Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Preserving the spectra

A debate has now come to mean choosing a side created by the line in the sand. It is "us" versus "them". They are "wrong", and we are "right". They are polluting the environment and we are protecting it. They are pro-life and we are pro-choice. They tote guns and we vouch for peace. We are identified by binaries and categories. Our degrees even bestow upon us one title...engineer, doctor, teacher, accountant. Are we not more than that to our government and its economy?

There are two divisions--one in our being, and one in our actions--and both are convolved with each other. The division in our being replaces collective responsibility and collaboration with personal interest and competition. Thus, our actions subsequently do not recognise the collectives of our communities, regions, and Earth. Us versus them makes togetherness virtually impossible. Where is the hand we reach out?

I have heard time and again that the world is not black and white, but rather, it is gray. That is an astute observation, until we have to describe the gray and we are left using words that still binarise, polarise, and reduce the world into categories. In binning the world, we have binned ourselves. And when it comes to issues that pertain to all of us, all of our homes, all of our watersheds, either you are on "our" side, or on "their" side. It seems as though we don't find it appealing to grapple with complexities of spectra. Grappling with spectra means admitting that, for example, neither Republicans nor Democrats represent the change we need to see in the world.

The power of words come from their ability to distinguish one thing from other things. A table identifies a table precisely because it is not a chair, a rose, a plastic water bottle, a book, a monitor. But there is no binary to a table. Is there an anti-table? I don't think so. Therefore, a table, and the word that associates the object to our understanding of it, is not likely polarising or binarising. Furthermore, something like a table has very little value judgement associated with it. What about words and issues that are ethical-and value-based?

My sense is that issues of the environment and sustainability are being addressed with this us versus them mentality. However, a more powerful ethic, a more meaningful dialogue is one which unfolds given the particularities of space and time, preserving the spectra found in the world. For example, while addressing issues of trash in India may be vastly different than how to address issues of trash in the US, can a common ethic, that of care and respect for the Earth obviate the need to address issues of ecological degradation? How might such an ethic get rid of binaries and boundaries and preserve the spectra?

A spectrum does two things: it not only shows difference, but also shows similarities in great detail. There exists a spectrum of everything, from sexuality to salinity in water to climate variations. Things just aren't one way or the other. That being said then, how can we change our diction to represent and respect the spectra that exist, rather than feeling compelled to differentiate between everything? I am not saying differences do not exist. Of course, the wavelength of green is distinct from the wavelength of violet, which is distinct from the wavelength of red. But merged together, the spectrum represents a wholeness, a fullness.

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