Among the thinking classes there is the general assumption that black and white thinking, that is thinking that assigns ideas and things into simple polar opposites, is the mental refuge of riff raff—political, psychological, and otherwise.
It doesn’t allow for nuance, isn’t sophisticated enough, and is the mark of a dull mind.
However, black and white thinking is surprisingly common, even among the thinking classes who deride it. For example, think about your personal viewpoint on these oppositional pairs:
Arts vs. Sciences.
Emotion vs. Logic.
Democrat vs. Republican.
Enlightened vs. Simple.
Secular vs. Religious.
East Coast vs. Midwest.
And so on.
What we need to recognize is: We all do indulge in black-white thinking, labeling our preferences “good” and the opposite, well, stupid. Or evil. Or invalid.
And either by nature or nurture (or a bit of both) we tend to identify more with either one side or the other.
Weeding A Jungle
In a previous post, Why Does Evil Exist?, we discussed the necessity for both good and evil to exist in order for free will to exist. And good and evil can be cloaked in a variety of guises. Sometimes sorting out which is which is like weeding a jungle.
What’s missing is the deeper reason for these differences. Why does our world have these contradictions, these differences? And why, as most rational people would agree, within each of these polar opposites, above, is there potential for both good and evil to be actualized?
In other words: What is the purpose of good and especially, evil?
In the mystic wisdom of Chassidic thought, evil actual serves good by allowing each of us the opportunity to choose. In fact, evil itself desires to be defeated.
Basic Training for The Soul
In the Zohar (a major Kabbalistic text) is a parable.
Once upon a time there was a wise and loving King who had a beloved son.
The King desired to test the prince’s character. He hired a beautiful prostitute to seduce his son, telling her that her underlying goal was to test him. She is told to use all the arts of seduction to trap the prince, as anything less would not be a true test.
But the harlot is loyal to her employer, the King, and she knows her true goal is that the prince should be able to overcome his base desires and choose good over evil.
The Zohar tells us that the sole purpose for evil’s existence is to be defeated by us, and that the many tests we endure are actually for our own benefit, a kind of basic-training for the soul.
Choosing good nullifies evil on the psycho-spiritual level. It destroys evil in our thoughts, too, and our thoughts are our ultimate personal reality.
You literally create reality with your thoughts, teaches Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Where your thoughts are, there you are, he tells us.
Ultimately, we do have the power to choose what to think, believe and do in response to the many tests and choices that come our way.