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One-dimensional thinking

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What is One-Dimensional Thinking?

One-dimensional thinking (1DT) is a description of the process which leads to an erroneous conclusion that is based upon the False Dilemma fallacy (also known as a False Dichotomy). That is, the idea that most questions have a yes/no, white/black, positive/negative answer.

1DTs (One-Dimensional Thinkers) tend to look at the world in terms of extremes, and ignore any middle ground that doesn't correlate with their own foregone conclusion or personal agenda. Everything must fit neatly into their good/evil paradigm. And of course, the 1DT always considers his side to be the "good" side and those who disagree, the "bad", or "evil" side.

What is the impetus for One-Dimensional Thinking?

Black and white thinking is an effective way to guard irrational belief systems from critique. If your beliefs can't stand on their own, then it's most beneficial to cloak them in the armor of a lofty ideal that is beyond critique. On a political front, here are some examples from an Internet dialogue:

  • Ayn Rand and her Objectivists cloak their irrational beliefs in the armor of objectivity. Disagree with her irrational beliefs and you are disagreeing with objective truth, which makes you wrong before you open your mouth. In reality, using 'objectivity' as a title for your personal philosophy suggests that you are anything but, and probably clouded by your own hubris.
  • Social conservatives cloak irrational nationalist and prejudiced beliefs in the armor of freedom. Disagree with their irrational conservative beliefs and you disagree with freedom. "You are either with us or against us" they say.
  • Capitalist Libertarians cloak their irrational beliefs in the armor of liberty. Disagree with irrational market beliefs and you disagree with liberty. You are a tyrant and a statist. Libertarian liberty has really nothing to do with liberty at all, at least not liberty for the masses. Most people experience liberty as a result of laws, regulations, civil rights and constitutional protections. In contrast, market libertarians view liberty as something out of 'Mad Max'. All regulations (even regulations that protect people from harm) take away liberty. In a way they are right. When you make it illegal to murder, you are taking away someone's liberty to murder. Personally speaking, I don't want to live in Bartertown or Somolia.

"For those of us who believe in democracy, the belief system and the ideal are one in the same, for better or worse. There is no armor needed, because critique is an essential part of democracy.

I think it's important to always draw a distinction between between selfishness and virtue; between nationalism and freedom; and between fundamentalist capitalism and liberty; so that we can deny this craven tactic from taking more hostages."[1]

Examples of One-Dimensional Thinking

  • "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists" - George W. Bush
  • "Atheists hate Jesus."
  • "If you don't vote in favor of gay marriage, then you're homophobic."
  • "If you're not going to heaven, then you're going to burn in hell."
  • "People in favor of gun control want everyones' guns to be confiscated by the government so that only criminals will have guns."
  • "If you don't like the President why don't you move to Communist China?"
  • "People who criticize Israel are anti-semetic."

One-Dimensional Thinking In Society: Polarization

The need to categorize people is a function of one-dimensional thinking. When people call themselves "liberal" or "conservative" they're actually sacrificing their own individuality and critical thinking to join in a herd-type mentality as if important social issues could be resolved in the same way two football teams might compete.

Granted, political parties and other groups offer the ability to accomplish much more through collective effort, but at the same time, it's important to be careful to not fall prey to 1DT in the process. Not all Democrats or Republicans have the same priorities and agenda, even though their ideological opponents may mischaracterize them as such.

By polarizing people into clearly-defined categories, and then generalizing about their "evil" intent, it makes it easy and convenient for the 1DT to dismiss the opinions of others with whom he might not agree. By using a sweeping generalization in conjunction with a polarized category, the 1DT divides and dismisses ideological opponents without having to spend a moment actually considering the issues raised: "He's a tax-and-spend Liberal." "There's an immoral, godless atheist."

One-dimensional propaganda

In an effort to further polarize complex issues, we're seeing one-dimensional propaganda. These are issues appearing to be packaged as some sort of ideological stance, when in reality, they are meaningless, jingoistic cliches devoid of stance or substance when examined further.

  • "Support the troops!"
  • "I am Pro-Life"
  • Flag waving and excessive patriotism
Nationalism is a type of one-dimensional thinking, usually employed by facist regimes as a means of rallying people behind the government in a state of obedience.


Isn't the term, one-dimensional thinker a sweeping, polarizing generalization in itself?

It depends upon whether or not when you make such a term, you use it as the end, or the beginning of a conversation. If you call someone ignorant, that can be an opening to educate them, or a closer to dismiss what they have to say. Again, if you think in one-dimension, then you might think people are either one-dimensional or they're not. That's not the way reality works.

See also


  1. . http://www.reddit.com/r/EnoughPaulSpam/comments/otrzy/why_is_it_so_difficult_to_have_a_debate_over/c3jzzn4


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