Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It may not be that simple

[Yesterday's post was created when I was feeling overstuffed with ideas, pleas, plans, needs and other concepts.  I was planning to use a blank rectangle but some mishandling of the software gave me a look at an "open-ended" rectangle, which suited my mood and maybe expressed in a (confusing?) way my aim to simply be still, observant, open and absorbing.]

Today, I am onto David Cannadine's "Our Undivided Past".  I have listened to about 12% of it.  He is a professional historian and has tried to collect evidence that

  • class,

  • race,

  • religion,

  • sex,

  • nationality, and

  • civilization

have never been as sharp and powerful at dividing people into opposing groups as many writers have claimed.  He provides documentation on Muslims and Christians helping over more than one thousand years.

He has focused on oppositional binaries, A and ~A, Us and Them.  Whenever I hear of binary oppositions, I think of some lines I read in "Jitterbug Perfume", by that clever nut of a writer, Tom Robbins.  His binary distinction is unusual:

"There are people in this world who can wear whale masks and people who cannot, and the wise know to which group they belong."

If a person is aware of statistics and nature, it is possible to see nearly any binary distinction as a bit arbitrary. There are almost always cases that don't fit into one or the other.  Stat students sometimes have a little difficulty thinking in binary terms about a continuous variable.  It is usually possible to divide a population into those over 6 feet high and those who are not.  But the famous "real world" is tricky and doesn't use binary, trinary, or other classes neatly. There are undoubtedly living people who were over six feet tall but now are no longer.  There are people who are not six feet tall now but will grow to be. Nature and time are tricky and difficult to pin down.

We normally think of sex and being alive as two very clear-cut variables.  You are a male or a female.  You are alive or you are not.  But on the other hand, we know there are cases of sexually ambiguous people who may be somewhere between or in both groups.  We know that as we magnify the matter, it can be difficult to decide whether a person has reached the state of death or not.  And, of course, we know how much debate and energy goes into considering the question of when a new human is actually alive and when that state has not yet been reached.

I know it is hard to go through life doubting every damned thing and it is hard to be a committed believer or accepter of a story or idea or notion.  Personally, I try to strike a balance between acceptance and skepticism. I don't think it is necessary to go as far as some logic from India that says, not as the West has, that any meaningful statement is either true or not true, but asserts that a statement could be

  • True

  • Not true

  • Both true and not true

  • Neither true nor not true.

However, when using a binary variable or distinction, the wise person takes the two classes with a grain of salt.

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