An anti-whateverist expostulation

There are, as the old saying goes, two kinds of people in this world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who do not. Let us call the first group binarists, and the second, multists, or as I prefer to call them, “whateverists.”

I belong consciously to the former group, and the smugness of the saying helps confirm me in my binaristical propensities. The pope, too, has had a hand in this recently. I mean our present one who is, as I calculate, one two-hundred-and-sixty-sixth of the papal component of our Roman teaching. The stated opposition of his self-appointed henchmen to the “binary thinking” of e.g. the Dubia authors, puts me more on the latter’s side. (I began almost totally on their side, wanting a few straight answers.)

Binarists accept both either/or and both/and propositions. Multists, as I have often been reminded, cannot cope with the first set, and may fail to understand the second, even as they giddily embrace it. For a both/and is a binary proposition.

Truth, to my duplexitatious way of thinking, is binary at heart, for a proposition may be true or not true — unless it is “partially true,” in which case it is false. The problem of philosophy is, whenever possible, to carefully move the line — to appropriate the true, disappropriate the false; to put the good with the good, and clean it (notice the binary division) — to draw, as patiently as we can, an infinitely squiggly but perfectly exact line, between ourselves and the people we can’t stand. Or so said my hero, T. E. Hulme, when pressed to an explanation by Bertrand Russell, or some other bug that needed squashing in the Cantabrigian universe before the Great War. Yes, I realized when I first read it, that is what philosophy is all about.

Good fences do not necessarily make good neighbours; but if they’re high enough, you can keep the buggers out.

Je suis là, vous êtes là! I remember a Frenchwoman explaining to me, after I had for the second time unintentionally nudged her in a queue for the Calais ferry. I marvelled at her distinction between two definable places, both shifting, less than two Paris feet apart. (Which is to say, twenty-five-and-one-half English inches, before the Revolution decimated everything.)

It is a wonderful word, . It could mean “here,” as I understand; or it could mean “there”; but it will never mean “whatever.”