One facet of our current – sorely needed – culture change is a shift into continuum thinking.
Either/or thinking can be fine at times. It highlights differences, which can be very appropriate and useful.
But continuum thinking is often better at reflecting a complex reality. It highlights our commonalities, giving us a sense of being in the same boat. And it is often better at bringing attention where it really belongs: Our choices and actions, and not an abstract and imagined identity.
For instance, I think of my eating habits as 98% vegetarian, and perhaps 95% vegan. If I told myself “I am vegetarian” (whatever that means), it is easy to get into self-righteousness and us vs them thinking. Looking at it more accurately, as eating habits on a continuum, it brings attention where it belongs: On concrete activities and amounts. The point is to reduce the amount of meat eaten, for animal rights, ecological and health reasons, not to “be” one thing or another.
Of what I am aware of in different spiritual or philosophical traditions, I find about 90% of Buddhism as useful pointers for attention and action. In Christianity, about 100% of the essence, and much less of the traditions. In existentialism, maybe about 80%. In pragmatism, 90%. And so on. Here too, it would be equally misleading – and impossible – to say that “I am” Buddhist or Christian. It misses the point, and draws attention away from where it really belongs: Which guidelines I use as guides for attention and actions, what the effects are, and whether I could use these guidelines in a more helpful way, or find more helpful guidelines.
In terms of politics, I land on different places in different continua, often depending on the circumstances and topic. (The Political Compass is one way to organize some of these dimensions.)
I am a certain percentage healthy and ill for a wide range of mental and physical illnesses, and this too changes over circumstances and time. For instance, my thoughts, emotions and actions may be 20% manic depressive on one scale. Or my body may show signs of 10% of a certain cardio-vascular problem.
In biology, we find a certain percentage of relatedness between any two species, and this percentage varies depending on what we look at.
And in terms of how we function, we find the same percentage of relatedness on different continua. Including what we used to see as typically “human” such as tool use, sophisticated communication, and active problem solving.
The current shift towards continuum thinking in more and more areas of life and inquiry is part of a lager and very important culture shift. More and more, and in more and more areas, we move away from either/or thinking, and towards continuum and both/and thinking.
For myself, I think of my eating habits as about 95% vegetarian and 90% or so vegan.
When it comes to guidelines and pointers for attention and choices, I chose about 90% Buddhist, maybe 90% Christian (the essence of Christianity, not the traditions so much), about 80% atheist, maybe 90% existentialist, 98% pragmatic, and so on. So, for instance, of what I find in Buddhism, about 90% of what I am familiar with (stripping away culture) seem useful for me right now.
In terms of politics, I land in a certain general area on different continua, and in different areas depending on the circumstances and topic.
In biology, we look at percentage of (DNA) relatedness between any two forms of Earth life.
In terms of how we function, we are similarly similar to each other form of life on a wide range of continua.
We can be 20% manic depressive, and have a certain percentage of any other mental disorder. And we have a certain percentage of a large number of physical diseases as well.
- from either/or to continuum (both/and)
- eat 95% vegetarian, 90+% vegan
- 90% Buddhist, 90% Christian, 75% atheist etc. (use some from each tradition as guidelines, pointers – find them useful right now)
- percentage of relatedness to each form of Earth life (DNA)
- percent similar to other animals, also plants – in how we function
- from either/or to continuum (both/and)
In atheism, I find a rejection of beliefs and emphasis on scientific method helpful, but the tone and their own belief in the non-existence of God (according to their own image of God) less helpful.