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Copyright © 2007 Dorian Scott Cole

Expanding Horizons
Words and concepts that open windows to new worlds
Intended to stir thoughts and discussion, not for instruction.



What divides us is how we choose to divide ourselves.

2 a : division into two opposites
b : concentration about opposing extremes of groups or interests formerly ranged on a continuum.

© 2006-2007 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

The integral opinion(s) shifts further in the same direction. (Usage in Social Psychology.)

The earth has two poles, batteries have two, magnets and coils have two, radio waves have two poles? Isn't diametric opposition the rule of nature? Isn't the clash of opposing positions the essence of debate? One person takes one side, another takes the other side. Doesn't society progress through the pendulum swing from one pole to another? Or do we misread nature?

On closer examination, a magnet is not strictly two extremes, and the opposite poles don't repel each other - they actually attract each other. If you take two magnets and place like poles together (north to north), they repel each other. Place unlike poles together and they attract each other. How is it that one piece of metal has an end that is attracted to the other end?

Are the ends of a magnet really opposites? Appearances are deceiving. Internally the atoms of a magnet are aligned so they are all pointing in one direction. This organizes the magnetic material to create poles. Cut a magnet in half, and you now have two magnets with north and south poles. Dividing doesn't destroy the poles. The magnetic strength is not in the ends, it is in the material. A magnet is not two extreme poles, it is a continuum.

We sometimes use magnets as an analogy for what happens in a society, regarding differences of opinion. Opinions, and the people who bear them, become "polarized."

When polarization happens within society, people are not all facing the same direction, with slightly differing opinions, as in a magnet or a continuum. People collect at opposite extremes and face opposite directions, entirely separated. Gathering at the extremes has strong implications.

Typically in society, opinions represent more of a bell curve, with most people being near the middle, and the numbers taper off as you near the extremes. But when polarization occurs, the numbers get high at the extremes, while only a very few people populate the middle.

Normally every individual has a slightly different attitude about a subject, shaped by his unique knowledge and experience. Polarization occurs when one factor is deemed superior to all other factors, leaving the opinion in an extreme and inflexible position. These positions are commonly forged by single issues that are considered to be more important or compelling than all other factors.

Some examples of polarizing ideas are:

  • People should not interfere in nature's treatment of animals in the wild - survival of the fittest (should let them die of injury or disease).
  • Good government always equals small government.
  • Taxes should always be reduced.
  • Life should always be prolonged.
  • News crews and photographers can only be observers.
  • TV is bad for small children because it is thought to be passive.
  • If exercise (or pain) doesn't kill you, it is good for you.
  • All illegal drugs are good (or bad).
  • All prescription drugs are good (or bad).
  • The elderly should always be cared for at home by relatives.
  • Good guys always finish last.
  • If you can stop drinking, you don't have a problem with alcohol.
  • Only natural foods are good for you.
  • Only artificial foods are good for you.
  • Chemistry is not natural.

Creating polarization on issues can sometimes be a winning strategy for those who want to push their agenda. It can also be a losing and frustrating strategy if that group remains in the minority.

Is polarization a healthy situation? The most common practice for people to use for resolve differing opinions, is to find a middle-ground, or a win-win solution. Everyone walks away with something. But when there is polarization, there is no flexibility and no middle-ground. There is no solution unless one side wins.

Polarization indicates a simplifying of thinking. Politicians running for office sometimes reduce their platforms to slogans, such as "Taxes are bad." Slogans are easy for people to rally around, and people don't have to grapple with issues, or think. The slogan has a "sticky" quality to it that makes people remember, recite, and believe. Sometimes politicians simply paint a bad picture of their opponents, hoping that the evil picture sticks in the minds of voters. Nothing sticks better than grimy mud. It is a very effective campaign tool. Campaigns are often won on such silly factors as slogans and painting another person as bad.

If a politician can polarize people with slogans and mud, then other factors are deemed unimportant. Only the single divisive issue of bad conduct becomes weighty enough to be important and decisive.

The implications of polarization are that opinions lack the weight of human experience and information, but are instead shaped by limited extremist ideas and agendas. While extremism may seem like a good way to make decisions and get action, in reality extremism substitutes a narrow agenda for consensus, and substitutes extremist action in place of human restrain, tolerance, and pluralism.

A consensus means that various views are considered by individuals, and they determine the best path forward that addresses as many issues as possible. That path may respond to a variety of factors, and may even be flexible and have secondary paths for contingencies.

Polarization considers there to be only one path forward, only one possible consideration, and only one possible objective. In the table below are some characteristics that may represent attitudes of those preferring consensus on an issue and those preferring polarization.

Consensus Polarization

Majority rule, minority rights  
Multiple issues
Human considerations

One party rule
Sameness, uniformity

We see polarization happening in all parts of society, by groups and individuals who want to win by convincing enough people that their cause is more important than any other issue. We see it in politics, religion, environmental concerns, etc., often led by activists who care only about one issue.

The result of polarization can be that we live in a divided society in which people are poorly represented and various issues are ignored. It can result in radical extremist actions such as the Oklahoma City bombings by Terry Nichols (political motivation); the Atlanta Olympic bombings by Eric Robert Rudolph (over abortion); terrorism (Al Qaida killings); sectarian violence in Iraq; religious, ethnic and political violence in Palestine and many other parts of the world; and distortion of the facts and truth (if not outright lies). When polarization engenders radical extremist violence, the result is often worse than the alternative that it fears.

Even light can be polarized. Natural light is an electromagnetic wave that vibrates in all directions. But when light becomes polarized, it only vibrates in a single direction. But polarizing influences rob the light of strength (intensity).


Our differences make our future stronger and brighter. Polarization dims the light and robs strength, leaving fragile opinions.

- Scott


The following words were coined by me because of the trends that I see in our world. They characterize certain types of behavior and attitudes.

1. incratic: adjective.
1. Characteristic of a closed system of thought that is turned inward. <Their incratic thought saw not the slightest wisp of sunshine.>
2. From those who are within, especially an idea from within a system that lacks new thinking. Uninformed. <An incratic idea.>
3. Relating to an idea that would fit well within the framework of partisan theory, particularly of those in control. <An incratic approach to the problem.> <The conservatives formulated an incratic approach to the problem.> <The Congress, locked in old ways of thinking, could not resist an incratic view of the issue.>
4. Characteristic of a system with people who are closed to fresh thinking, particularly self-imposed exclusion of outside thought, such as by an ideology maintained by the power elite. <An incratic system.>
5. Characteristic of thinking in a system that is stuck in a rut. <A system in incratic stagnation, mired in its own thought.>
6. Characteristic of a system that can't evolve, or reach beyond being a fresh mixture of stale ideas. <Hopelessly locked in incratic dispute.> <Incratic inbreeding.>

in: inner, within.
from the French, crat;
1 : advocate or partisan of a (specified) theory of government <theocrat>
2 : member of a (specified) dominant class <plutocrat>
ic: relating to, or characteristic of; having the character or form of; consisting of; of or relating to; related to; derived from, or containing; in the manner of; associated or dealing with; characterized by; exhibiting; caused by; tending to produce.
- in, crat, and ic etymology © Merriam Webster
French -crate, from Greek -krats, ruler, from kratos, strength, power.
- Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company, The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.
Not to be confused with "encratic."

2. diasophic: adjective.
1. Characteristic of an open system of thought that cuts across available ideas. <Their diasophic thought let the sunshine through.>
2. Characteristic of thinking that is informed, incisive, perceptive, discerning, luminary, and resulting from sound judgment. <A diasophic idea.>
3. Relating to an idea that would productively expand the framework of sectional theory. <A diasophic approach to the problem.> <The conservatives, in consultation with others, formulated a diasophic approach to the problem.> <The Congress, cutting across party ideas and incisively adding new ones, hammered out a diasophic view of the issue.>
4. Characteristic of a system with people who are open to fresh thinking, and opposed to rigid ideologies. <A diasophic system.>
5. Characteristic of thinking in a system that is constantly improving. <A system in diasophic evolution, finding new effective solutions.>
6. Characteristic of a system that evolves, becoming fresh and relevant. <Hope emanating from diasophic discussions.> <Diasophic fertility.>

dia: across, through.
soph: from the Ancient Greek, sophia;
1 : skilled in handicraft and art;
2 : sound judgment, intelligence, practical wisdom;
3 : wisdom, philosophy;
from the Ancient Greek, sophos;
soph : from the Ancient Greek, sophia; skilled in the sciences, learned, profound, wise;
ic: relating to, or characteristic of; having the character or form of; consisting of; of or relating to; related to; derived from, or containing; in the manner of; associated or dealing with; characterized by; exhibiting; caused by; tending to produce.
- in, crat, and ic etymology © Merriam Webster
Ancient Greek -sophia, sophos - Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon.

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