“Are you on the bus, or off the bus?” Ken Kesey
I have been astonished recently at the disparagement of what is called ‘binary thinking.’ You know, the sort of thinking people do when distinguishing between themselves and that other person, also on the tennis court, but on the other side of the net.
This criticism is largely used when referring to a person’s personal gender identification. It would be rude to assign such to another person, despite the obvious clues on display when a newborn baby is about to receive that first slap on its bottom. Mere physical fact is so passé. And is that sex assigned? Or just noted?
Nowadays one’s gender self-assignment is only limited by your imagination. No one has been able to annotate all the proliferating qualifiers. I cannot keep track. Color me sieve-sexual.
These days, even facts cannot be counted on to be objectively true. People declare ‘the science to be settled.’ Science doesn’t settle things, though. It asks questions incessantly and seeks to disprove. Considering the vehemence with which it is often declared, ‘settled science’ appears to be just a euphemism for ‘faith.’
BTW, sorry to be writing this on a computer. I know. So binary.
(I once asked a computer programmer if he knows of anyone who writes code comedy. Code Poetry? What rhymes with zero? Nothing.)
“Oh, but I don’t have your number.”
“That’s okay. Just use one you like.”
Unlike facts, feelings have nuance – feelings shift and morph and transform. Binary thinking is so specific, either this or that. We (as opposed to ‘they’) prefer fluidity as opposed to solidity. Oops! There goes that binary thinking again.
Jungian psychology identified the male/female continuum within each of us. (For instance, I like it when my wife… oh, never mind.) But Jung isn’t being taught any longer. Do feminists resent having to share a continuum with men? They want it all. I recently read that some feminists have declared that one cannot be both a feminist and a conservative. How binary is that?
“Who are you talking about?”
“That two-spirited, non-binary, half-caff, cis-gendered, non-dairy person with a twist, over there.”
“That narrows it down, but… you mean that man?”
“Yeah, with the coffee.”
I want to ask the protester pictured holding a sign calling for ‘no more borders’ why, if borders are obsolete, they want to stay here so badly.
To be honest, binary thinking predominates because it is just so darned convenient. Yes/no.
Should I stop? Start?
Fall in or out of love? Oops, binary.
Slippery slope? Binary.
Non-binary? Yep. Binary.
Language is made up of distinctions. Try to define your terms without identifying what something is not.
They are descriptive words after all. Not meant to plumb the depths of your soul. And, in the spirit of privacy (remember that?) you don’t need the government in your bedroom. Nor do you need to squeeze your ever evolving sense of identity onto that tiny ID card issued by the state.
Proto-Indo-European (the Mother of all languages) only identified black, red and green as colors. Not much nuance there. Some cultures do not distinguish between green and blue. Is that unitary thinking? Or just lazy?
I am not against nuance. That would be nuance as opposed to… what?
Black/white? Ahh… but what about grey? Yes, what about grey? Is that a cool grey? Or a warm grey?
Is the world more nuanced than a one or a zero? Of course. I have eight other fingers to keep occupied holding the smart phone whilst my thumbs text.
But I think trying to get a four year old to grasp the nuances of gender fluidity, when they can barely form sentences is a bridge too far.
Interestingly, one distinction many love to make is between Fascism and Communism, which to my un-nuanced eye, seem to have more in common than not.
And is there anything more binary than agreement/racist? The best answer I’ve heard (on the radio) to the question of race is there is only the human color – melanin, in various shades.
Beige? Wheat? Some distinctions really do not have a difference.
Where would deconstruction be without construction?
Ugly/pretty obviously has the nuance of pretty ugly.
Yin/yang carries the seed of its opposite within it. This implies change over time. Life is not static. Even stasis is not static. And thankfully, an entity as complicated as a person cannot be reduced to mere ones and zeros. Yet.
But by way of a short hand reference to a quality or behavior, there may be nothing better. Or worse?
Some philosophies attempt to embrace the unity of all things. I’m told one cannot achieve Nirvana without sloughing off binary thinking. Of course, achieving Nirvana is impossible if one wants to ‘achieve’ anything. And to even consider ‘binary thinking’ at all, ensures you will never achieve Nirvana. Pity the poor enlightened soul who remembers there are those who are not enlightened.
In my 3rd grade class was my first introduction to New Math – my first exposure to binary thinking as a concept. I had never heard of computers. Why would anyone want to use only ones and zeros? It made little sense to me. Such a limited palette. I have come to appreciate just how dependent we all are on it. Is binary thinking so pervasive, it is the ultimate unitary mode of thought?
“War is peace.” George Orwell
Must one be in denial to think all things are unified and undifferentiated? Embrace the denial.
I’ve tried to be clear. Perhaps you see it differently.
I’m going to turn up the stereo and celebrate. Viva la difference!