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The Black and White Problem
The charedi community has a tendency to extreme black-and-white thinking. Biblical figures are either holy righteous people whose spiritual level we cannot even begin to grasp, or utterly evil. Great Talmudic scholars are ipso facto also great theologians, great leaders, and possess moral perfection, while nothing of spiritual value can ever be learned from people outside of the Torah community. There is virtually no nuance.
Now, a lot of non-charedim look down on this way of thinking. But it is also prevalent among other Jews and non-Jews, especially in the USA as of the last few years.
People see everything in black-and-white, in extremes. The guy I like is a good guy, the guy I don't like is a bad guy. Bad people can't do anything good, good people can't do anything bad. People who do good things can't be bad people, and people who do bad things can't be good people.
The Israel-UAE-Bahrain peace accords this week are a great example. While we were never seriously at war with these countries, and it's not great for them to get F-22s, the peace accords are certainly an enormously significant accomplishment - not least of which because, once again, entrenched beliefs of the global community about the Middle East have been shattered. And yet many people cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this tremendous success, because it was brought about by Trump. Conversely, because Trump brought about this success and has expressed great love for Israel, other people refuse to acknowledge any serious faults with him.
The same goes for pretty much every political topic. Many Republicans and Democrats heap scorn and disdain on absolutely everything done by the other side, while simultaneously failing to acknowledge the problems on their own side. And this black-and-white extremist thinking is coupled with people exhibiting glee and triumphalism in pointing out every problem on the other side, even when it's something entirely insignificant, irrelevant, or a tragedy to be sad about rather than happy.
In a number of posts this year, whether regarding erasing women or mysticism or coronavirus, I've stressed the importance of understanding how other people view things. Aside from the tremendous value and benefit of maintaining some degree of societal unity, you can't effectively argue against a position if you don't understand why people take that position. And, by and large, people do have understandable reasons for the positions that they take, even if they are ultimately incorrect.
There are so many people who "just can't understand" how others could vote Republican/ Democrat. But is it really so hard to understand? With the differences covering so many areas, it's largely simply due to which things people choose to focus on, along with the fact that most people get their information on every topic from those who project a certain outlook upon it.
Unfortunately, as science has shown, people are biologically wired this way. Tribalism is genetic, part of how we evolved. We have an innate tendency to want to group everyone into those who are with us and those who are against us. And this is accompanied with a natural bias to see all the actions of those on our team as being good, and the actions of those on the other team as being bad.
But, as Judaism teaches us, our task is to rise above our natural, evolutionary instincts. And there are ways to do this. When you're confronted with a news story that confirms your personal good guy/ bad guy narrative, you need to be extra suspicious! Before sharing it with others, ask yourself if it's really true, and how you would feel about it if it was reversed. And if you can't understand how otherwise intelligent and good people feel about a topic, then try to understand it! And if you think that your team has everything correct and the other team has everything wrong, then it's time to re-assess. No single political/ religious worldview is perfect. Yes, some might be better than others, even extremely significantly so. But nobody is perfect.
I wish everyone a happy, healthy, successful, and intellectually nuanced new year!
(The Biblical Museum of Natural History is closed for the lockdown, but we look forward to re-opening, and we will be returning with live online tours for people around the world after the chagim - perhaps also during Chol HaMoed, if there is sufficient interest. Please support our mission of inspiring and educating hundreds of thousands of people about Judaism and the natural world!)