A Dynamic Incompatibility

There are two ways to engage with a set of opposing viewpoints that present themselves to us for evaluation: through bringing them together into a contest, or through something closer to cooperation.

The first approach tries to choose one of the two as the winner, as the right option, and to show why it is good and the alternative is bad. It can be (and should be!) as nuanced and balanced and fair-handed as you like; that doesn’t change what it is. It’s the winner-loser, right-wrong, yes-no approach. And sometimes this is the only reasonable way to deal with a question.

But only rarely are we forced to choose the first approach; such necessity arises in a practical situation with limited time and resources at our disposal. Most often, though, we choose that first approach without being forced, entirely freely, automatically and thoughtlessly, even though there is a second approach available which offers considerable advantages over the first.

The second approach puts off the decision of a winner indefinitely. A winner may surface, but not on any sort of predetermined timeline.

This second approach says that until there is a clear way to decide which of the two viewpoints is correct (or more correct), the two will be held together as live options. In the meantime, if there is a practical way of living as an agnostic then we will do so (for instance, living in such a way that the worst of either hypothetical can be prevented or curtailed).

With time, holding the two in tension can turn out to be not just the intellectually honest thing to do (withholding judgement in the absence of clear grounds for judgement), but also the most wise and advantageous thing to do. It can turn out that both are partly true, in ways that would never have become clear to us if we had rejected one of them outright.

So then, choose the path of lively, dynamic incompatibilities. Let paradoxes and apparent contradictions characterize our thinking, and see what unexpected syntheses might arise.

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