Non binary politics.

The term non-binary has been adopted in gender politics. It's controversial but a 'non-binary gender' rejects the duality of being either male or female. This logic leads to words like "ze" which refers to neither "he" not "she". Unlike androgyny, where one combines aspects of both, the aspiration is to an identity which does not consistently conform at all.

Leaving aside the other controversies regarding this, and there are many, the biggest difficulty for most is that to accept this argument you must accept gender as a 'social construct', a description of behaviours, rather than genetics. Your position on this debate usually comes down to your accepting the terms "he" or "she" have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual organs.

In this sense probably most of us are 'non-binary' on a small scale, over our lives our behaviour usually varies. The cultural definitions of gender have their extremes, the "girly girl" or "man's man" but those are the exceptions, generally most people fit somewhere in between. Furthermore, where you are on this spectrum may change over time, even if it's just that as a boy you used to quite like the colour pink or, as a grown woman, you develop a love for playing five aside football.

The difficulty for a non-binary relates to admitting it. This is because, in terms of gender, we've evolved with a need to identify humans we can mate with. Binary human sexuality allows us to understand people in a specifically productive way. In practical terms, if you want to make a baby, half the population is unable to cooperate with you. Given the limited time available to do that it's incredibly useful to split people into two types, those who can help you and those who cannot.

This is the advantage of binary thinking, it saves time and energy. Dividing things into categories simplifies the complexities of the world into manageable chunks of information. It controls information by limiting it; the very essence of rational thought. Without this the western world would not have advanced into the industrial revolution and certainly could not have made it into the digital age.

Binary processing is an essential part of digital technology, particularly computers. All of them use forms of binary code, a process whereby a string of eight units using only 0's and 1's can represent 256 possible values, resulting from different combinations of those numbers. Recently, as computers increase their processing power the limits of binary are becoming more and more abstract. Nowadays we can use it to simulate a reality that our audio or visual senses can almost be convinced by. For example, if you have music on in the background as you read this, it's likely to be digital sound. Again it's using just two units arranged into complex patterns.

Here the limits of binary can be understood. Despite the fact that from one perspective it maybe shouldn't be, analogue sound is still better quality. In part this is why vinyl records continue to sell but CDs are becoming obsolete. The difference is that a vinyl record is recorded by physically cutting the record to vary in direct correspondence to the air pressure generated by the original sound. Even the bits of the audio we cannot hear are recorded by this process. Theoretically the process can almost precisely match the original sound wave, with nothing missing.

Digital sound does not do this; it saves time by ignoring frequencies beyond the capacity of the human ear. That was one of it initial technical innovations, to remove information and call it progress. This is done to save space on the CD. Furthermore the recording process changed the physical properties of the sound into a series of snapshots which are then fired at you in pulses rather than a continuous sound. A CD for example uses 44,100 of these snapshots per second. The human ear, as we understand it, should not be able to hear the difference, just as a human eye cannot see the fast flicker of a television screen but instead sees it as a constant moving image.

To visually explore the limits of binary thinking, picture the curve of someone's smile in a digital photograph. Now zoom in and notice that curve is made of 'pixels', lots of tiny squares. It's rigid, not the fluid curves and additional details you'd expect to find in reality were you to focus a microscope on an actual human face. In other words, binary thinking tricks us into accepting a world which works superficially but is in fact less complicated and poorer than the one it describes. Anyone who thinks purely in 'binary' about anything misses out by accepting a superficial copy of the real world.

Madness is best described as an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Psycho dynamic theory[1] has a term to describe binary thought, it's called "splitting". It's seen as a defence mechanism, usually learnt in childhood and often brought on by stressful situations. Teenagers and young people are particularly susceptible to it. People become either good or evil in the mind of someone splitting, there's no middle ground.

Defence mechanisms are the mind's subconscious way of helping you avoid pain. The ambiguities inherent in reality can be deeply upsetting. It's sometimes less emotionally difficult to live in a world of villains and heroes. Very bad people can be dismissed or destroyed without feelings of guilt, just as you can overlook the faults of a thoroughly good person. Nuance is the friend of truth but the truth can sometimes be difficult to take. Sometimes, for example, it might be more painful to admit your parents are neither all good nor all bad but in fact human and therefore multifaceted individuals with strengths and weaknesses.

However, perhaps rightly, you're unlikely to get far trying to point this out to someone who suffered highly stressful abusive treatment during their childhood. The anxiety at the memory of mistreatment and pain is too great for them to experience nuanced truth regarding their abusers.

Defence mechanisms work subconsciously and are exacerbated by anxiety so those who use them often cannot see them. Furthermore the worse someone's situation the more they rely upon them to escape emotional pain and the more blind they become to their situation. The same is true in the history of nations as is true in the life of an individual. Adolf Hitler was unlikely the caricatured evil archetype we have in our popular culture today but it'd be unwise to try to explain that to a victim of one of his concentration camps. Western society reacts to him, and the Second World war, with perfectly understandable instances of splitting.

The art of mass communication is simplicity. Politics, in a democracy, gives power to those who speak to the most. This is why it has always been the domain of the binary thinker, a clear symptom of this is the split we have between left and right.

Furthermore, the more stressful the times the more extreme these splits and the more remote from reality political discourse will get. It's a cliche but The Nazis used the collapse of post war Germany in order to gain power, just as Donald Trump uses the failures of multiculturalism, religious tolerance and globalisation to achieve his position. I'm not making a dull comparison in an attempt to get you to split on me here, I'm just noting that those two were great at making things seem simple, articficial, digital.

If anything is a social construct it's politics. Precisely the same arguments, as applied to gender, work equally well as regards political ideology but here they're even more effective as there is no plausible suggestion your vote is genetically determined. Additionally, as with extremes of gender, there's a broad spectrum between right wing conservatism and left wing communism. Mostly people fit into somewhere in between and few are in the same position on that spectrum for every issue in life. Furthermore, the non-binary would point out, there's a number of different political directions you can move in which include neither polarity. To illustrate this the authoritarians and anarchists add another direction to the left versus right spectrum by asking if your ideas move us forwards, toward more Government power, or backwards, away from state control.

Fundamentally politics is about control. As splitting appeals on a subconscious level it's a great way to manipulate people without them realising it. You personally becoming conscious of it, if you weren't already, is a first step toward the technique becoming less effective. Furthermore, just as being non-binary sexually can protect you from the beady eyed affections of a would-be mate by making it harder for them to spot you in a crowd, a similar advantage exists for the politically non-binary as the effect upon politicians is the same. Those who are neither left wing nor right declare themselves a tricky target for a leader keen to plant his controlling seed in their mind. In a democracy those faithful to one side or the other often end up 'getting taken advantage of'[2] whereas so called swing voters always hold a disproportionate level of power.

Some people have an issue with non-binary thought in that it less frequently gives birth to action. For example, we often do not vote. On the other hand the non-binary political philosopher is generally not prone to violence in the name of a particular cause because that requires an 'evil villain' to be your target. Here it's worth mentioning that often we are also in favour of free speech because to exclude political expression requires a form of splitting.

Because of this, those of us who identify this way politically must engage and speak out against attempts to limit self expression, even if it's not a perspective we agree with. In doing so we should also debate with them using our unique perspective because collectively we're likely far closer to reality than the simplistic world view offered by either the 'left' or 'right'. The example of Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler is useful here because, although there are superficial similarities, only someone splitting would think them both exactly the same. Pointing that out may be useful to others if they're unaware they're being manipulated. The same goes for the targets of the right wing, they are also complicated and neither all good nor all bad.

In stressful times it's difficult to be honest about being politically non-binary but personally I intend to redouble my efforts. We still very much have principles and beliefs, we're just not all on one page. We're spread out all over the place agreeing with you left wingers and right wingers on occasion and disagreeing elsewhere. We have perspectives which are both authentic and unique, just like you. Why not come join us and leave the straights behind?


[1] I've read like one book on it, makes me an expert. Oh dear. Still interesting idea eh? Go wikipedia it.
[2] F'kd. I'm saying politicans will ultimately f'k you.


David said…
best post yet on this re-boot. great description of analogue v digital audio in the most unexpected context!

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