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Two or three times a year my wife and I go camping with my brother and his wife.  

My brother is a hard-right conservative Bush lover, and I'm a hard left liberal Bush hater.  

Since we both grew up in the same family; how my own brother turned out that way, I'll never know. I'm sure he's asking the same thing about me!

Anyway, we all sit around the campfire, and after a few drinks, all hell breaks loose when we start arguing about politics.  The next morning, all is well and we're having fun hiking or fishing, or whatever, with no more talk about politics.

My brother sees things like Bush does, in terms of extremes with no middle ground: "good vs. evil", "right vs. wrong", "with us or against us", "talk or no talk" with adversaries, etc.  These are examples of seeing the world in terms of "black and white".  

Perhaps a lack of cognitive development causes "black and white thinking"?  Is it a reflection of one being stuck in one's childhood where things seemed, oh so simple?  I don't know.

Follow me below for more on "black and white" and "shades of gray" thinking.

To people who see the world in terms of black and white, "shades of gray" are either ignored, rejected, incomprehensible to them, or not ever thought of in the first place.  And that worldview just drives me nuts, because I don't think that way.

So I was very intrigued by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham's The Editor's Desk column in the August 18/August 25 double issue of Newsweek where he talks about seeing the world in terms of "black and white" and "shades of gray".

The context for Jon Meacham's comment were in regard to the Newsweek cover story by Fareed Zakaria, titled "What Bush Got Right".

Speaking of Fareed Zakaria's "nuanced view of what the 43rd president has actually done" Jon Meacham said...

In theory, liberals—who tend to pride themselves on being more intellectually sophisticated and open to evidence than conservatives—should be very open to such an exercise. Detecting shades of gray in a world dominated by efforts to cast conflicts and questions in black and white requires both common sense and a willingness to engage reality as it is, not as we wish it to be.

Fareed Zakaria's cover story went on to describe what Bush has actually done.  And it was in terms of "shades of gray".  

As much as I hate Bush's policies, my hat is off to both Jon Meacham and Fareed Zakaria for presenting an enlightening sense of "grayness", shall we say, in a world as Jon Meacham says, is dominated by black and white.

Is black and white the dominate worldview in the U.S.?

Originally posted to doc superdog on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:21 PM PDT.


Is the worldview of people you know generally cast in terms of

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Comment Preferences

    •  Where's ORANGE? (0+ / 0-)

      I got my 3-D glasses and started viewing tropical weather in 3-D.

      When you stop watching TV you will see things you never saw before, but, you know it's hard to see Bush as anything other than an evil son of a bitch.

      "It's the planet, stupid."

      by FishOutofWater on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 04:28:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well First, What Do You Mean By "United States?" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DemInGeorgia, Blue Boy Red State


    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:24:07 PM PDT

  •  Depends where the money is... (5+ / 0-)

    Shades of green maybe?

    "Invest In America, Instead of Iraq. Vote Democratic"

    by manumit on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:24:26 PM PDT

  •  OK -- I'm all for shades of gray (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bethyb, MaskedKat, Greasy Grant

    I don't believe in either/or thinking (neither/and is more comprehensive) and I'm open minded.  But what exactly did the article say Bush got right?  I think your diary is a good start but could use a few links and quotes from the article.  So what did Bush do right?

  •  shades of grey when it comes to them (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SLKRR, HighSticking

    personally, but black and white for everyone else.

  •  Black = Oil and White = No Oil (0+ / 0-)


    "Invest In America, Instead of Iraq. Vote Democratic"

    by manumit on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:27:57 PM PDT

    •  Meecham's comment is bogus "fairness" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Zakaria's column would have been short indeed if it had limited itself to what Bush did right.  In fact it pointed out a fair number of things Bush screwed up too, but the powers at be at Newsweek were pleased to name it as they did.

      Now comes Meecham with the specious argument that in order not to traffic in black and white, you have to give equal time to Bush's "good side".  I cry foul.  Fairness is not giving equal time to both sides, or "balancing" every negative comment about someone with a positive one (or with a negative comment about his opponent).  Fairness is holding both sides to the same standard.

      Liberals will start winning when, and to the extent that, they learn this, and stop feeling that by hitting where it hurts they'd be "stooping to the level of the bad guys" etc.  I've lost count of the number of liberal friends I have who, when confronted with my uncompromising comparison of the economy in Jan 1993 versus Jan 2001 versus today, bend over backwards to be "fair" saying that it's not all Clinton's merit and not all W's fault.

      Silvio Levy

  •  Purple, gold and green, (0+ / 0-)

    moreso just before Lent.

    More interesting than John McCain's YouTube videos.

    by Crashing Vor on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:28:20 PM PDT

  •  Where do they get 32 percent? (0+ / 0-)

    (It currently stands at 32 percent.)

    I was under the impression it was 23 percent.

  •  Sometimes shades of gray are hard to find... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    right in here on Kos.

    I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

    by beemerr90s on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:30:24 PM PDT

  •  Bush.............Darkness (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  Good ole red white and blue (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    round here.

  •  Zakaria's Titles (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I admire Zakaria's work, including this article, because the bottom-line was that Bush got a lot more wrong than right.  However, Zakaria should work on his titles.  The Post-American World is a terrible title - the book should really be called "The Post-Caucasian World" or something like that.  The title of this article is really misleading.  As for your question, sometimes things are black, sometimes they are white, sometimes they are gray.  Historically, America (Anglo-America, that is) has been very prone to the "Black or White" worldview, probably going back to the Calvinistic origins of the country.

  •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Viceroy, fedupcitizen

    I definitely view the world in 'shades of gay', have since I was 14. said 'shades of gray'.

    Never mind then.

  •  Skewing coverage on Bush back to the positive (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We saw negative coverage with Obama increase in the few critical days leading up to March 4th.The last several days leading up to a primary are the days that push undecided voters. We saw manipulation with the CNN debate in NV. We saw manipulation in the ABC debate. We saw it with CBS. The media does not want the public to be engaged in politics. The media wants sheep to buy their sponsor's oil, drugs and all the other garbage they peddle.  The media can afford to be negative with Bush or anybody long before the election because it's the percentages of late deciders the corporate media is working.

  •  I always thought that the ability to see the gray (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynChi, triv33, doc superdog

    is a sign of maturity.  Black and white is so simple, and life was simple when I was about nine years old.

    Black and white visions can be expressed in a bumper sticker while shades of gray require paragraphs, and the intelligence to read them.

    But, you have shamed me into reading the Fareed Zakaria article.

  •  Fareed is an ass...just like David Brooks (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Basically, the subject says it all....

    They are younger versions of Kristol,
    and heading that way fast -

    ymmv ~



  •  Yellow = pee (0+ / 0-)

    That's what I'm seeing mostly.

    I know who Obama's veep will be. You can too!

    by slaney black on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:37:56 PM PDT

  •  What's the point of this? (0+ / 0-)

    Hitler worried about the most humane way to cook lobsters.  So what?

  •  This sounds like pundit pablum to me. (0+ / 0-)
  •  Not only is it black-and-white in the USA (0+ / 0-)

    We can't even seem to find the damned contrast knob.

    Yes, at the expense of looking like one of those wimpy wishy-washy intellectual "lib'rals", I'll sing some praise of Zakaria's observations. Especially since the central tenet of his article was that Bush screwed up badly in the beginning but "learned" a few things along the way. The Bush Administration has managed to right some wrongs insofar as AIDS funding to Africa is concerned.

    Eeew. Now I need to find something strong to wash my mouth out.

    My concern is: can conservatives apply the same filters to liberal points of view? Or are we all a bunch of wrong-thinking adversaries who should be contained, at best, or shot, at worse?

    "Respect for the rights of others is peace." Benito Juarez

    by Blue Boy Red State on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:43:21 PM PDT

  •  Ebony and Ivory . . . (0+ / 0-)

    . . . live together in perfect harmony
    Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh lord, why dont we?


    "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex" Dwight D. Eisenhower

    by bobdevo on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:43:28 PM PDT

  •  It's complicated, but simple. (2+ / 0-)

    Accuracy. Can be Simple.

    Bush has thrown out icing to give the impression of a cake.  He has done good things. Namely, the preservation of the Northern Hawaiian Islands, a huge environmental victory.

    This is done against the backdrop of a rightwing coup. From a fraudulent series of elections in 2000, 2002 and 2004--a defining fact which Zakaria can't balance out his picture with if he denies such truth--through the sale of national forests and the attempted privitization of any and all other public infrastructure incld. Social Security.

    On every major issue, education, foreign affairs, econ, physical infrastructure, the protection, evacuation, and rebuilding of New Orleans and Kansas, environment, military: Bush has been a deluge of unanticipated failure.  That it's impossible for any human to occasionally do good things is hard to somehow understand.  

    This is not Reagan. This is not Ford. Or Nixon.  This is the fulfilment of their wildest fantasies, only they heirs have discovered they were nothing but perversions.

    Plus, he knows what crapped out means, which will help him explain his condition on the morning of November 5 - PBCliberal

    by Nulwee on Thu Aug 14, 2008 at 01:50:01 PM PDT

  •  Some people who think in B & W are (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bumblebums, doc superdog

    easily led into a cult-like way of thinking.

    For example, hard right radio talk show listeners are, by and large, in agreement of a "one sided view".

  •  A lot of people here can't even have meta (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    doc superdog

    conversations about the shades of gray things.

    At least Doc Superdog sort of can, but note that s/he assumes that s/he can see shades of gray while declaring that the brother sees things in black and white.

    It looks to me as if Doc Superdog is a wonderful person because s/he is on my side but also tends to see things in terms of black and white.

    This year, maybe that fits, because what the Republican Party folks have been doing has been so clearly messed up. But in other years (example: 1956; and, even though I liked Carter, 1976) maybe the distinction wasn't so obvious.

    •  You said that I (0+ / 0-)

      can see shades of gray while declaring that the brother sees things in black and white


      Then you also say, I tend

      to see things in terms of black and white


      The first quote above is simply a statement of fact.  It's not a black and white or shades of gray alternative.  

      How that might translate into me tending to see things in black and white is something I don't understand.

      •  You seem to think your brother is always wrong (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        doc superdog

        Maybe I'm misinterpreting, but I think what you're saying is that, in effect, your views are white and your brother's are, essentially, black.

        So, you seem to see your political discussions with your brother in terms of black and white. I'm just going by the diary and haven't read many comments, but I don't think you're conceding the possibility that your brother's arguments are ever correct.

        To me, that hints at the possibility that you also see the universe in black and white, but in a different direction.

        Thought experiment to test whether this is a reasonable hypothesis or an unreasonable one:

        Say we had your brother in this thread.

        Suppose your brother would say, "My brother is the king of nuance. He's too wishy washy. He always has to say something on the one hand, then a contradictory thing on the other hand, then something that contradicts the ideas on Hand A and Hand B on Hand C. Basically, my brother needs to be an octopus to have enough hands to hold all of his different conflicting thoughts on any given topic."

        If your brother would say that, OK, then I'll concede that you are big on shades of gray. (If you go into my comment history, I think you'll find a lot of posts where I need 3 or 4 to describe all of the shades of gray I see with respect to any given topic.)

        On the other hand (see: I'm seeing shades of gray even here), suppose your brother would say, "My brother used to think Edwards was perfect, and now he thinks Obama is perfect. He can't accept the idea that you can have a "bible as literature" class in a public school, put any limits on abortion or allow the death penalty under any circumstances. If Bruce Willis got Osama bin Laden to explain where a ticking nuclear time bomb was by shaving off half of his mustache, my brother would supporting convicting Bruce Willis of torture. My brother loves Daily Kos and thinks the people are the enemy .... " Etc. Etc.

        If your brother would say that sort of thing, then I think it's possible that you might just be a progressive version of your brother. We here might feel as if you see more shades of gray just because we agree with you.

        If I've misjudged you and you also need many hands to hold all of your conflicting thoughts on public policy issues: sorry. My apologies.

        But I think it's pretty clear from reading Daily Kos that many other participants here have a really all or nothing approach to a lot of issues.

        •  Thank you for a most fascinating reply. (0+ / 0-)

          You said...

          You seem to think your brother is always wrong

          Yes, wrong in terms of thinking in black and white.
          And he thinks I'm wrong in thinking in shades of gray.

          It seems to me he does think in black and white, and it seems to him I do think in shades of gray.

          So if I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that by overlaying our two worldviews, the net result is an overarching black and white situation between the two of us, even though he's black and white and I'm shades of gray?

          If so, then black and white wins!  Checkmate.  Perhaps that's why black and white thinking is predominate in the general population?

          Looking forward to your reply.

          •  Of course, I'm probably oversimplifying (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            doc superdog

            I'm probably coming off as a jerk here, and I'm sorry about that.

            I was responding to a few sentences that you dashed off and I read quickly.

            <q>Yes, wrong in terms of thinking in black and white. And he thinks I'm wrong in thinking in shades of gray. It seems to me he does think in black and white, and it seems to him I do think in shades of gray.</q>

            If your brother thinks you see things in shades of gray, then my guess is that you probably see things in shades of gray.

            I guess we could develop a progressive gray v b&w test, with questions such as, "Is Hillary Clinton just another flawed human being or the daughter of Satan."

            Suggestion: my guess is that, if you quantify this and test for it, we'd find that there's a kind of Bell curve for this, with extreme b&w's at one end and extreme gray's in the middle, and a bunch of mixed thinking people in the middle.

            In some cases, you'll escape from the tiger if you think one way, at other times you'll escape if you think in the exact opposite way, and, in a lot of cases, you'll leave the most kids if you're a pretty middle of the road sort of person.

            •  You said... (0+ / 0-)

              I guess we could develop a progressive gray v b&w test

              Thats a wonderful idea that needs to be done.  

              You also said...

              if you quantify this and test for it, we'd find that there's a kind of Bell curve for this

              Yep. Depending upon the questions, asked in appropriate ways, I'd love to see the resulting Bell curve distributions.

              It's a study just waiting to happen, and one that could have profound implications.


  •  If something is black (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Prince Nekhlyudov, doc superdog

    see black.

    If it is white, see white.

    If it is gray, see gray.

    Not everything is black and white; but not everything is a shade of gray, either.

    The problem today not simply one of people seeing shades of gray as black and white.  The problem is also people who see black and claim it is white, who see white and claim it is black.

  •  Other - Suggest (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    doc superdog

    It depends.
    Some folks I know subscribe to the Leo Strauss school that it is either "Gunsmoke" or "Perry Mason".
    Gunsmoke because it is black or white.  The story is easily identifiable, the hero wears a white hat wherein the villain wears a black one, the moral lesson is easily understood and the whole exercise reinforces the good vs evil narrative.
    Perry Mason because he is an extremely smart and cunning man.  He uses his superior intellect to extract his clients from trouble.  However, we never really know if his clients are truly innocent.  Perry is so smart he may have hoodwinked everyone else and his client may be guilty.  In the world of Leo Strauss this defines to role of the elite.  They know the real deal and are able to sell a narrative without having to believe it themselves.

    There are many folks that have been told so many times what the so called societal norms are that they have a hard time considering the potential that they have been reduced to a Gunsmoke viewer.  Taking their story lines in easy to digest little spoonfuls from folks that do not necessarily believe it themselves.
    The sad thing is that to these folks questioning their compass requires that you be labeled as a potential black hat.  challenging the righteous in their never ending conflicts with those that challenge the authority of the white hat.

    •  Wow! You are hurting my head with this one. (0+ / 0-)

      Let me chew on your interesting comments and I'll get back with you.

    •  You said... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There are many folks that have been told so many times what the so called societal norms are that they have a hard time considering the potential that they have been reduced to a Gunsmoke viewer.

      True. That's what concerns me about people who can't delve into the complexities, uncertainties and "shades of gray" realities of life.

      Regarding Leo Strauss...

      Strauss contended that only great thinkers are able to face the deepest problems independently.


      I'm not here to say I'm anything nearly like the "great thinker" Leo Strauss referred to, but I must say I broached the subject (black and white vs. shades of gray thinking)here on Kos. And I would call it a "deep problem".  I also did it independently.

      For whatever that is worth...?

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