Monday, August 17, 2015

We don't like the continuum

I am in a limbo that I can't discuss publicly, and I hate it.

Limbo forces you to hang, to wait, to see how things play out and to be patient.  You can't make a move in limbo.  Well, I guess you can make a move out of limbo prematurely, but then you are potentially setting yourself up for all kinds of additional problems.  As uncomfortable and nerve-wracking as limbo is, it is often better to just wait it out.

It is this personal limbo, this holding in the middle, that has me thinking about how people react to the continuum in general.

As a species, we seem to like the ends of the spectrum---the "THIS" or "THAT."  The middle, the continuum, the in-between, makes people uncomfortable.  It feels safer to be at one end or another.  It is definite; it feels secure at the opposite ends.

And yet, there are few absolutes in life.  When I try to think of things that are definite ends of the spectrum, I have a difficult time.

A person who is left-handed doesn't have a useless right hand.  He or she is more adept, more skilled, more comfortable with the left hand, but the right hand can still do things.  How many brown-eyed people are completely, 100% brown-eyed, without a fleck of green/gray or yellow?

One of the most fascinating examples of the continuum, at least for me, is tetragametic chimeras.

The things that seem like definite ends of the continuum are man-made constructs.  Democrat or Republican.  Pro-life or pro-choice.  Pro-Target toy department by gender or anti-Target toy department by gender.  You can't make an easy-peasy soundbite out of the middle of the continuum.  The limbo, the hanging in the middle takes discussion, explanation, reflection.

Even killing someone isn't totally on one end of the spectrum.  It is if you just ask, "Is killing wrong?"  But what if someone is trying to kill my children, and I kill them to save my kids.  Is that still on the "wrong" end of the continuum?

I just finished the novel Sarah's Key, and am going to spend the rest of my life (probably) reading a biography of Alan Turing.  These have me thinking about limbo.

Sarah's Key is full of horrors about Nazi France, and I found myself wondering, "How could Paris citizens not say anything, not do anything?"  But that is me wanting to place them on an end of the continuum.  That is me not understanding just what kind of painful limbo they were in.  Perhaps terrified and angered and disgusted by the removal of the Jews and yet terrified for their own safety and that of their families?  If the authorities would round up Jews just for being Jews, what would happen to someone who defended the Jews, who lashed out for justice?

We watched The Imitation Game recently, which inspired me to pick up the Turing bio.  The film suggests that the British kept the breaking of the Nazi code a secret in order to keep the regime from changing.  They made strategic decisions, which may have allowed some people to die, although ultimately the war was shortened as a result of Turing's machine.  That is certainly a moral limbo; to know the code, to be able to keep some people from dying but not be able to because it would result in the Nazis regaining the upper hand, which would ultimately lead to more people dying.

Turing himself, as a gay man in a society that criminalized homosexuality, was in limbo.

I guess my brain tends to go to these things when I'm stuck in my own limbo because I want to DO SOMETHING.  I want to say or hear YES or NO.  I want to get the heck out of limbo so I can move forward.  Whenever I'm in a limbo, I want to plan a vacation---to feel a sense of control over what I am going to do in the future.

But there are far worse kinds of limbo to be hanging in, and that, I suppose, is a good reminder.  

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