Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dialogue: Dichotomies

Ethan: There are so many important dichotomies, it's hard to list them all. But beginning near the top, in terms of collectively understood and recognized, you have:
  • Man and Woman
  • Straight and Gay
  • Alpha and Beta
  • Extravert and Introvert
  • Active and Passive
  • Proactive and Reactive
  • Paternal and Maternal
  • Self and Other
  • Parent and Child
And the list goes on. I have one more that I've come to really like. It's sort of a combination between a few of the ones I just listed, but somehow it gets at the heart of things more quickly in my eyes: 
  • Hold and Held
I'll get into why that's my favorite dichotomy in a moment. But first, there are a number of points I wish to make about dichotomies.

There is clear importance to the concept. The number two has vast physical and emotional significance. Even as I proudly call myself a Monist, I often wonder if I am really a Dualist. Perhaps the universe is really two things:
  • Light and Matter
  • Heat and Cool
  • Death and Life
But I also recognize a number of problems with dichotomies. The first is that they are often imagined. Things aren't ever so much split down the middle as they are somewhere on a spectrum. Even a very basic difference, like gender, is simply a collection of attributes. My manliness is determined by the presence of cock and balls, an abundance of hair in all the right places, a deep voice, etc. Some people have less of these attributes than others, and so they would be further to the Womanly side of the spectrum. The other point is that you can take these things away and actually move someone in one direction on the spectrum. So identity is not so much determined by a single phenomenon which is (dare I say it?): a body without organs. It is rather determined by a multiplicity contained within a seemingly single body. (note to the reader: the body without organs is a concept developed in the book, A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze & Guattari)

The next problem I have with dichotomies is that they are often inappropriately aligned. I'm not sure if you noticed this, but I tried to align my list so that the traits that are often correlated appear in the same column. To be sure, some of them (like Gay and Straight) do not fit within the paradigm. But all the stuff about gender activity should be apparent. Men are seen as more dominant, more active, more likely to hold rather than be held. But this alignment of traits is historical and cultural, rather universal. It was an accident of evolution that made us this way. Only, we're already discovering the flaws in that system. Men can be hunters if they have to, but if they don't have to, then they won't always. I think that when we speak of Masculinity and Femininity as distinct identities, we fail to recognize the shifting nature of these concepts. We fail to see that the future will bring with it new paradigms. Gender could disappear in a world where reason, progress, and ethics are dominant values over survival, self-sufficiency, and pleasure. 

And lastly, the projected correlation of dichotomies, which turns into a projected causality in the feeble human mind, leads to the misappropriation of values. What makes a good Man or Woman? Men are strong. Women are supportive. Etcetera. But these values are beginning to break down. In an ideal world, Women can be strong and Men can be supportive. Which brings me back to Hold and Held. Love works best when both partners hold each other and allow themselves to be held. Much of the physicality of love (hugging, kissing, intercourse) are variations of holding and being held. To me, this is where our values ought to lie. We ought to approach the world, and more importantly our relationships, with this difference in mind. "Let me hold you. Not because I am a Man and you are a Woman. But because I love you and I want to protect you." And in the same breath I recognize that my holding her is really the same as her holding me. And our mutual being held is the same as when we were children being held by our parents, the same as when we hold our children. And all I want to do is enter this eternal cycle and be held by it.

Zach: Much of Jung's psychology is based on "opposites". The first of the Seven Sermons to the Dead contains a list of ten pairs:

Also, I happen to know that the Pythagoreans held ten such pairs in high esteem:

These are good things to know before approaching this topic. And I do like the approach you're taking with it - questioning the value of opposites. I did two lectures on my YouTube channel, called the Masculine and the Feminine principles, where I suggest that the very act of dividing and separating (e.g., into pairs of opposites) is associated with the Masculine Principle, whereas the act of uniting or leaving undivided is Feminine. This is somewhat controversial as it defines Masculine and Feminine entirely in terms of philosophical ideas rather than of biology. These are here:

I really like Hold and Held - that seems a new pair. It contains parts of other ideas, but is perhaps more direct and understandable.

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