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The Binary

October 22, 2016



We live in a binary world. This election has become a binary. Right and Wrong are conferred on two humans – simultaneously for both, depending on who is doing the conferring.

The binary of Right and Wrong  comes naturally to us. Seemingly infinite terrabytes of info bits – edited into “0” and “1” – create code that creates software that controls, fulfills, threatens, reveals almost every aspect of our lives. Like Braille or Morse Code the “0” and “1” of all computer code generation forms an infinite string of information – remember the glowing back ground of “0” and “1” in the opening credits of “The Matrix”?

We live in an enveloping atmosphere of “1”‘s and “0”‘s that washes us in unseen, unheard, but infinitely encroaching data and direction. This week that binary failed its creators – or better put was set against itself –  the unseen, unknown Dyn cyber connection was hacked to unplug Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times. But tools simply reflect the toolmakers. Humans write code.

The voice, the pen, and now the coded world, the website you are reading this from, simply extend a state of mind so others can have it. Some states are easy: porn is glandular, music is at the base of of brains, textbooks are facts. But other info, other huge quilts of data we wrap our brains in are tougher to process.

Many Christians hold the Bible to be “The Word of God” – spoken by a 30-something in a Roman colony 2000 years ago. The “Gettysburg Address” of Christianity, the Sermon on the Mount presents a list of what could be distilled into “0”‘s and “1”‘s

Blessed are the meek

Blessed are they which do hunger

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the peacemakers

Blessed are they which are persecuted

But I left off reasons the meek, hungry, merciful, peacemakers (the “1”‘s in each binary) are “Blessed” (the “0”‘s). But most of us also edit to the binary. It’s easier.

We have an epic binary before us: Hillary or Trump. Most of us, but mostly the candidates themselves, have binaried each other and almost every aspect of their character: “Crooked”, “Deplorable” and worse. We all edit to “Right” and “Wrong”. We “unfriend” the Wrong and “friend” the Right.

The Right/Wrong binary comes naturally to all of us. Editing anything makes it easier on the editor. I was edited last week: I was declared “suburban” by a city editor – thus insensitive to urban perspectives. This editor edited out the endless hours I spend in his city working on causes he believes in – and I will no longer write/broadcast for his website (but I  will still write for the other part of this city’s journalistic binary – the actual reason I was binaried out).

I edit out the stupidity of so many of my personal failures and their impact on others to make it easy on myself – but the failures remain: perhaps worse for the belief in editing. I try to edit out a tough childhood from my day-to-day delivery of who I am but I can never escape it.

But while literal editing gets frozen in the printed word, editing beliefs to a binary, to “0” and “1” – to Right and Wrong – almost never works long term. Editing the Bible to be the literal words of God is the same act of editing to the fact that they are only the words of a man. Either edit comforts the editor.

Trump and Hillary have become caricatures to almost everyone: distilled to memes, cliches, hombres and emails. All politics takes our best and worst angels and panders, fear mongers and edits them into comforting rights and wrongs.

The absence of ambiguity is our most heartfelt desire, and inevitably a living hell of disappointment. When Christians present Jesus as both sacred and profane it makes no sense to the binary imperative. We want life to be either “0” or “1” – it cannot be both or there is no code, no formula: only the open-ended unsurety of our ability to have control. But it is both. In both there is hope. We are cursed with seeing, whether we like it or not, the larger reality beyond what’s edited by us.

Binary thinking got us Hillary and Trump: each pre-empts  the other. Reducing huge uncertainties into hatred and fear is the easy human default setting. It’s easier for each of us, for me, to either hate myself into self justification, or pretend that  I know best – putting my  reality-dampening Ear Buds in to drown out the uncertainties. No one I know believes either Trump or Hillary fulfills our best Hope – but almost everyone I know hates either or both. Neither Hillary or Trump is the devil, but the unified theory of hate denies the binary in each of them that is simulaneously  in all of us. That idea that either of them is no different that any of us, not a caricature, is quite freaky – at least to me.

This may be the most depressing presidential election in American history: it may be the single best window into our common human failure to have faith in the goodness of others. The depression is because we have reduced each candidate to one half of a binary. Neither candidate is loved beyond their partisans who are a minority of the voters for each: each candidate is loathed by those who therefore feel they have lost control and are compelled to vote for the other.

As a nation we have flipped our hope for the future that can be found in any person into the fear we all have – losing control.. “Hope and Change” has become “Fear.”

We want “win-win”, fear “lose-lose” but inevitably we get a mixed bag in almost every aspect of our lives. Without “0” and “1” you cannot write code. Without seeing the failings and nobilities in each human you lose faith. “Lose-lose” seems the order of this election: it is a faithless exercise.

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