The Illusion of Dichotomy

There’s a call-out post about organic produce that made me hopping mad, but it took me a few days to articulate why.

It wasn’t that it was challenging a lot of what I value (though it did).

It was because it made a false dichotomy.

It listed all the ways in which eating farm to table was cutting out urban jobs or how wearing organic fabrics was money you could spend donating…

and it erased the fact that we can choose both.


American culture borrows this love of considering things mutually exclusive from other older cultures all the way back to at least the Hellenic expansion. The Greeks loved to divide things up. One of the more devastating ways we still buy into this is in the idea that body and spirit are unrelated–it is best to live in the mind and suborn the body.

Because we seem to love to sort things neatly into good or bad, we still are trying to shed this idea that the mind or spirit is higher, while the body is just low biology.

The more we learn about the wholeness of the body with emotions and thoughts (and the more we learn how damaging our disregard of our bodies’ natural processes is) the more urgent it gets that we reintegrate.

We need to shed the dichotomy.

A Problem of Perception

The problem with the post wasn’t that it was pointing out ways that were more helpful to spend your money to benefit the economy or others. It was the standpoint it took–if you spend money on organics, you are stealing from others.

The false dichotomy here is: if you spend money on one thing, you cannot spend it on another.

One of the examples was buying organic sheets. So yeah, that seems a little over-the-top. I can only think of a few kinds of people who would do that: people who have lots of money…and people with the kind of life-altering allergies or sensitivities that mean buying the special version of everything.

If your person is the former, they can both donate to a cause AND buy their sheets organic.

In both cases, the dichotomy is more about anger at a perception of how other people spend their money than about realistically asking people to make change.

The No-Lose Alternative

My family has been buying purified water from a small local business, unpasteurized milk from a nearby dairy, and organic produce for about a decade now. A lot of these behaviors came from a paradigm shift where a health crisis changed the way we did EVERYTHING.

Sometimes you have to spend money on yourself first, to save your life.

My mom now owns a wellness business with an income that allows her to help out family and neighbors, provide jobs to several people (including one insolvent daughter), and also help facilitate others getting healthier.

She’s helping them live better and be more financially stable by first helping them heal. And donating to causes she believes in.

The underlying assumption of the article was that because it’s not immediately for the common good, it shouldn’t be done. (There was also a rather overt trust in the most click-bait-y of research results tearing up the Internet to prove organic isn’t better. Hint: that’s not really what nuanced, careful research shows.)

It’s not true, and it’s also just heartbreaking.

It’s OK to Make Contextual Choices

I am aware that buying bottled water comes with a ecological impact, so I try not to do it. My family gets purified tap water from our own area, and have our own filter. I even drink tap sometimes!

If I was stranded out in the desert (or even downtown Suburbia) and needed water, I would be OK with buying a bottled water from a store or vending machine. No amount of me not drinking that water is going to actually put the bottle back, though it’s good to be conscious of the impact of our small choices.

I can believe in supporting local farms, and also contribute to food pantries. I can pick out ugly vegetables in my grocery store, and also have a co-op that give me pretty stuff.

Every day is a web of choices that need to be made in balance.

The modern culture of the Internet is fond of villainizing and heroizing–but it’s OK to hold a balance. No one thing is the answer to all needs. The real thing we need in life is to be making conscious choices with the information we have, and make a space for discomfort, to give others what they need.

This is Not A Response Call-Out Post

Bringing it back, be wary of dichotomies. I don’t want to challenge that specific writer as wrong (though I will continue to speak my mind about the lack of nuance) but I do want to point out that it doesn’t serve anyone.

Sure, it gets some hearty amens from people who don’t see what it’s like on the other side. For someone to seem to be allergic to everything, hoping that buying non-fragrance detergent is going to help them sleep at night.

It appeals to our idea that there are easy rights or wrongs–and that we can feel good about ourselves if we are in line with them.

Both sides of that dichotomous article? Are right.