In my last post, I discussed two methods, seduction and alignment. In this post, I discuss two more methods of mind-killing, reduction and polarization.
Reduction refers to someone (or a system, including your own reactive patterns) reducing a complex situation to a single emotionally charged issue. The result of reduction is that you are locked into one and only one way of seeing the world. When someone tells you that all the problems in the Middle East are due to ISIS or that money is the only thing that matters, you are being subjected to reduction. Any nuance, any other perspective, is not taken into consideration.
We see this time and again In the political arena in single-issue and identity politics. Climate change, for instance, is regularly reduced to a matter of economics. The reduction has prevented governments at every level, municipal to international, from taking effective action. Reduction is often used to rationalize the inequalities of the status quo. A favorite trope is that people get what they deserve and those who are poor deserve to be poor and those who are wealthy deserve to be wealthy. This reductionist fantasy is used to eliminate public services with the specious argument that they provide help to people who do not deserve help.
Closely associated with reduction is polarization. Polarization eliminates complexity and nuance by presenting issues in black and white terms—this or that, for or against, right or wrong. It is regularly employed by political leaders, for instance, to solidify support and isolate those who disagree with them. “If you are not with us, you are against us.” In polarization, you feel that you being forced to choose sides. You are told that any dialogue between different perspectives is suspect, dangerous or simply not permissible.
Where seduction and alignment are based in attraction, reduction and polarization are based in aversion. They are instruments of aggression, and they rely on evoking anger and hatred in you. Both polarization and reduction play on pre-established prejudices and fears. Those fears are invoked to get you to act not in your interests, but in the interests of the person or system invoking them. Reduction and polarization often rely on reason and supposedly rational arguments, but, as I have written elsewhere, reason can be a weapon used by those who do not want their anger to be evident or identified. By leading you to feel the “rightness” of what they are saying, they can appear utterly reasonable while they get you to destroy your world and the world of those around you.
If you step back and open to what you are experiencing when faced with either reduction or polarization, you notice that you feel stripped, naked and exposed. You feel stripped because considerations that are important to you or to those you care about have been stripped away. You feel naked because you are not able to rely on your usual frames of reference and the ways you usually relate to others or to the world. And you feel exposed because you do not know how to maintain your own integrity in the face of the reductionist or polarizing rhetoric.
Direct opposition to reduction and polarization is rarely effective. The person or system has defined the field of engagement and if you engage them directly, you are fighting on their territory and with their weapons. Instead, step right out of the world of anger and hatred that they are projecting and seeking to elicit in you. Compassion is probably the most potent practice, because anger and compassion are mutually incompatible—in the same way that heat and cold are. In the world that anger projects, you seek to avoid your own pain by making someone else experience it. In the world that compassion projects, you know and understand the struggles that every person, including yourself, experience and the pain generated by those struggles. Compassion dissolves the sense of “I” vs “other” because, with compassion, you see the other is a human being just as you are.
As for the polarizing and reducing tendencies in your own reactive patterns, open to the anger and fear that drive their operation. You may try to use insight (what is angry? what is the anger?). Even though this approach is recommended in many texts, I have rarely found it to be effective because it is easy to employ insight without engaging the reactive emotional material in you. Instead, I recommend compassion-based methods, such as taking and sending, that involve engaging the pain and struggles in yourself, and, from there, the pain and struggles in others. When you can stand in your own pain, you are no longer driven by fear. When you know your own struggles, you know the struggles of others.