duality | polarity

This dyad is the topic of my micro book Minus One, in which I'm trying to explain my own thinking with, and relationship to, dyads. 


Dyads are pretty basic to thought. They turn up whenever we think of one thing as distinct from, opposed to, or in relationship with, an other. Which is pretty much all the time. We can't have identity without twoness (the identity of one thing distinct from the other). Yet, some of the left/critical theory/academic/hippie types think any distinction of one-versus-the-other is categorically bad. Because (a) reality is apparently not really like this, and worse still (b) all distinctions/dualities result is marginalisation and power differentials. I agree that many forms of one-vs-other are recipes for power imbalances and persecution of others. But it's foolishness to think that the solution for getting rid of the persecution must be to get rid of distinction/duality in total. Because we will always have distinction/duality. Rather, for me, it's a matter of working out what type of distinction/duality is the better variety (and also, working out what turns dualities into bad dualities). However, prior to this is the question of what sorts of dualities exist at all. Are they all the same? I don't think so, which means we can have a dyad of dyads (two forms of two-ness). 

On one hand, there are dualities which pitch two things along the same spectrum (left and right, up and down, wrong and right, black-grey-white etc). I call these polarities, because the two terms are poles at each end of a spectrum, although of course we can have a range of values or entities all the way along a spectrum as well (think of one's age, from 0 to 100). It doesn't even have to be just one spectrum/dimension either. Could be multi-dimensional (such as age-weight or age-gender-skintone for instance). But not al dualities have to be like this. On the other hand, there's dualities which pitch two things as unique entities in their own space. You can compare the two, but not map them onto the one spectrum. If anything, they have their own independent spectrums, or indeed don't exist on spectrums at all. And I want to call these dualities.

You've probably guessed already polarities are two-ness in terms of negative difference, whilst what I call dualities are two-ness in terms of positive difference. That's pretty much it. Negative difference produces polarities, positive difference produces dualities.


I've just come across a recent book that seems to deal with the topic of one/other, or two-ness, head on: Michelle Voss Roberts "Daulities: a theology of difference" (2010). You can read the intro and get a good sense of it on Google books. She wants to rescue duality from dualism, which in my terms would be to go for duality over polarity (polarity is dual-ISM). Don’t get scared off too much by the word ‘theology’ in the title, if that's a problem. It could just as well have been called a philosophy or ethics of difference.


So, what then is political oppression? What's evil? How about: to treat a duality as if it was a polarity. 

Let's look at a classic, like gender (male / female). There are people with penises and the particular chemical-material agencies that come with this, and there are people with vaginas and other chemical-material agencies. And I don't know how we can really put this on one spectrum. They are just two sorts of energies. But under the one category of gender, we get a binary. And then we can start to choose which side of the binary is more natural, more special, more worthy, more normal etc. Of course, historically, it’s not just one side of the binary that’s gets a rough treatment. The binary also ignores and persecutes everyone that is not a neat fit within the binary (trans-gender, cross-gender, non-gender etc). Moreso, this binary actually oppresses everyone wherever they are placed on or off this spectrum. Because with this binary/spectrum, everyone's unique energy/sexuality is forced into such a flat, single dimension. Even my description of male and female as dualities needs to be made more complex, in that I'm clumping everyone into male or female clumps when in fact everyone has their own positively different, positively charged sexual-gender-gonadic energies. Polarity (negative difference) flattens out whilst duality (positive difference) gets all the more complex and richer. 

The same story goes for another classic duality, of race (Colonial European / Hunter-gatherer Indigenous). Just think of ‘terra nullius’ which proposed the land mass we call Australia as empty, and it’s people less than European/human/dignified – mega negative difference.


Think, too, about the ethical dilemma of splitting Siamese twins. Especially if keeping them together will kill them both. How the fuck does a mother and father chose one over the other? And yet not to chose would kill them both. So here we have the tragedy of the parents having to convert the duality of their children into a polar choice: this child, or that one; left, or right. Maybe if I was forced into such a choice (and it’s possible of course even without the siamese twin scenario: imagine having two of your children caught in a raging house fire, one in a room to the left, one in a room to the right, both accessible, but both about to be engulfed in flames – how on earth to chose…) then I might outsource the choice, to a flip of the coin of something. Just because to make the choice, to actually adopt a polar position for what should only be treated as a duality, is not just cruel and full of heart-ache but replicates the structure of evil. It probably is evil (albeit is, tragically, necessary).

I bought a greeting card in Melbourne, soon after the boys were born. And I had it stuck up on one of our book shelves – I’m not sure any of our house guests saw it and certainly no one asked us about it. But I wanted it there, to provoke a thought – something like throwing down a challenge to treat the boys as a duality, not a polarity. And the card is quite ironic/humorous/critical. It is a simple hard-drawn cartoon of two boys/persons stuck together. And floating above is a conversation, presumably between two other people. It goes something like this (I paraphrase and condense):

Are they gay?
No, Siamese twins.
I suppose you'll separate them.
Yes, but one might die.
So which one is the ugly one?


ON DYADS (response to The Garbo)

'Dyad' is a neutral term to cover all types of two-ness-distinction-making... and it then allows me to use two other more specialised terms to mark out positive difference and negative difference. Basically, positive difference is the dyad/twoness as 'duality' whilst negative difference is the dyad/twoness as 'polarity'. So what I'm wanting is three terms -- a neutral term for all twoness and then one for +ve and another for -ve difference. Mine are (a) dyad (b) duality (c) polarity -- it's in my unfinished micro book minus two that I get into this in clear definitional terms. Your own writing/responses here suggests (a) twoness (b) unmeasurable (c) measurable, amongst other terms.