The ever swinging pendulum

Physics tells us that, as far as a pendulum swings in one direction, so it must swing the same distance in the opposite direction. This swing back and forth is called, iirc my school physics, a moment. Considered in a political context I find there to be something quite profound about that.

Over the years I have spent (far too) many hours on political debate boards and, more recently, social media and the blogosphere talking about politics. If I had to pick out the one argument I have made the most times  (in various forms) it would be the argument against the false dichotomy. This can be defined as:

…a type of logical fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional options (sometimes shades of grey between the extremes).

This is perhaps best summed up by the great Ben Goldacre with his T-shirt with the slogan ‘I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that’ (I want one!).

An obvious example of the false dichotomy would be the messages that regularly do the rounds on the social media websites, demanding that we stop giving out foreign aid because there are poor people here in our own country. The false dichotomy is also closely tied with the use of political absolutes (“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”)

The thing about a pendulum swing though is that, by definition, the vast majority of its moment must be spent between any two extremes. Thus it is that, though there have always been extremes, for the most part political life and the lives of the people tend to be somewhere in between.

From a historical point of view it could be argued that many, if not most, of the great conflicts have occurred when one or more parties tried to hold the pendulum still in one position – their position.

Such a situation is the one we find ourselves in now. The global power of transnational corporations and the power of destructive international competition holds the pendulum in place. So there is then a mismatch between the span and variety of public opinion and the narrow span allowed by the business friendly, international competition based agenda.

But time marches ever on, with or without the pendulum. As we build, together, our new world-centric politics those holding onto the pendulum will look increasingly desperate and foolish. They will be stubborn children clinging on in the face of the facts. We will be the adults shaking our heads at their immaturity.

Time marches ever on indeed. The future, friends, is ours – not for the taking but for the sharing.


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