Photo Credit: Quote Master
Today, I want to talk about reductionism – how we reduce a whole person into one part – one facet that we take great pleasure in mocking or deriding. Thinking highly of ourselves in the process. Don’t miss this! Here we go.
Pierce Taylor Hibbs is a writer, teacher, and gentle theologian. I came across a piece he wrote this past week, and it has brought such clarity to a murky subject. The piece is “Reductionism: the Disease that Breeds Conflict”.
Don’t let that big word reductionism put you off. Hibbs will define it, but first, let me give you a scenario or two where we have seen this in action (and when we might have added to the fire of such a situation). We’re at a party of peers. We feel comfortable to just say what we think about any number of people, policies, or processes. No filters. What kinds of things pop up in those conversations? Mind you…they all are met with heads nodding (or shaking), laughter, and attitude. Mocking derision even.
Who are we in this conversation? The chief propagator of said comment. The amused and agreeing audience. The one uncomfortably close in character or worldview of the one being mocked. The one not necessarily close to the subject of putdown, but not comfortable with the putdown…or the people enjoying it.
Now…the definition of reductionism before we weigh in on our conversation topics. Hang in there. it’s so worth it. Pierce Taylor Hibbs on reductionism:
“Reductionism is the stepchild of our desire for mastery (complete control), which emerged from the ancient evil of autonomy… Autonomy is the idea that you’re completely and utterly independent…You want full control. The thing is, you can’t have that. . . you know, because you’re not God. You’re limited by nature. That’s how you and I were made. But we’re so stubborn that we don’t accept limitation. We refuse to think we can’t master our own lives. So, within what John Frame calls the fantasy world of autonomy, we chase after mastery, and when we can’t get it (again, we never will get it), then we pretend to have it with . . . reductionism…If we can’t master our lives, then we can simplify them and make it seem as if we’re in full control. We can reduce the complexity of our own lives, the people in them, and the problems that surround us. We can take, in other words, an issue or person with a thousand dimensions and pretend that there’s only one dimension. That’s reductionism. Put differently by my friend and teacher, [Vern Poythress], reductionism happens when people “reduce the world to one dimension of the whole. . . . But reductionism is poverty-stricken, not only in its threadbare endpoint consisting of only one dimension, but also in its explanatory power.””
“Reductionism, in short, is when people make something a lot simpler than it is. They do this for the sake of convenience, or egoism, or to build their own self-righteousness. There’s no shortage of motives, but I can’t think of any that are wholesome. And note what Poythress ended with: it lacks explanatory power. Read: it doesn’t actually explain much...In our frustration we reduce people, problems, and situations to manageable bits (ignoring swaths of information) in order to convince ourselves of our own mastery. You can start to predict why this is so destructive.”
“Reductionism hurts people because it flattens them. It takes a human life (or a situation, political topic, etc.) and crushes it down to a single dimension, ignoring all of the others. That not only fails to align with reality (reality is always more complicated than we could ever dream); it insults people by making judgments based on that single dimension.”
OK…here we go on the topics “reduced”:
Vaxxers/non-vaxxers. Maskers/non-maskers. Cool/Not Cool. Liberals/Conservatives. Republicans/Democratics. Pro-lifers/Pro-Choice/Abortion. Boomers/Ageists. Patriot/Isolationist. Racists. Privileged. Stupid. Misogynist. Hurtful. Offensive. Homophobe. Sexist. Small-minded. Evangelicals. Enneagram or other reductionist labeling.
We can reduce a person into a box of one word or phrase. What is up with that? Nothing good. It’s handy for a laugh at a party or a sympathetic ear who “gets” people “like that”.
It is not reality. It may be entertaining, but it furthers the accepted divide between people. It degrades not only the subject of the derision but the audience, as well as the person speaking. Hibbs suggests a solution for those who want one:
“Reductionism is killing us because it’s killing our conversations. It’s killing open, receptive dialogue. It’s polarizing the nation, even the world. For our part, we have to start identifying and assaulting reductionism whenever it crops up in our conversations…But what are we supposed to do instead?…We need God and other people to understand not just the world, but even ourselves truly. We need two things: humility and a withholding of assumptions.” – Pierce Taylor Hibbs
He goes on in his piece, giving specifics of how humility and withholding assumptions work together to soften the elements of conflict, even to the possible healing of rifts. Hibbs is a Christian theologian and speaks eloquently of the life of Jesus in his people in the call to a ceasing of conflict. Not just avoiding conflict, but confronting reductionism. Whatever your faith, his counsel is sound in acknowledging the sting of our current biting and devouring social culture. And resisting the temptation of engaging in it…but not be just keeping silent and existing the conversation. Definitely worth our consideration.
Photo Credit; Janet Mock, Audi Quotes
[The above video is fascinating. Wow!]