Sunday, January 17, 2010

Help

I need help with an element of internet discourse. People on the internet seem to criticize things for being "Manichean" almost as regularly as they do for being "straw men" or other logical fallacies. The logical fallacies kind of irk me, but I understand what they all mean (and people tend to use them in a fairly consistent manner, though I very often disagree with their application and never understand why so many people think simply calling something a logical fallacy means that they've won an argument). "Manichean" I don't understand, and people seem to throw it around willy-nilly in any ol' context at all. I have a vague understanding of Manichaeism, the Gnostic belief that involves a kind of dialectical teleology (how's that for pretentious talk!) in which the good in the world is gradually replaced by the evil (or something like that). I don't know what kind of behavioral demands arise from this belief, though I'd be interested to because in general the Gnostics are pretty crazy and fascinating. But anyway, this vague knowledge does not at all help me to understand what the hell people are talking about when they call people/behaviors Manichean, or why it's a criticism. Can someone help me?

4 comments:

RJMeyers said...

My understanding of "Manichean" as used on teh internet: Calling someone's views Manichean is implying that they see the world purely in terms of good and evil, right and wrong. Everything is black and white with no shades of grey in between. It reduces everything to a binary good/evil status.

Not sure if this is fair to actual Manicheanism or not, but that seems to be how its used online.

Ethan said...

Ah ha! OK, that makes sense, especially since that seems to be a pretty standard way of dismissing what anyone you disagree with says. "You just automatically criticize Obama for anything he does because you think he's pure evil," that kind of thing.

Thanks!

Soj said...

Asking the question is in itself, Manichean, and therefore I am too hopelessly contemptuous of you to explain what I mean by that :P

Ethan said...

I had a feeling...