My husband and I solved all of the world’s problem’s over crepes this morning.
Don’t panic, no one was listening, so we won’t be imposing our world view on anyone anytime soon.
I’m not going to bore you with the details or rehash the whole long, sometimes heated, discussion. I’m going to jump straight to the ultimate conclusion.
Binary is no way to run a society.
All of these binary choices leave out any room for interpretation, for circumstance, for grey areas, for creativity, for uncertainty, for the full spectrum of options and choices and needs and desires – The binary leaves no room for the technicolor rainbow experience of life.
This binary code of morals and ethics and choices leaves no wiggle room for individuality and it begins to erode people’s sense of responsibility, for themselves – and for others. After all, you can turn your back on an enemy. Even if they’re also your neighbor.
Our world is not black and white – it is not even shades of grey. It really is a full spectrum rainbow of thoughts, experiences, choices and deeds. And we are not isolated islands. Everything we do has ripple effects throughout our communities of family, friends, neighbors, towns, states and countries. The butterfly effect doesn’t just apply to butterflies. We are part of chaos theory too. How we act, and react has consequences. And if we are acting and responding on these limited binary terms, we are missing the fuller picture.
This came up during my presentation on sex and sexuality in Young Adult literature at the Colorado Teen Literature Conference yesterday (more on that in a future blog).
It came up in a discussion on our society’s insistence on a gender binary. Male/Female
The truth is – it’s not so clear-cut. One of the books I talked about (Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger) poses the question this way – put Sylvester Stalone the ultimate man’s man on one side of a football field. Put Marilyn Monroe, the ultimate femme fatale on the other. Then ask everyone to place themselves along that spectrum.
When I thought about this experiment for just myself and where I would stand (very near the middle, for the record) it really opened my eyes. Because even in doing this, I felt my brain go through a series of binary check points of masculine/feminine traits. And I realized that the process itself, the process of determining what is masculine and what is feminine, is itself fallacious. I cook most of the meals in my household, this is still seen as a feminine trait. Unless I was a chef, which is still largely seen as a masculine profession… I love science, which is seen as masculine – unless it’s the life sciences, which are somehow more feminine…
And of course, the binary changes over time. 50 years ago the fact that I not only work outside the home, but own my own company would have been seen as masculine – now that is gender neutral, thus showing that our ideas of what defines us as Male or Female changes over time. As do the other binaries.
Hitting your children to discipline them used to be solidly in the Yes/Good/Right column. By current broad societal standards, it has shifted into the No/Bad/Wrong column.
The other thing this binary code has done is limit our responses. When there was more room for color, there were multiple responses available to any given circumstance. Now we are reduced to automatons deciding whether to keep walking or call the police.
As we run our yes/no on/off calculations deciding whether to intervene or not, intervention all too often means calling the police.
This is because of a false binary of “not my business”/”criminal”. It also results from the fact that all too often there is no one to call before we call the police. There isn’t an intermediate step. If you know that your mentally ill neighbor has gone off their meds and they are starting to act in aggressive and threatening ways, in many, many places in our country, there is no one to call but the police. And the police will tell you that there is nothing they can do unless your neighbor actually harms someone – unless they become a criminal. Because police too operate in binary. To them people fall into two categories – criminal/non-criminal and only one requires action.
In a perfect world, we would have a rainbow of options with “look the other way” at one end of the football field and “call the police/create a criminal” at the other. In the middle there could be such options as, talk to your neighbor, call a mediator, call a crisis councilor, call a mental health professional who can offer this person a rainbow of options from conversation to counselling to institutionalization and beyond… Now some people will yell that some of these options violate this person’s right to privacy. That I am setting up a slippery slope. After all who decides what is criminal intent and what requires institutionalization and… Perhaps this is true. But I think I would rather live on a slippery slope where police intervention and criminalization were the LAST resort, rather than on a flat plain where calling the police was the first/only response.
To me, getting the police involved is far more invasive and threatening than asking someone to speak to your neighbor and see if they need help. Perhaps something has happened to them and they can’t afford their meds anymore. Perhaps they are going through a rough patch and they need extra support. But we shouldn’t have to wait until they become a criminal to act. Then it is not only too late for whoever they harm, it is also too late for them. Shouldn’t we be able to offer support instead of jail?
I think of the woman who sat in her front yard while her children rode their scooters around their cul-de-sac. Her neighbor could not see the woman sitting out front and only saw these lone children scooting around unattended. She called the police and reported her neighbor for child neglect. They arrived, and without asking questions, arrested the mother, in front of her children, and took her to jail before learning that nothing criminal had happened. This binary response resulted in the near criminalization of a mother, and the erosion of trust in police and the legal system in the children. It set the police as a Them to be fought against, rather than part of Us, there to protect and serve.
I can’t change the world, or the legal system, or society at large. I am just one lone nut (albeit a lone nut with a very supportive and similarly nutty husband) – but I can ask you to be aware of your own actions and reactions. I can ask us all to try to break free of the binary Flight/Fight response.
After all, we are not living in a black and white world. We are, in fact, surrounded by rainbows.