The False Dichotomy: Ideas vs. People

One hears this phrase a great deal currently, “We must separate ideas from people.” This is especially true when the topic turns to religion and politics. It’s a debate which has risen to prominence, as far as I can tell, due to the recent influx of Islamic terrorist attacks, where those who use the line attempt to delineate one’s beliefs from the individual (separating the tenets of Islam from individual practitioners of the faith). You will generally hear this most prominently from those individuals who define themselves as “Classical Liberals,” people such as Dave Rubin, Maajid Nawaz, Larry King and the whole plethora of Youtube “rationalists,” etc. But what does it really mean to separate one’s ideas from “the individual”?

I do not find this to be a particularly complicated topic so I will attempt to put a nail in its coffin as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Let me flatly say that this notion is perfectly fine insofar as those ideas are not held as beliefs by [X] individual. Insofar as one truly believes something, however, one can not help but be defined by such a belief (which is why Atheism is such a superfluous label, as it defines one not by what one believes but rather by what one does not). For instance, if I truly believed that it was perfectly fine to murder men who were weaker than me and subsequently throw their women into a harem for my sexual pleasure, this would doubtless effect the way I behave; and if it effects the way I behave, in what way can one possibly say that it doesn’t effect me “as an individual”?

How, exactly, would you separate such ideas from me as a person? You couldn’t. Those things would be core to the fictional me’s identity in the same way that the Five Pillars are core to the identity of Islamists.

Much of the push-back against ideas contributing to one’s identity can be found in the modernistic notion of “The real you,” I recall many overheard conversations in college where my over-stressed peers would commonly say variations of things such as, “I really don’t know what I’m doing, I need to take some time off to find myself.” Kind of reminds one of Dickie Spencer’s, “Become who you are.” There is some wisdom here; organizing one’s thoughts and clarifying one’s goals and values is of paramount importance. However, the presupposition to both of these previously mentioned stances is that there is some inherent you, a immutable identity which is fixed and needs to be uncovered. I am aware of no arguments by which such a presupposition could possibly be substantiated, and as such grant them very little weight.

It’s not “Become who you are,” but rather, “Become what you can.”

The individual can only be defined as such by the those attributes that differentiate said person from other individuals. Now, naturally, there are upward limitations on the degree to which any individual can actually believe certain ideas that have powerful behavioral consequences. But insofar as these aforementioned ideas are incorporated into the totality of the individual’s identity, a criticism on such beliefs would be, in no uncertain terms, a criticism of the individual.

Kaiter Enless

News columnist, artist and published fiction writer whose work asks the question, Of what use is the art which does not ruthlessly seek to force life to imitate it? I can be found online via any of the following links. [My website:] [My Youtube Channel:] [NMC:] [WCR:]

12 thoughts on “The False Dichotomy: Ideas vs. People

  1. These days, it’s popular to “accept everyone”. This stems from a fantasy that, at the core of everyone, is a wonderful person that wants nothing more to hold hands. I somewhat agree to this. I infact state that the overwhelming majority of bad people can be taught to be constructive members of society.

    But, unlike me, most people think that goal is accomplished by wishing it will occur. Thus, these pointless ramblings about how everyone is good, and everything will just work out. It’s simply a different method of exploiting peoples fears – instead of instilling fear, drowning it in delusions.

  2. Actually, you’re wrong on Atheism. It is not not believing in the Divine; it’s believing their is no Divine. Hence, it is no different than your other examples. Failing to either believe their is the Divine or to believe their isn’t isn’t Atheism, it’s Agnosticism. In other words, since Atheism inherently requires a strength of conviction, it is a belief.

    1. The word “atheist” presupposes the existence of God/gods via its own etymology: atheist (n.) 1570s, from French athéiste (16c.), from Greek atheos “without god, denying the gods; abandoned of the gods; godless, ungodly,” from a- “without” + theos “a god” (see theo-). (Source:

      A true “atheist” would call himself, in his ignorance of the spirit, a materialist.

      1. A case where etymology falls short or, at least, diverges from fact and usage, Adam. Or if, one prefers, a case where transliteration of a word’s roots does not equate to a translation of its meaning.

        1. Adam is just being pedantic, jonolan. Could it be that Adam literally forgot that ‘literally’ literally became the literal opposite of literal? :^)

          Perhaps, Kaiter, you could guide me through your reasoning? I am unsure of what you mean by “effect me “as an individual”?”, I have assumed you meant here “define me as an individual” since the rain affects me while I am not the rain. If you conflate “affect” with “define” then writing your article was a waste of time. The second problem with “[beliefs] effect me” is that you are breathing life into the very dichotomy you wrote was false. The sentence “beliefs affect me” creates a discrete pair where “the individual” is being acted upon by an exogenous “belief”. In this you write as though a dichotomy does exist although beliefs do not define individuals *directly*.

          Assume the other case, where beliefs define individuals *indirectly* through behavior. This can only be complete if all that is the self is caused by behavior which is entirely caused by beliefs. You, however, seem to be threading belief and individual together with this strand of reasoning: some behavior is caused by beliefs, and an individual is defined by behavior, therefore beliefs define the individual. The snip comes at “some behavior is caused by beliefs”, a reminder that you wrote “[an individual is] defined by such a belief”. You imply in your article that not all behavior is caused by beliefs, and so it cannot be argued that an individual is defined by beliefs.

          Furthermore, it is quite unclear to me how you prove beliefs cause behavior:
          “if I believed [(p)], […] [it] would doubtless effect the way I behave” — Why is this doubtless?

          “The individual can only be defined as such by the those attributes”– here I choked on my cigarette — Just when your behavior argument was getting off the ground, its pinions were cut and the meaning of your article evanesced. Are “attributes” independent of behavior and therefore partially or wholly “define” the individual, discretely from behavior? Or, if they are the manifestation of behavior as shaped by behavior, are these attributes “fixed”? are they “immutable identities”? To posses an attribute, or for an attribute to be part of the self, it must necessarily exist as either “fixed” over time or timelessness, or, in continual flux along with the “self” that is unfixed, in continual change and so cannot be said to really exist with continuity at all. In the first case: aporia; in the second case: meaninglessness. Since there is no individual, there is no dichotomy false or otherwise and every use of “individual” has been meaningless.

          “I am aware of no arguments by which such a presupposition could possibly be substantiated”, the lack of exposure to the arguments for a case is not itself an argument against the case.

          Again, it’s late. I would appreciate if you could explain your meaning cogently. I’m struggling to untangle this article!

          1. To Alexander: I appreciate your interest. I’ll see if I can clarify some of the points you have raised in so colorful a fashion. In regards to my usage of “the individual” I was here using “the individual” as a place-holder for “the self” as this is the way in which most so-called, classical liberals use the term. As far as the “beliefs affect me” I didn’t think anyone would take me so literally as to assume I was imparting agency into “belief,” as I am certainly not. Rather it’s more along the lines of, “one allows oneself to be affected by beliefs.”

            You wrote: You imply in your article that not all behavior is caused by beliefs, and so it cannot be argued that an individual is defined by beliefs.
            This is untrue. As one can still argue that a individual is partially, or even largely, defined by beliefs. There is no reason why this must be an either-or, all-in scenario.

            You continued by saying: Furthermore, it is quite unclear to me how you prove beliefs cause behavior:
            “if I believed [(p)], […] [it] would doubtless effect the way I behave” — Why is this doubtless?

            If one believes something to be true it increases the probability (but not potentiality) for said individual to act in accordance with such beliefs. For example, if you believes that no mortal man can kill you, this does not mean that we should expect some kind of predetermined outcome. However, we should expect certain behaviors to be far more prevalent (in this case it wouldn’t seem out of place to expect a increased probability of very risky, danger disregarding behavioral norms).

            You continue by quoting me again: “I am aware of no arguments by which such a presupposition could possibly be substantiated”,
            And then say: the lack of exposure to the arguments for a case is not itself an argument against the case.

            Absolutely agree with you here. I wasn’t using my ignorance of other arguments as a argument itself, I was merely stating that I was open to other arguments.

            I do hope my response doesn’t cause further complications between you and your cigarette.

    2. I agree with you. But there are two common usages of the word atheist, that with a capital A and that with a lower case a. Either way it isn’t really pertinent to the overall point of my article and I see now I shouldn’t have included it – I did so merely due to the fact that I’ve always found atheist/atheism to be a superfluous label.

  3. I genuinely don’t want to get caught up in the conversation, just adding a relevant point.

    Atheists are, themselves superstitious. The religious treat their assumption of the existence of the “divine” as fact. Atheists treat their assumption of “divine” nonexistence as a fact. That’s the core of superstition. The only correct answer is the one most people are psychologically challenged by holding – “I don’t fucking know, and I have to think for myself, like an adult.”

  4. This is a little deep in the weeds, but related:

    The airy nothing of naming

    It is not really true that “ the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names,” as Confucius said. The beginning of wisdom is to center on the thing rather than the name of the thing. The “permanence,” “idealism,” and “spiritualism ” of names and ideas has been a falsehood perpetuated by centering on the names of things rather than the thing-itself, religious gurus and philosophers from the Vedas to Plato, Aquinas, Kant and Heidegger have perpetuated this falsehood.

    The thing-itself in both religion and philosophy has been mistaken for a name or symbol only. This led to the apotheosis of naming when God was given a spiritual-only, non-material name, or idea, or symbol, and not seen as a living or future living material/supermaterial object or objects. This does not mean that God is rejected, it means that the name of Godhood needs to be transformed from a mere spiritual name or idea into a living or future material/supermaterial living thing, object, or objects.

    This describes the basic foundation of the religion, philosophy, ontology and epistemology of theological materialism, which can bring together religion, philosophy, science and politics again.

    ( from )

  5. It’s a neat political trick which almost never universally applied by those who employ it. If you’re an Islamist it’s “I may disagree with what you believe, but you are still an independent person.”. However, if you’re a right-wing ‘extremist’ then it’s “You’re an awful person.”.

    Conservatives fall for it all the time unfortunately.

    1. Very nicely put, Octavian. I was going to include that very comparison but wanted to keep things short and to the point. Kind of feel I should have now.

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