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Partition • Posted: May 23, 2009 07:51:06Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Have you ever thought about all the devices we use, both mental and physical, to separate ourselves from parts of the world we deem unfit, undesirable, unworthy, unclean, unsafe, or just plain wrong-headed? Walls separate us. Fences separate us. Demarcations separate us. Credentials separate us. Laws separate us. Rules separate us. Customs separate us. Money separates us. Languages separate us. Knowledge separates us. Even names separate us. Is all that separation really necessary? What is really going on here?

It is true that some distinctions we make are functionally useful. For instance, spoiled food differentiated from fresh wholesome food. The distinction keeps us from getting sick. But take, for instance, the distinction between a valid ticket of admission and no ticket. Biologically, such a distinction is arbitrary and meaningless. But sociologically, there is both purpose and consequence. The purpose is to set up and define two classes of people, then charge a toll to cross from one class to the other. The consequence is that some people profit, other people get to enjoy power over others, and some folks willingly choose degradation and impoverishment in search of pleasure and enlightenment. The curiosity is that we let ourselves be manipulated in such absurd ways. Nothing keeps us from putting on plays of our own or singing to each other. In fact, we'd probably be far better off for doing so. But no, instead we willingly choose to participate in yet another functionally artificial scheme of partition.

Republicans talk about individual freedoms from entanglement. Democrats talk of cooperation and responsibilities to each other and the environment. Religious zealots talk about righteousness and evil. Everyone worries about health and safety and whether or not our bills are paid. Distinctions and partitions completely consume our lives. One could imagine a chemist or physicist arguing our mental processes are generating valences in the same way atoms generate attractions and rejections for other atoms of complementary valence. A chemist or physicist might also argue that in doing so we are falling down the long dark hole of thermodynamic decline, in that every novel distinction we make and act upon is yet another step toward the increased entropy and dissipated energy the universal laws of physics demand.

Maybe, after all, it isn't so curious that we do what we do. Maybe it would be even more curious if we didn't.

Thursday, September 27th, 2007
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