They are still a young child, and even if you are the young child, you have to be the adult in that situation. You have to be the one to take the high road.

This is not an easy lesson for someone who should still have the innocence of youth. It’s the kind of lesson we are barraged with in the media from Disney and Marvel hero stories where the protagonist always has their parents killed or otherwise taken away up-front, and the rest of the book is the hero’s journey of someone forced to grow up too fast and save the world, Gotham City, the forest or whatnot. No wonder Disney bought Marvel. Batman is Bambi.

Dem folks who work primarily motivated by their emotions use the false dichotomy strategy of trying to reduce things to black and white often. They do this because they are not smart enough, or are unpracticed in the art of using their parasympathetic nervous system to override their sympathetic nervous. As triggers trigger, as they are wont to do because triggers are everywhere, they become more and more emotional, and they start to lose their ability to think. If you’ve lived a mostly sheltered life, you just haven’t been exposed to he ever present triggers in life. Again, shame on your parents for sheltering you.

It’s like being the coachman on a horse-driven carriage and your horses get spooked. You’re the coachman! It doesn’t matter if your horses are young and don’t know any better. You don’t jump off the carriage and start beating the horse. As the coachman (coachperson? do we retroactively change our language?) you’re the cognizant, experienced, indeed more intelligent human.

Yes, people hate it in conversation but I’m a speciest. Humans are smarter than horses because Star Trek Vulcan-style rational intelligence is more important than emotional intelligence, even in rapidly changing situations. That’s the skill, people: to be people and not animals. Sure, people are animals too, but we’re higher order animals, fact. We built the pyramids. We wrote the Bible. We invented the Internet. We’re the ones who are going to build the AI that’s going to take over the world… oh, yeah, that’s another story.

But you get it. Even when the shit hits the fan, the hand of reason stays on the rudder. The coachman stays in the driver’s seat with firm hands on the reins. He (they) may have to snap the reins and shout. But do you use a horsewhip? Do you beat the horse? Do you jump down off the drivers seat and engage in hand-to-hand combat? No, dumbass! You stay in the drivers seat and use your skills as a seasoned driver who agreed to take on that responsibility and you get through the situation. Don’t beat the horse.

To say that the horse had it coming because they were provoked into the situation with known triggers is to set the horse up to be at fault. You might even find yourself medicating the horse and saying there’s something wrong with it. That’s a sick coachman and they’re the ones who should get out of the business, or be taking the medication themselves or else that’s never to to be a healthy ride, a healthy horse, or a healthy life.

Of course I’m speaking in broad generalities, which is very appropriate in this situation because it’s quite the opposite of false dichotomies. They are both tools of the fallacious. Just a reminder to help fortify that rational mind of yours:

The solution is to examine the issue in a more nuanced way. Don’t let them frame you.

If someone’s framing you, remove the frame. Broaden the view. Take the blinders off. Cure your myopia. Tell all the many stories that some picture might actually be telling. Entertain the notion that the unthinkable, what the framing is designed to keep you from seeing is actually the case.

Projection much, Mike? Of course you have to ask that question, and I trying to frame anyone? No, of course not. I’m trying to make people not believe what they’re told at first pass and to use the judgement of their own eyes, ears and senses. Examine the horse. Ask about this and that. Put it through some exercises and tests to see if it’s developing naturally. Be as objective and open minded as possible in these evaluations. And get those evaluations done in as emotionless and rationale way possible. That shades-of-grey rainbow spectrum truth will come out, as non-binary as it is.