When I was young and songs came on vinyl and record shops abounded, people tended to be either Rolling Stones or Beatles fans. It was rare to be both.

Stones fans gravitated towards grittier, unkempt looking bands like The Pretty Things, The Loved Ones and others of that ilk, whereas Beatles fans tended to go for the more melodic sounds of The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Harry Nilsson and so on. Stones fans insisted their guys were the real deal and regarded the Beatles and others like them as manufactured ‘pretty boys’. It was all nonsense, of course, but teenage fans are like that.

A similar rift divided Donovan fans from Dylan fans. At the risk of over simplifying, this, too, was pretty much a case of gentle versus gritty. Then, when Dylan segued from acoustic to electric guitar, his ‘folkie’ fans accused him of betrayal and their outrage bordered upon hatred.

Their immovable bloody mindedness, like those determinedly divided over Stones and Beatles music, had me shaking my head in wonder at the time. I did not understand it.

Now I do.

I now know such inflexibility is be part and parcel of the human condition. We can be unfathomably myopic and entrenched in our likes and dislikes and, frankly, it’s getting in the way of the world.

While those who have inflexible attitudes to music and food bemuse me — they hate jazz, loathe country, can’t stand Lebanese or Chinese food and so on — in the main, such self-inflicted prejudices are harmless and only inflict limitations on the closed minded individuals.

What is less harmless, in fact positively dangerous, is when this same attitude is applied to politics and society in general. By this I mean when we are determinedly left or right wing and only see issues in black or white.

You see and hear examples of this everyday, in everything from talkback radio and tabloid newspapers to heated discussions around the water cooler.

People seem incapable of finding the middle ground on so many things. And this lack of flexibility and balance creates irrational divisiveness.

The US, for instance, is not so much strapped by financial ineptitude and arrogant imperialism as it is by the complete failure of the nation to take a bipartisan approach to anything. Obama’s idealistic ‘Yes We Can’ was doomed to failure in a land polarised by entrenched political points of view. There is no ‘we’ in a land so determinedly ‘us and them.’ The voices of reason who appeal for balance, and there are many, are drowned out by extremists on either side. And it now seems likely that the next administration will almost certainly see a return to ultra-conservatism and the extremes of misguided Christian- based Evangelism. God help us.

While not subject to radical religious undertones, this unbalanced divisiveness is also rampant in Australia where politics has once again deteriorated into a slanging match, which I often hear echoed in the ill-considered and largely vacuous remarks of people around me.

Breathtakingly shallow generalisations hold that anyone who believes in climate change, or wants to see an end the inhumane live animal export trade, or cautions against the dangers of fracking must surely be a commerce-hating socialist determined to put and end to free enterprise and society as we know it.

Listen to some and you’d believe all the current problems in the world’s economy, can be blamed on Greenies and their sympathisers.

To these people, valid concerns about the conscienceless, greed and dishonesty of a significant section of the financial industry, or the proven examples of rampant environmental irresponsibility by chemical companies or oil and gas exploration companies, can’t hold a candle their fear and loathing of ‘unemployed, tree huggers’.

And when a Liberal politician, like Malcolm Turnbull, takes a different view to that of his fellow party members, the general reaction is that he is a traitor and in the wrong party.

Why?

Because, it seems, you cannot be a capitalist with an environmental conscience and a balanced point of view.

Oh, yes, you can! I am and I do.

Then again, I liked both the Stones and the Beatles.

John Hanlon, September 2011