They don’t know how the world is shaped. And so they give it a shape, and try to make everything fit it. They separate the right from the left, the man from the woman, the plant from the animal, the sun from the moon. They only want to count to two.
Emma Bull, Bone Dance
Somewhere in my past – a movie, perhaps? – a white character made a disparaging remark about a people of color, that they could only count to “one, two, many” or perhaps it was “one, too many” or perhaps “one too many,” but I think you understand the nature of the comment. Early in my business career a man told me, “don’t give them too many choices. People can only decide between two choices. Three confuses them.” When I first learned about computer network options, a speaker at a conference said that from a multitude of potential technical solutions, the choice would eventually be between two options because the marketplace could not support more than two – it would be too costly to maintain more than two. “It is a binary world, my friend” said another. The shopper in the western world may be overwhelmed by choice, but often it is often simply a sequence of binary choices that need to be made.
In every instance I’ve mentioned, it was a white male who made the statement. That, of course, was because so few women and people of color had reached positions where they could make those kinds of statements and where I might have heard them – I hadn’t reached that type of position, either, but I had access to those people.
Milton Diamond, former professor of anatomy and reproductive biology at the University of Hawai’i has said
Nature loves diversity. Unfortunately, society hates it.
A number of years ago I was talking with a friend about the work his wife did in the Boston area with the children of Chinese parents. Ellen worked in bilingual programs that sought to get the children to be a more effective bridge (as they often are in immigrant families) between a family’s new reality and its previous culture. My friend – like many conservative thinkers regarding this issue – thought programs like these a waste of time, and time being money, a waste of money. He believed that the children should be in English-only learning situations.
Away from a work environment – and I don’t remember any statements in a work environment either – I’ve never heard a woman make a statement like those in my first paragraph. They may have said, “oh, I just can’t decide. There are too many choices.” But there was never any desire for fewer choices, just that the decision was a dilemma.
Two may be the nature of western commerce, but it is not the business of nature. That is why the natural world, the stars, autumn leaves in New England, snowflakes, the gene pool, these glorious expressions of choice all hold such fascination for me.
I was reminded of this on Sunday while I scoped the Feria de las Flores at the Parque Benito Juárez and tried to determine which of the multitude of plants might go in which of the five pots on my patio. Where will I find soil? What types of soil are available? Can I get someone to deliver? Or will I seek out a pickup-taxi? All most delicious dilemmas of choice.
Again Helen Boyd has tapped into great information. Her blog en|Gender has a link to Lynda Barry’s talk at Lawrence University. I agree with Helen Boyd that “This is a totally worthwhile hour whether you’re an artist, a fan of Barry’s, or neither.” The heart of the talk starts around the 8 minute work. For some reason – maybe because she was right on the mark with one of my deepest fears, singing in public – when she sang The Water is Wide,I began crying.
As good or better than any TED talk. It was one of the best hours I’ve ever spent.