Thursday, July 28, 2011

Black and white, good and bad

Claude Levi-Strauss, a French anthropologist who died last year, did much of his analysis of the world through the lens of a theory called binary oppositions.  It basically state that society is composed of binary pairs of ideas that are polar opposites and that a mediating third runs the gamut between the poles.

I have a hard time with binary pairs and thinking about the world in therm of black and white.  Why?  Because it flattens out the landscapes of the mind and turns the millions of shades of colors into grey.  Take a black and white photograph (taken on black and white film in a old camera), it may be beautiful and compelling to look at, but it lacks the flavor of reality.  It diminishes the experience of actually being there.  Yes, of course, it conveys a taste of the ideas and the moment, but ultimately, it's flat and grey.  A color photograph comes closer, but still the image is not fleshed out and tangible.  This is what binary opposition does.

When we think about things in terms of the either/or model, we effectively destroy all other options.  It makes all decisions, no matter how complex, wrong or right, yes or no, good or bad.  It diminishes our capacity for creativity and reasoning.  It allows no flexibility, and we are all aware that being rigid leaves you open to breakage.

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