Something that we love to do as humans is to put things in boxes. And we love to decide what is in the box and what is not in the box. And then we give a name to each of those things and pretend that instead of it being a box it is some completely implicit natural occurrence that separates the things in the box from the things outside the box.
I was talking with my partner tonight and thinking, and I can't think of something that is genuinely, actually, implicitly binary.
I have this idea that most of what we think are binaries are actually what I'm calling Lexical binaries. That is that they are binary as a function of our language and lexicon rather than because it is something naturally observable and confirm-able.
For instance: Day and Night. It is day whenever the sun is illuminating the place where we are. It is night whenever the sun is not illuminating the place where we are. For most people this seems perfectly natural. But it's actually much more complicated. When the moon is in the night sky, we are being illuminated by the reflected light of the sun, yet it is night time. When there is a solar eclipse we lose the light of the sun, yet we still consider it daytime. We have dawn and dusk which are neither observably day nor observably night.
It turns out that we know whether it is day or night based on when the sun has set or when it rises. It officially becomes day after sunrise and night after sunset. But this is a line that we've created so that we can have a nice comfortable distinction between day and night.
And more importantly, the system of day/night is, like many of our binaries, actually a temporal function rather than an attributive function.
What I mean is that day and night are both states based on time. They are not attributes of a thing. And many of our apparent binaries are the same. They are temporal or lexical creations rather than implicit facts.
- On | Off
- Open | Closed
- Secure | Insecure
- Educated | Uneducated
- Young | Old
- Living | Dead
To be honest, almost every binary I think of is temporal with two exceptions.
The first is choice. Yes and No. That said, Yes and No IS a lexical binary. Many times you will hear someone say "Yes but." or "No, but" or "Yes, and..." This is because the lexical idea of consent is rigid and doesn't account for the variants people actually experience and communicate.
The second is the whopper. Gendering. Feminine | Masculine. This is the biggest offender and the most troublesome. Not only is it lexical, it's also not useful in a taxonomic manner. Since masculine and feminine are ascribed to so many things, and so many things can have elements which are masculine alongside elements which are feminine, the system becomes useless for any purpose other than comforting misogyny.
The truth is, gender is an incredibly complex topic. I can't hope to give it any sort of fair treatment. What I can say is that it is NOT binary, and those who treat it as a binary are rejecting a great deal of the complexity and beauty of the world.
And that is one of my biggest beefs with many modern pagans. We force things into boxes we already know instead of exploring what we don't understand.