Binary Arguments and the Judgement of Solomon

Judgement of Solomon rafael

Binary arguments are the crack cocaine of human interactions. They are conversation killers and they serve only the interests of those who want to block co-operation and progress.

In the last few months, I have written several articles coining the not too popular term  “Men’s Rights Feminism.” My goal being to agitate for a conversation about the extremist elements in both feminism and the men’s rights movements. Elements that seem to lay claim to the two halves of the gender discussion. (The gender discussion, by the way, actually has 106 halves.)  Be that as it may, I am not seeking to open up a conversation BETWEEN these two binary camps, but instead ABOUT these binary camps and binary debates in general. This conversation I’m seeking is to be had by the rest of us.

Specifically, how do we stop privileging binary frames and ways of talking? And its an issue which is negatively impacting our personal, social and political discourses world wide. Binary arguments are the crack cocaine of human interactions. They are conversation killers and they serve only the interests of those who do not want to foster co-operation and progress.

It’s a central question for our media driven take down culture. Lets get back to the example of extremists in the Men’s Rights and Feminists camps.

For the record: I am not talking about the entire Feminism or Men’s Rights communities. Some of my best friends and closest ideological collaborators self identify as feminists. I do not. I do consider myself a person who is concerned with Men’s Rights issues (among many other things). My point is simple.  The two camps I’m talking about here are the extremist factions in those ideological groups. If you’re not an extremist, I’m not talking about you. Okay? And, of course, I’m not talking about you because nobody self identifies as an extremist, right? 

Right.

My point is, we must collectively push back against polarizing extremist voices. Otherwise, they control the conversation between men and women by virtue of their stridency and little else. They offer no path forward. They seek only to hammer each other into submission repeating over and over the litany of reasons why their side has it worse. It is a relentless victims lament. It a binary song of ideology gone stale.

The rest of us must take back these conversations if we are to to move forward in more collaborative and productive ways.

And that’s where the baby and the sword thing comes in handy. Because it contains a lesson about what people do out of  compassion vs. contempt.

Wikipedia has this to say about the Judgement of King Solomon.

In the Judgment of Solomon, two women came before Solomon to resolve a quarrel over which was the true mother of a baby. When Solomon suggested they should divide the living child in two with a sword, one woman said she would rather give up the child than see it killed. Solomon then declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, and gave the baby to her.

judgement babyI’m always a bit shocked at how this biblical scene is depicted. Often the baby is hanging upside down by one leg with a sword perilously close by. But its actually a pretty accurate parable for what happens when people fight over something they think they hold to be precious. What do I hold to be precious? What does the baby represent to me?

For me, the baby represents the miraculous power of conversation. The redemptive process by which we hear each other’s stories. The idea, by the way, that the Good Men Project was founded on.

The Judgement of Solomon contains a lesson for anyone who is in a dialogue, discussion, disagreement, or an argument, personal, political, religious or otherwise. Fully understanding the importance of conversation is tricky.  You have to see it as something that you are creating in partnership with others. You have to value the redemptive power that conversation and storytelling holds. That has to matter to you.

Conversations are relational. They are always created by more than one person. As such, they are the stuff of dreams. They can be magical. They can be very very powerful. Conversations are the way in which human beings evolve their thinking. They are the cosmic glue that keeps society from descending into chaos. They are what heals us and helps us grow.

So, back to the baby. The baby in the Judgement of Solomon represents the creative and connecting power of conversation. The subject can be a social justice issue, a relationship challenge, a political process, whatever you like. And here’s where it gets pretty straightforward. If you only care about your half of some argument you are holding up, if you only care about your half of the baby, then the baby is going to get torn in half.

And all the gifts that listening to each other brings will fail to materialize.

Dr. Kenneth Gergen of the Taos Institute puts it this way.

“Its not the care of individuals that counts the most. Its the care of relationships.”

The binary debates that plague us are the reason we have lost our forward momentum on a wide range of political and social issues. We must reject the angry ideological trench warfare that can define public discourses here at the GMP and else where. Solomon recognized extremism in the voice of a mother who would rather kill a baby than give it up. We can learn to recognize that madness, too.

Because the future of men and women is inexorably interlinked. We will all move forward together or we will all fail, together. To attack other genders is to attack ourselves, our children and our hope.

We must apply the wisdom of Solomon to the voices in our selves and those around us.

It’s time to start thinking about the baby. All the babies.

 

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene writes and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
Click here to read more GMP articles by Mark Greene. Get Mark's fully illustrated children's book FLATMUNDER for iPad from iTunes about kid's fears and the power of play. For kids ages 4-8.

Comments

  1. Ever feel like this ideal won’t happen because of a major binary view of the world, men being da oppressorrr and women being da victimzz held by SOOO MANY?

  2. Beautiful, Mark.

  3. I not sure you have a whole lot of knowledge about what’s driving the men’s movement.. Its for the most part mobilised against feminist jurisprudence and doctrine that discriminates against men and misrepresents reality.

    Also, the men’s movement also needs to be loud, because they are not being allowed to speak, as well as that advocating against feminist legislation that discriminates and the wilful misrepresentation of abuse and rape data, is miss-characterised as extremism, women hating etc,, even though its morally correct.

  4. My point is, we must collectivley deny the primacy of polarizing extremist voices. They have wrested control of the conversation between men and women by virtue of their stridency and little else. They offer no path forward. They seek only to hammer each other into submission repeating over and over the litany of reasons why their side has it worse. It is a relentless victims lament. It a binary song of ideology gone stale.
    I think one of the more damning ways the extremist views of one side is not only the extremists on a given side but those on the other side that choose to prioritized the extremists of the other side over other people that are on that side even up to and including actively ignoring non-extremists on the other side for the purpose of making generalized remarks.

    And over time that ignoring of non-extremists on the other side leads to the attitudes we see where all of a sudden the other side is nothing but extremists.

    The binary debates that plague us are the reason we have lost our forward momentum on a wide range of political and social issues. We must reject the angry ideological trench warfare that can define public discourses here at the GMP and else where. Solomon recognized extremism in the voice of a mother who would rather kill a baby than give it up. We can learn to recognize that madness, too.
    I think one big step in this is for people on all sides to recognize that someone who doesn’t share your exact veiwpoints must be someone that would rather kill the baby than give it up.

  5. John Anderson says:

    I think conversation is the key also. I know my life experience and of course my opinions will be affected by that lens. I don’t know the experiences of others. It’s beneficial to hear those experiences. It’s one reason I like GMP. As a general rule, it does not moderate on ideology. I think one of the keys to conversation is being able to agree on what reality is. If I say sky means fire and you say sky means rock, we can’t have a meaningful conversation. If one side says bodily autonomy is a right, but makes an exception for infant circumcision, how much of a right is it? If one side says rape involves penetration and the other side says it doesn’t,, victim olympics aside how do we gauge the impact of rape? Maybe that’s what your next article should be. Deciding on a common language.

    • To true John.

      There are very fundamental disagreements between the different sides in the gender discourse.

      How can you work to end all rape while at the same time arguing that being made to penetrate someone without your consent isn’t rape (and then turning around and having a field day with the “Legitimate rape” comment from last year)?

      How can you say that everyone’s bodily autonomy must be respected but at the same time say its okay to cut the genitals of baby boys and baby boys only?

      • Your opinions on rape are independent to feminist policy – which is to classify rape as penetrative and oppose legislation and definitions that include envelopment as rape and tell only one half of the story.

      • Mr Supertypo says:

        ” How can you say that everyone’s bodily autonomy must be respected but at the same time say its okay to cut the genitals of baby boys and baby boys only? ”

        I agree GM is child abuse plain and simple. Condoning GM on babies is equal to condoning violence on children. It should not be allowed, and frankly I dont understand the hesitation coming from certain circles, surely it doesent have roots in the well being of a child.

  6. Except, John and Danny, that assumes that every feminist believes that rape only exists in cases of penetration. I am a feminist and I do not believe that. I believe that rape exists when anyone is forced to have sex against their will. I am not sure where I fall on the bodily autonomy argument in regards to circumcision. We, as a culture, do many things that involve a lack of bodily autonomy especially with children. We do them from a place of superiority and claim health benefits that may or may not be true. If I had had a male child, and the father of said male child was against circumcision, then I would have chosen to honor the father’s wishes. I am not male and cannot speak from a place of experience on that. However, circumcisions are also chosen by the fathers for their sons.

    On the other hand, frequently clitorectomies are performed on female children by females. This does not make the surgery right. The women who do this “believe” that what they are doing is in the best interest of the child. It’s easy to argue that these are not in the best interest of a girl child. BUT would I argue against an adult woman making that choice for herself? Or would I see that choice as a bodily mutilation. If I see that as a bodily mutilation, then shouldn’t I see circumcisions the same way? Only I don’t. This is why I am not clear on where I stand on the idea of bodily autonomy and circumcision.

    Thus, your assertion that in this discussion “one side” believes x and the “other side” believes y isn’t accurate and I think is the point of Mark’s post. Perhaps the extremists of the MRM and feminism believe the definitions of rape and bodily autonomy are an either/or discussion. Isn’t it time that the rest of us leave the either/or out of our conversations and get on with moving forward into a world that is better for us all?

    • I appreciate you responding.

      Except, John and Danny, that assumes that every feminist believes that rape only exists in cases of penetration.
      What I said doesn’t depend on that assumption. Fundamental disagreements happen on all sides. However a noticeable portion of them do. But to me denying that men can be raped by women is only a symptom of trying to keep men silent in the gender discourse.

      As for circumcision. While it is true that there are men and women that choose circumcision its not like pointing out that there are men that support it suddenly means that no one should be against it.

      It’s easy to argue that these are not in the best interest of a girl child.
      So what is it about switching from a girl to a boy that makes things more difficult all of a sudden. I’m sure that most people agree that no one should have a body to have their body altered against their will. But as it stands cutting a girl is recognized as a horrible crime but you can have a boy cut and claim it on your insurance.

      BUT would I argue against an adult woman making that choice for herself? Or would I see that choice as a bodily mutilation. If I see that as a bodily mutilation, then shouldn’t I see circumcisions the same way? Only I don’t. This is why I am not clear on where I stand on the idea of bodily autonomy and circumcision.
      Bear in mind I (and probably John) am talking about child circumcision.

      If a grown woman wants to choose to have her genitals cut then I’d support her ability to choose. If a grown man wants to choose to have his genitals cut then I’d support his ability to choose as well.

    • John Anderson says:

      @ Maria

      I understand what your saying, but that basically is just saying that the definitions aren’t even agreed upon by all feminists or all MRAs. We still need to know what someone means when they call something a right. We still need to know what someone means when referring to rapes. I don’t believe that all rights are absolute, but I do believe that the only thing that can abridge a right is when it comes into conflict with another person’s right. So abortion falls under the right to bodily autonomy, however, I’m open to arguments as to when or if the fetus becomes a person with their own right to bodily autonomy.

      When it comes to infant circumcision (I think an adult getting a genital modification falls under bodily autonomy), I believe in the right to practice one’s religion, but an 8 day old child has no religion. I believe a parent has a right to raise a child within a religion or culture, but when it clashes with the child’s right to bodily autonomy, permanent body modification is more heinous than waiting for a child to turn 18 and chose their religion.

      We may not agree on this, but it’s important to agree on what is meant by a right whether we use my definition, your definition, or someone else’s.

    • The problem with circumcision from my perspective is that it isn’t done for health reasons, it is done for religious reasons in a great many case (not sure of the numbers) and for others it is done for cultural reasons. These are the same reasons that are given for the equiv surgery for girls.

      As you said though, the health reasons are spurious at best, which IMHO negates them as a valid reason to do it. If we were to apply the health reasons for making circ legal, then double mastectomies for baby girls should be done as the health reasons would be HUGE, after all, we would wipe out breast cancer in a generation. I highly doubt anyone would agree to that even if the health reasons were huge.

  7. Mostly_123 says:

    Just wanted to say, ‘Great article Mark’ – especially the way you described what conversations were and how they were relational – it was a rather poetic way to look intricacies of dialog & communication. Thanks!

  8. “My point is, we must collectivley deny the primacy of polarizing extremist voices.”

    One drawback against throwing out the binary baby with the bathwater is that you sort of have to be binary about it..

    • Or you can just choose to look for points of agreement in your exchanges. There’s more than one way to deny binary ways to speaking power.

      • I agree with the idea of trying to find points of agreement. However as I said above its all fun and games until those points of disgreement come along.

        Yes a lot of the those points of disagreement are based on the binary but then it leaves lingering affects from there. (Maybe an example would do some good to show what I mean.)

        For example take person X and Y.
        X: I’m sure we agree that ____ is bad and must be confronted.
        Y: Yes.
        X: Outrageous. Look at how often it’s happening to ____.
        Y: Yeah and look at how often it’s happening to ____. And what’s worse I had to dig to find this little bit of data.
        X: Why are you bringing them up?
        Y: Because they are victims of ______.
        X: But not as often as _____.
        Y: True but shouldn’t they be mentioned as well?

        I’m sure most most of you can relate to conversations like this. As it stands the binary leads to conversations like this where the “who is more important” ends up taking precedence of the “this is happening”.

        And to make it even worse you can have X and Y both accusing each other of distracting from the topic at hand by trying to make it all about the group they mentioned. And then the Loop of Chaos ensues.

        Now Mark to apply what you suggest (remove the binary) I’m thinking it would call for stopping that conversation from getting bogged down in which people matter when it comes to a topic, as my example above got bogged down?

    • Mostly_123 says:

      “‘My point is, we must collectivley deny the primacy of polarizing extremist voices.’

      One drawback against throwing out the binary baby with the bathwater is that you sort of have to be binary about it.”

      …Maybe you’re onto something there – People could boycott themselves, until they started to become less extremist… The beauty is that it would be an activity to satiate both activist and moderate tendencies at the same time.  

  9. Mark Peake says:

    Thanks for the great article, Mark. (Great name by the way…) It immediately called to mind the basic logic class I had in college regarding false dichotomies. They are a logical fallacy for a reason.

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