Monday, July 04, 2016

We are not binary beings

The gigantic echo chamber that is social media is resonating with far too much unhelpful bombast from both EU referendum camps. So it is with some trepidation that I am posting on the subject today. But this quote from - of all people - Boris Johnson caught my eye in yesterday's Telegraph:
It was wrong of the Government to offer the public a binary choice on the EU...
It caught my eye not because I have any sympathy at all for Boris Johnson's politics, but because it reflects the dangers of dualism. Norman Perryman reminded us of those dangers some time ago when he explained: "We are by nature analogue (def. "a continuous spectrum of values") beings, consisting of fluid organic substances." Too often today - especially on social media - we forget that humankind holds a continuous and fluid spectrum of values that cannot be forcibly polarised into a tick in one of two boxes, just as the true sound of music cannot be reduced to a 0 or 1. The dangers of the binary mindset were first highlighted many centuries ago in the Rig Veda, and that very wise being Jonathan Harvey quoted from the Vedic canonical text (10.129) in the score of his Bhakti for ensemble and electronics:
There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realms of space nor the sky which is beyond.
The photo was taken by me outside the Ben Youssef mosque in Marrakech and shows the soles of the Moroccan slippers known as babouches drying in the sun. It is used here as a Rorschach inkblot test, so read into it what you will. I cannot say for certain why I used it; but the image may have sprung to mind as non-dualism in the form of waḥdat al-wujūd - oneness of being - is central to Sufism as well as Vedanta, and the Ben Youssef mosque is a Sufi shrine. Or it may have been because of the CD from Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) titled Footsteps in the Light, or simply because Islam and the EU referendum are, quite wrongly inseparable. The Ben Youssef mosque, Sufism and Yusuf Islam are all mentioned in my 2008 post Avoid three kinds of master.

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