To Think or not to Think

FlummoxedBabyby Deana Chadwell7/16/16
Thinking has gone out of style; it’s not trending. People don’t even seem aware that thinking is an activity with strict rules and straightforward outcomes. In a thinking society a person can confidently put forward the following syllogism:

Premise #1 –It is illegal to handle classified materials on a personal server.  Premise #2– The FBI found at least 110 classified documents on Hillary’s server.

Conclusion — Hillary broke the law.

See how easy that is? How inescapable? A thinking person can’t look at both premises and come to the conclusion that there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to see, no need for an indictment. And yet on July 5th we watched the director of the FBI – a person we would expect to be good at basic thinking – do just that. We need a national refresher course on entry-level thought.

This is our first brush-up lesson – binary thinking. (If you are a millennial, this may be an entirely new concept since all your school years you were taught to sneer at the simple and direct.) Binary thinking – either/or thinking — stems from the three rules of logic.

  1. The Law of Identity. A persimmon is a persimmon: it isn’t anything else. See, already we’re in trouble, “identity” being such a loaded word these days. What if the persimmon feels more like a pear?
  2. The Law of Non-contradiction. A persimmon is not a pear, nor a lamp, nor a gearbox. It is not, what it is not. Aristotle thought this was the most important law – without it we would be unable to make distinctions. We’ve been trained to suppose that it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is. We’ve been indoctrinated in the idea that a family is just any friendly group of people, that a man can be a wife, that an AR15 is a machine gun, that a Republican is a racist. Just calling things whatever you want to call them, regardless of whether or not the term contradicts the reality, is a handy habit and will be hard to give up, i.e. “ISIS is the JV team.”
  3. The Law of the Excluded Middle. There is no middle ground. No comfortable, non-committal, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too position. Things are either persimmons or they’re not. Binary – two choices. One does not choose one’s sex; it is what it is and not something else; there are not 51 options. 

The truth is (I know, I know – I used the T-word. Sorry) that most decisions are binary decisions. “Should I stay, or should I go?” chants a recent TV commercial. Either/or. Is an action moral, or not? Is a person lying, or not? You can’t travel, sort of to, say, New Orleans.  You can’t cheat on your wife just a little bit. You can’t kind of tell a lie. Hillary didn’t just sort of break very explicit laws.  I know that the term “absolute” is not trendy either, but these things are absolute, and if we cannot deal with truth as an absolute concept, we can’t think. We have to get a grip on the fact that a thing is what it is (which is why we can’t morally screw around with the language), that a thing is not what it is not, and that there is no third choice. (May Republican delegates understand this.)

Let’s look at the first caveat and explore a couple of examples. “Oppression” is a word we hear a lot these days. White people “oppress” blacks. Really? The word oppression, when I look it up, has the following synonyms: domination, coercion, cruelty, tyranny, and subjugation. Those terms would be appropriate if we were talking about actual slavery where you were whipped if you disobeyed and shot if you tried to escape — but we (white people) ended slavery 151 years ago. Follow me now, this isn’t rocket science: oppression = slavery, slavery = being bought and sold and forced to work. It is not being arrested for stealing cigarettes from a convenience store. It is not collecting a welfare check every month. A thing is what it is. (And Slick Willy is the only person I know of who is uncertain of the meaning of is. Or what is or is not, engaging in sex.)

Let’s look at the term Islam. Remember, a thing is what it is. Islam means submission; it does not mean peace. Submission means obedience, compliance, capitulation, surrender, acquiescence. Those synonyms make perfect sense in a religion that collects converts via jihad, but are at odds with the concepts of peace and love. Our president seems so confused by this that he can’t string the words Islam and terrorism together in the same phrase. I can’t imagine how we can hope to stop jihad from overtaking us if we can’t even face the fact that it is what it is.

Now turn to the second law – a thing is not what it is not. Black Lives Matter is not an organization concerned with the deaths of black people. We can tell this by the fact that the members seem not at all exercised about the millions of innocent black babies aborted each year, but are instead claiming to be upset about the demise of a handful of violent felons. They are not complaining about the alarming amount of black-on-black murder in the inner city. They aren’t worried about the dismal state of education in black communities, nor are they worked up about the high unemployment rate amongst young black males. They are not what they are not, and yet the media would have you think otherwise. We cannot possibly fix any problems if we cannot use accurate terminology.

The Law of the Excluded Middle is a really tough one for the 21st century – we are surrounded by choices. But all choices eventually boil down to yes or no. I can shop for shoes and try on 270 pair, but in the end the choice boils down to buying or not buying. I can peruse a menu of 20 items and still I must either follow my diet or blow it.

No matter what the situation, in reality there are only two choices. Let’s take the agnostic, for instance. He can look at the religious options and conclude that he can believe, not believe, or declare himself neutral, like Switzerland. But that isn’t true. A person can, for instance, choose to believe that her calico cat, Spot, is God. Or she can declare that proposition preposterous and refuse to buy into it, but what if she doesn’t choose one way or the other? That would make her an agnostic, however, remember the Law of the Excluded Middle — this undecided cat-owner is merely a subset of the set of nonbelievers. She may not be an anti-catian, but the bottom line is that she is not a believer. She has not yet declared for Spot. To Spot or not to Spot: that is the option.

We have a choice in November to vote for socialism or capitalism, establishment cronyism or no-nonsense, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead leadership. Neither will be perfect; both will cause upheaval, but they are clear, diametrically opposed choices. Disgruntled Bernites and Cruzites can choose to stay home, but that just places them in the opponent’s corner, so not choosing is always choosing, it’s just doing so passively.

We also have clear options in that we can decide to either return to carefully constructed thought, or barrel on, like nap-less 2-year-olds powered by nothing but anger and adrenalin. We can either choose to call a thing by its right name, or continue lying by pretending it’s something else. We can face up to the stark choices in front of us, or muddle along imagining utopian third options. I heard Hillary the other day trying to sell the crowd on the idea of “the third way.” She, of course, didn’t say what that would be.

Thought has always been a human being’s ace in the hole, but we have to think according to the rules or we end up with non-thought. And, after all, a thing is what it is and it is not something else. And there’s nothing in the middle.

Deana Chadwell blogs at and is a writing and speech professor at Pacific Bible College in Southern Oregon.
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Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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19 Responses to To Think or not to Think

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Note that Ayn Rand used these propositions as the framework for Atlas Shrugged. Come to think of it, in many ways we’re being put into the situation of that book, except that they didn’t have to worry about jihadist invaders. (Rand, as a militant atheist, was probably as incapable of grasping the idea of jihadism as modern liberals are, but she was lucky enough that it didn’t rise up until the end of her life.)

  2. Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

    Thanks for this essay. I say that not choosing is passive acceptance of others’ amoral choices, and I’m the ignorant one? (Gary Larson may have said it best: Blah, blah, blah, blah Ginger.) Critical thinking is barely even mentioned in conversations, anymore. Too bad. I had a whole year of it in college, almost by accident, and it has served me well ever since.

  3. Daniel Kovacevic says:

    Capitalism is the absence of government control, and the presence of individual control. Control must exist, else one has anarchy. One might argue that the majority of Americans are no longer capable of individual self control (a fruit of the Spirit), and therefore must be controlled externally. Each day, a person makes many of this type of individual decision- between accepting responsibility / control, and giving up responsibility and control.

    One begins to wonder whether the November election is a black and white choice between capitalism and socialism, cronyism and leadership. What about morality? Individual responsibility? Where have these figured into discussions?

    This millennial worries about appeals to the law as a higher power. Is not love above the law? Of course, it must be granted that Hillary’s intentions were not loving in choosing to break the law- but what about other people, other cases? Is the law a moral high ground? Is not (agape) love a higher moral high ground?

    One could make the case that the rule of law is crumbling. Is the rule of law the highest authority in the land? Does not the rule of (agape) love supersede it? It seems that American society has gradually transitioned from the rule of tough love (agape) to the rule of law alone, which is now crumbling- to what? Rule by a tyrant, or tyrants.

    Law by itself does not sufficiently govern; the Old Testament proved this.

    • Wow. Couldn’t agree with you more. Law is, in my understanding, merely the codification and outworking of moral thinking. And moral thinking must be rational and logical and connected to the truth of human nature because God is never the author of confusion. Powerful as law is, it cannot replace moral thinking.

      As far as love is concerned (agape, as you mentioned), we must be careful to define that. When a progressive talks of love he means lust, admiration duly earned, appreciation for those who can benefit us; he does not mean the divine, virtuous attitude that cares for others just because the lover chooses to care, not because the one loved has earned or deserved affection, not because the lovee in any way can benefit the lover. Agape is a system of thinking, and not primarily an emotional validation of another. Progressive don’t get that because they don’t get thinking in general. Love isn’t exactly over the law, it is the ultimate end of the law. If a person were to truly and faithfully follow the Ten Commandments, it would put him in the same place he would be if he truly and faithfully followed the Golden Rule. Yes? Thanks for your thoughtful remarks.

  4. SkepticalCynic SkepticalCynic says:

    I learned those three lessons about the time I entered first grade in elementary school. What a fornicated up society we have in the U.S.

    If you want to see a person that is really trying that third rule, just listen to a lawyer. A lawyer can make you think a pretzel is a straight bread stick.

  5. Anniel says:

    Deanna, I love your article. I just read a posting where a man asked a liberal friend if anyone should be above the law and as she thought about it he immediately said, “This isn’t something you should need to think about. You do not believe in truth or the law.” The woman turned and walked away, probably still to vote for the lawbreaker.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    slavery = being bought and sold and forced to work. It is not being arrested for stealing cigarettes from a convenience store.

    A great formulation, Deana. We see the roots of Cultural Marxism and its replacement of Western law informed by Judeo-Christian values.

    For the Progressive or Leftist, there is a societal group crime committed by white people for which they are still guilty. The black man is seen simply reacting to it. If he engages in crime it is because of white racism. If that racism isn’t overt it can be understand as being “under the surface.” The point always is to excuse the individual for his actions and blame it on someone else. This is part of the small-r redemption bargain of secular (read: atheist) culture.

    This is the “nice” part of Progressivism that is most decidedly not good. Only backward cultures judge a man according to the color of his skin rather than his actions. If a man robs a convenience store, it is irrelevant that his long-dead ancestors were once slaves (or even that it was white Christians who freed them…including freeing them from some black slave owners as well).

    The small-r redemption of Marxism is offered by the conduit of white guilt (one of the Left’s original sins…they have many of them including capitalism). To find one’s secular redemption, one must parrot the line “Black Lives Matter” and make excuses for people and see their sins not as personal sins but judged according to group sins (long past or, simply manufactured).

    This is a nice fit for the generations who want things simple, who chase Pokemon monsters and paint their bodies with garish and amateurish tattoos and now expect everything to be free (including wisdom and justice).

    The little monsters (which I sometimes call “The New Hitler Youth”) are gathering. They purport to be “nice” but they are not good. They have farmed out their morality to the local Democrat Party.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I know at this point we’re supposed to stop thinking and pretend everything is alright because Trump has an “R” next to his name, but I think Jay Nordlinger makes some fair points in The Corner:

    One thing I have noticed about Trump fans — the hard core of them — is that they are very much like their leader: in style, in tone.

    When NR came out against Trump last January, Trump attacked us as a “dying paper” — over and over. Was he using “paper” in the British sense? (Over there, magazines, as well as newspapers, are “papers.”) Or was he unsure what NR was?

    Probably he knew, because he mentioned WFB, saying that Bill would be “ashamed” of us. Unfortunately for Trump, Bill wrote about him — pretty honestly. (“Demagogue,” “narcissist,” etc. The past year has not seen a New Donald.)

    Recently, CNN was critical of Trump, so Trump pointed out, on Twitter, that Fox has much higher ratings than CNN.

    Never is there any “This is why you’re wrong.” Never is there any real argument. There is no thinking. Most of the time, Trump and his fans emit a long roar of anger, hatred, or resentment. Trumpism is a form of anti-thought, where thinking is suspect, at best.

    Remember what recruiters for Trump University were instructed to do: sell “feelings,” not “solutions.”

    There is a great distance between Trumpism and conservatism. In the conservative world, for example, you’re required to think. You have to justify your views, and question them. You can’t get away with snarling or sneering like a bully.

    When Trump didn’t like Michelle Malkin’s criticism of him, he said she was a “loser” who was “born stupid.” Evidently, Trump and Trumpites figure that’s what you do. Others have to do better.

    In the 1990s, a lot of us blamed President Clinton for coarsening the culture. For dragging standards down. He was blasé about this. He said that a president shouldn’t be “on a pedestal” and that he had “demystified” the presidency.

    Leadership matters. All over the country now, Trump has imitators. And that is no good for America.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Trump has imitators. And that is no good for America.

      It is not so much that Trump has imitators as it is Trump mirrors the morals and characteristics of a large portion of his supporters. He is merely a manifestation of their baseness. How different from that manifestation of America’s goodness, Ronald Reagan.

      I noticed this early on when reading the various blogs such as Breitbart. The vulgarity and vile language used by these people reminded me of nothing so much as that used by the Left. Thinking people? Hardly. Gracious? Never. You couldn’t even agree with them without being on the receiving end of an insult.

      To my mind, a large percentage of Trump’s supporters are no better than Brown Shirts to Hillary’s Reds. .This, alone, should give any thinking person pause as to what will come out of a Trump presidency.

      Trump, like Obama, is clear proof that the problem is deeper than personalities. The problem is the electorate/citizenry.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It is not so much that Trump has imitators as it is Trump mirrors the morals and characteristics of a large portion of his supporters. He is merely a manifestation of their baseness. How different from that manifestation of America’s goodness, Ronald Reagan.

        I think that’s a good point, Mr. Kung. An America that wasn’t debased would have relegated Trump to the same outlands as those who belong to various third-parties that no one has ever heard of (such as the Workers World Party).

        To my mind, a large percentage of Trump’s supporters are no better than Brown Shirts to Hillary’s Reds. .This, alone, should give any thinking person pause as to what will come out of a Trump presidency.

        I was thinking sort of along these lines while reading Annie’s latest article about Hillary. You wonder how people came to support a person such as that. But look at us. When the people on the other side can say the same thing about us, there’s something about removing a plank in one’s own eye that comes to mind.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          It may be more a matter of Sanders supporters than Hillary supporters, but note that despite the violent rhetoric of some pro-Trump bloggers, we don’t see any actual rioting on behalf of Trump — but we do see plenty of riotous attacks on him by leftists who will no doubt vote for the Fire Witch.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            The best we can say for Trump at the moment:

            + He’s not Hillary

            + His supporters aren’t rioting…yet.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Yes, that sums it up pretty well, though I’d add that Trump also isn’t Obama. Nor do I expect his supporters to riot if he loses, unless there’s good reason to suspect chicanery.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Here’s more from Jay Nordlinger on Trump supporters: How Trump Folk Talk.

        There’s nothing new here — certainly not much that Mr. Kung hasn’t pointed out. But this subject matter is relevant in this “To Think or not to Think” thread. Jay writes:

        A related phrase is, “It’s not about box-checking.”

        What do they mean by this? I think they mean, “No fair talking about issues. No fair talking about the federal debt or taxation or entitlements or trade or gun control or abortion or NATO or affirmative action or ethanol subsidies. Issues and positions don’t matter. Thinking doesn’t matter. What matters is that Donald Trump is a big strong man, and that’s what this country needs now.”

        You recall what recruiters for Trump University were told: sell “feelings,” not “solutions.”

        He also writes:

        The mindset is collective, and so is the vocabulary. People use the same words, whether the words are sensible or truthful or not. It’s like an army of parrots, squawking. I wonder whether the birds know what they’re talking about.

        One poster quotes Hamilton:

        ”If we must have an enemy at the head of Government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.”

        Trump will do lasting damage to the Republican Party — damage started by those who have been voting carelessly for RINOs all along and then held yet another hissy fit (instead of thinking sensibly) and threw in for yet another RINO. Few fit the description of “Republican in Name Only” better than Trump.

        And the mindless, mob-like mentality of Trump supporters gives credence to Hamilton’s words. Do you really want to be associated with this man?

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          The mindset is collective, and so is the vocabulary. People use the same words, whether the words are sensible or truthful or not. It’s like an army of parrots, squawking.

          The vocabulary is also extremely simplistic and loaded with adjectives such as “huge, big, great”. Duh!

    • Timothy Lane says:

      You’ll recall that analysis of Muslim culture which noted that the Muslim answer to criticism was to attack the critic, regardless of the validity of the criticism (which is irrelevant to the Muslim). Same thing here.

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