Monday, March 18, 2013

Binary Blinders

The binary system.  It’s all computers do. Everything is zero or one. From  “a” (binary 01100001) to "z" (binary 01111010) everything we look at or see on a computer boils down to a staggering number of zeros and ones zipping around on our motherboards. 

Binary Thinking is a great way to transfer data but a pretty ineffective way of thinking about politics. A nifty little piece in the Atlantic Monthly spells out why our partisan thinking makes us divide the world into polar opposites Our world is made of  ZERO ( evil and dumb) and ONE  (good and smart).  Republicans are ZEROS, Democrats are ONES.

On a more moral plane this makes us a rather unforgiving lot. We claim only to want the ZERO to become a ONE, but often we have a hard time abandoning the “once a ZERO, always a ZERO” way of thinking.

Consider the events of last week in Binary Thinking terms:

Senator Rob Portman (ZERO), an arch conservative (ZERO) from Ohio, “came out” in support of same sex marriage (ONE). His son, an undergraduate at Yale University(Yale=ONE, unless you are from Harvard, then ZERO), is gay (ONE). After some soul searching, Mr. Portman now agrees with us (ONE) that same sex marriage should be legal (ONE). Coming during the same week that saw the Conservative Political Action Congress ( a ZERO of epic proportions) in suburban (ZERO) Washington, DC (ONE) this should have been greeted by progressives (ONE) with a parade down the streets.

Curiously, my Facebook feed was cluttered by moral condemnations of Senator Portman from my friends (ONES). He (ZERO) did not, you see, come to our way of thinking (ONE) in a politically correct manner (ONE). To wit, he only came around because of his son.  I see the point; it would be nice if Mr. Portman could have thought about other people’s sons and supported gay marriage sooner, but he did not.

In political terms, rejecting Senator Portman as an ally is short-sighted.  The Senator routinely talks to very powerful people in Ohio who reject same sex marriage. He has access to the ZEROS. If we use our rational brains and ally with him, we might help Senator Portman convert  a few more ONES. We’ll need bipartisan support if we expect to overturn Ohio’s State Constitutional ban on same sex marriage.  Rejecting Senator Portman sends a breathtakingly bad signal to other conservatives who have a gay or lesbian relative they love and who are struggling to muster the courage to publicly support same sex marriage.  Our message needs to be one of acceptance not derision. 

Let’s make same sex marriage legal across the land. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement should be our guides;  they accepted all conversions from  ZERO to ONE regardless of their reasoning. We should embrace Senator Portman as an ally and keep our eyes on the prize.

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  1. I like this. I think I am mostly persuaded. I will be happier if I see him show empathy beforehand on other issues.

  2. Nice post! I saw a more 50/50 split in the reaction to Portman on Facebook but I agree wholeheartedly that demonizing the other side when they are in the right is a losing play in the long run.