Claude Levi-Strauss

A very important intellectual figure has just died.

One afternoon, chatting with one of my Sociology profs in her office, I was handed an idea which has proved to be a source of continuing illumination into all the ways in which we humans can be seen to imagine reality.

That idea, from the fertile mind of this amazing man, was that when we consider abstract notions, we begin by using or assuming a pair of binary opposites – good/evil, black/white, etc. We impose that conceptual framing or architecture over what we are trying to understand or make sense of. It may not be, indeed probably rarely ever is, an accurate reflection of the real world but using this simplistic conceptual framework allows us to begin thinking about whatever the abstract subject is.

One interesting aspect to consider here is how some people in certain circumstances seem to be unable to formulate a more nuanced or complicated conceptual mapping (shades of grey, to use the cliche) but stand firm in their insistence/certainty that the simplistic framing of binary or polar opposities represents the most valuable and fundamental truth of things, a ‘truth’ which is in danger of being lost if one allows nuance and complexity. These are the humans that scare me.


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