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It's All Binary, Until it's Not
My arguments for diversity are often unusually opaque, elliptic and though often well-received, I'm always suspicious that I'll be "Shot by Both Sides" as per Magazine's famous post-punk song. I've argued against being called "POC", "BAME" and more recently, even "South Asian". I don't like people putting me in a box that I didn't choose. I like the boxes chosen by less well-meaning folk even less, but that much should be obvious, I hope. If I'm going to be shot by only one side, I'd rather it was by the racists.
I was on a panel at the BFI a lifetime ago, hosted by Dr Jo Twist, along with Mitu Khandaker and Rhianna Pratchett, where I think I put forward my argument for diversity best, and I wish I'd captured it, because like most cool things I've said, it wasn’t planned or thought through, it just come tumbling out, and I can take no credit for ideas offered up by the muse for which I serve only as a medium. I'm going to try to use this article to encapsulate what I said.
Computers are the best example of the importance of diversity. Computers operate on the foundational principle of binary state. A switch is either on, or off. It is the differential that allows us to know that there is any information at all, and the continuous and varied (though not uniformly random) differential that gives rise to the most complex forms. It is the aggregate of these streams of binary digits that can be interpreted in a way that gives rise to much more than the idea of "on/off" or "black/white". Binary is the starting point of diversity, not the end point.
In 1981, when my friends and I were programming a Research Machines computer at school, a block on the screen was either on (green) or off (very dark green, never quite black). If you put enough of them on or off in a certain pattern, you would see a crude graphical image.
From those early days, and from the preponderance of forms that arose from the increasingly complex arrangement of those binary digits, we have today's richness of experience that we could scarcely have imagined back in 1981.
Imagine if there had not been the multiplicity of forms that we have today, because we refused to acknowledge the existence of more than one state? Imagine how boring a monoculture would be? Could computing ever arise?
I posit that all of the glorious richness of life comes from the interplay of opposites, and the constant to and fro and negotiation between opposites that then give rise to the seemingly analogue from the digital.
No tides without the moon's gravity in constant interplay with the earth's gravity and the one orbiting the other, while the other is affected by the gravitational pull of the one even as it orbits.
No day without night, no night without day. If light were omnipresent, would we even know what darkness was? What forms could be discerned without shadow?
How would complex life have known when to rest? To grow? What would we use to synchronise all the diurnal cellular clocks within? Would the suprachiasmatic nucleus ever have evolved? Wouldn't we be impossible? We need day and night. We need sleep and wakefulness.
And those binary states are the starting point of diversity that gives us riches we will regret not enjoying more when we are almost out of time. What is a sunrise but the blurred boundary between night and day? What is a sunset if not the blurred, dissolving boundary between day and night? The complete absence of the opposite is always oppressive… the glaring heat of the noon sun in a desert, or the night being darkest before the dawn.
“When things go well, I’m happy. When they don’t, I’m focussed” — Bennie Terry
We can't be happy all the time, but that doesn't mean that unhappiness is necessary. Opposites are not always logical. Perhaps the "opposite" of "happy" isn't "sad", and perhaps sadness is a perfectly useful emotion that deserves its place in the, well, if not the sun, then somewhere. Perhaps we are happy when things are going well, but like Bennie Terry recently told me, if things don't go well, he focusses. This is like my recent advice — "Don't get mad, get curious" in some ways, but Bennie's version is more eloquent.
So perhaps the opposite of happiness is frustration? Perhaps there are many opposites? Whatever the geometry of the emotional landscape, whether it's cartesian in nature, or something completely different, it's worth paying attention to the idea that humanity requires traversal, and constant traversal, in diurnal cycles perhaps, across this emotional landscape for, if not happiness, then fulfilment, and enrichment. Emotional monoculture is barely life, if it is anything at all.
Emotional diversity is what gives our life the richness of meaning.
Digital diversity is what gives our content the richness of meaning.
Human diversity is what gives our culture the richness of meaning.