Binary

2Johns

 

One of my favorite books is Alice in Wonderland, and its sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass. Like so many children, I grew up with the stories and could recite “You Are Old, Father William” by heart by the age of six. And even at that young age I realized that although so much of the story was called nonsense, there was a special kind of sense that hid behind the silly things that were said and done. I still like to browse through it from time to time, to see what new nuance I can pick up.

One of my favorite characters in Through the Looking Glass is the White Knight and not just because I look rather like him. Personally, I think I’m more like the Mad Hatter. In any case, I have always thought the foolish old White Knight with the song he sang for Alice was one of the nicer characters she ran into. But it is not the song I want to talk about, but rather what the White Knight said about it.

“It’s long,” said the Knight, “but it’s very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it – either it brings tears to their eyes or else –“

            “Or else what?” said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

            “Or else it doesn’t, you know.”  

And that is the wisdom of the White Knight. It isn’t either or. It isn’t black or white. If they don’t cry, it doesn’t mean that they laugh. It just means that they don’t cry. They could smile. They could yawn. They could hum a little of the tune. They could do anything.

As an artist I know that you can make an image using just black and white, but though it might be recognizable, it will lack fullness, it will not have depth. Because it is only by the careful use of grey that you get anything like an image that shows the fall of light, the subtlety of shadow, the truth of form. So thinking that the opposite of white is black is not something I do. If it’s not white, it’s any of five shades of gray. Because I find five grays and black and white are about the minimum to show the full picture.It’s even more obvious if you think about color. Though the complement of green is red, no one would say “her hair is either red or green.” That would just be stupid. Yes, green and red are located opposite each other on a traditional color wheel. And added together they make a kind of greyish brown if you are using paint. But they are not opposites. They aren’t even alternatives. They are part of a continuum.

In fact, although for artistic purposes it is useful to divide the colors of the spectrum into six primaries and secondaries like the rainbow flag, in reality there are thousands of hues between red and violet on the spectrum. They blend into each other, in fine gradients that your eye can’t actually distinguish.

And speaking of the rainbow flag, that is inaccurate at best; far too simple. As a cis male I have been accused of being gay. My wife is a woman from Mars. My friends are whatever they chose to be, and any good biologists will tell you that male and female are not clearly defined, and certainly aren’t the only alternatives.

Either you are male….. or you’re not. And just how male is up to you. Because I for one don’t have the knowhow to lay down the law on what you are. Only you know that – maybe. People simply aren’t limited to binary distinctions.

At some point after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, then President George W. Bush made a statement that “If you aren’t with us, you are against us.” But that doesn’t follow at all. I can be with you about looking for the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, and against invading Iraq for no reason connected with the attack. I can agree with you about invading Iraq, but think banning every member of the previous government from holding office is a stupid, counterproductive move that will cause chaos and leave the country in ruins. There are all kinds of ways in which I can agree with you while still withholding complete support. That’s what is meant by being an ally. Allies work with you, not for you.

Can I be anti-Nazi and still think it is necessary to talk to people who might be naive enough to agree with some pretty far out things? Do I think it’s right for a Nazi to punch you? No. Will I protect you, if I can, from such violence? Yes. Do I think you should punch every Nazi? No. And this does not make me a Nazi, because anyone who punches someone is a dick. And two dicks are just twice as many dicks as one.

Because it isn’t either / or.

It isn’t this or that.And it never was.

You can’t rewrite history to suit your views. The soldiers of the Southern Confederacy were not all heros nor were they all despicable bastards. They were people, as we all are, who do things for the best of all reasons and for the worst of all reasons. People who were brave and foolish and easily led and greedy and generous and alive, and now they are dead. There were members of the Wehrmacht who were fighting for justice by their way of thinking.  I am sure there were soldiers on the Persian side of Thermopylae who thought the Greeks were real sods. And their families back home on the banks of the Euphrates thought they were the heros. But people are neither this nor that. They never are.

Politics isn’t binary.

Gender isn’t binary.

Race isn’t anything like binary.

People aren’t binary.

Unless you want to say that there are two types of people in the world. Those that think there are two types of people in the world……. and everybody else. And just possibly, those who are dicks. And all the rest.

 

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