The natural world has never conformed to our human notions of “two sides” to everything.
The human brain, through millennia of its evolutionary process, has developed a capacity to categorize reality into easily digestible morsels in its attempt to absorb and make sense of a complex world. We have seen the perennial theme, for example, of Good versus Evil surface throughout the human condition as far back as over 3000 years in Zoroastrianism as valued by Zarathustra, and the theme has reappeared in literary and religious discourses ever since. In some monotheistic religions, within the overarching theme of dualism, for example, God is good, while the Devil is bad; the “right” side (the side of God) is good, while the “left” side (the side of the Devil) is bad; and white is good, while black is bad.
Philosopher and exponent of “objectivism,” Ayn Rand, described anyone who does not view issues upon a binary frame, but rather perceives a continuum with its nuances, as “evil.” According to Rand:
“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit….”
So, let us consider the implications, the inevitable extensions, of a binary / dualistic / objectivist world perspective in which one side is good, one side is bad, and the middle is evil, in which the following could be constructed as “evil”: people of mixed or multiple so-called “races”; intersex people; trans* people, gender fluid people; bisexual and pansexual people; people who do not have a hand preference (“ambidextrous” literally meaning “having two or multiple right hands”); people following no religious faiths, which, by the way, includes Ayn Rand herself.
Unfortunately, this good / bad / evil worldview stands much more than a mere philosophical exercise, but in reality, it has real-life, often tragic, consequences.
Recently, Chinese law enforcement authorities arrested a man and his father for attempting on three separate occasions to murder the man’s one-month-old intersex infant. The baby’s mother, Yang Xiaoqing, alerted authorities, and said to local news reporters:
“We thought we would have a girl. But soon we were told the ‘girl’ is actually a boy, with an atrophic sex organ. We panicked and got concerned.” She added that her husband attempted to smother the baby because “he is neither a boy nor a girl,” but a “monster.”
In other instances, many parents or guardians and their doctors force intersex infants to undergo needless and dangerous surgeries literally to construct them to the socially rigid and mandatory binary frame of “male or female” where no evil middle is permitted.
Well, the natural world has never conformed to our human notions of “two sides” to everything. Nature shows many hues and forms along a seemingly endless continuum or spectrum, where white and black function amazingly in company with wide ranging tones of grey; where polychrome rainbows of infinite colors excite the Earth and the entire universe; where some animals, including coral reef fishes, come into the world as one sex and change to another in the course of their lives; where the determinant of behavior resides within individuals’ inner sense rather than on socially-predetermined scripts.
I contend that the socially constructed binary and hierarchical view within a Western cosmology represent the connecting factors within the varying forms of oppression. The socially constructed “races” of “white” is seen as good, “people of color” as bad, and “light” as good or adroit (whose root comes from droit, in French meaning “right”) and “dark” as bad and sinister (sinister comes from Latin for “left”); “male” depicted as leader and good, “female” as subservient and inferior; “heterosexual” as good, “homosexual” as bad,” and “heterosexual” perceived as love and “homosexual” as sex; “Christian” considered” good, “non-Christian” judged bad; “rich” as good and virtuous, “poor” as bad and lazy; people of, say, 21 to about 50 as good and in their “prime” versus under 21 as irresponsible and untrustworthy and elders as “over the hill” and “no longer sexual”; “able bodied” as good, “people with disabilities” as unfortunate, once also seen as punished by the Devil for past transgressions, possibly in a former life; and I could go on in this vein virtually forever.
We have seen the many and severe consequence of bifurcated world views, where historically governmental and religious authorities have literally killed people for stepping out of their prescribed roles (for example, Joan of Arc for transgressing her assigned gender expression, and left handed people who the Church viewed as Devil-inspired); where parents and doctors physically mutilated intersex infants in their misguided attempts to “fix” them; where doctors and family members involuntarily committed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* people to psychiatric wards, forced “hormone” treatments, electroshock therapy, and even frontal lobotomies.
In many quarters of our society, we still hear individuals loudly proclaim that compromise (a middle perspective) equals surrender, which in the real world has resulted in a freezing or even reversing of political, economic, and social advancement; where “my way or the highway” has set the stage for war and other human tragedies; where my belief system is right and your belief system is wrong, and, therefore, I have the “right” to impose my system on you and upon your country in the form of colonialism, slavery, forced religious conversion, territorial expulsion, rape, and murder.
Of course, parents and other adults have the inherent responsibility of protecting young people from harming themselves and being harmed by others, and of teaching them how to live and function in society within our ever changing global community. In Freudian terms, we must develop a balance between the individual’s unrestrained instinctual drives and restraints (repression) on these drives in the service of maintaining society (civilization), and to sustain the life of the individual.
We as a society, nonetheless, must set a line demarcating protection from control, teaching from oppression, minimal and fundamental repression from what Herbert Marcuse terms “surplus repression” (that which goes over and beyond what is necessary for the protection of the individual and the smooth functioning of society, and enters into the realm of domination, control, and oppression.)
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