Binaries, Bipartisanship, and the Mormon Moment

Right now I am waist deep in literary theory. I am at the end of my first semester of an English grad program and assembling a term paper. I’m interested in food studies, anticipate spending a lot of long nights cozying up to Claude Levi-Strauss’ The Raw and the Cooked. So, indulge my geek-out for a minute here, but I talk about binaries, as used by Levi-Strauss, the theorist, not the maker of fine denim apparel.

Binaries have fans all across the academic spectrum. There are binary numbers, binary code, binary stars and binary relationships in theory. What makes the term so popular is its articulation the relationship of two alternatives existing in opposition to one another. Levi-Strauss pointed out man:woman, raw:cooked, and young:old. The list can go on and on. As Book of Mormon scriptorians, we are all familiar with the discussion of opposition in 2 Nephi 2. Yes, there is opposition, in just about everything.

With the political high season winding down, we are all quite familiar with the binaries that separated and divided so much of the country. Many of us are downright exhausted by it, myself included. I stress and agonize over the structural lines, fissures that edge us apart and divide us into binaries. While I realize that opposition is natural, normal and sometimes useful, its not something I find productive. As I am writing and considering binary theory with my semester research, I have to ask the question, so what? It is not enough that matter and issues exist in a divided state. For me, the interest comes in the second half of binary structure, not the opposition, but the relationship between the two, or, how they then come together.

In a New York Times summation of Levi-Strauss’ life work, following his death in 2009, Larry Rotcher explained each of the French theorist’s insights into structure and how we reconcile it. While discussing the divisive nature of binaries in The Raw and the Cooked, he concluded, “Part of what makes us human, however, is our need to reconcile those opposites, to find a balance between raw and cooked.”  Even in the scriptures, Lehi declares, “Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.”  God blessed common ground.

Since I revealed my love of food, even in literary studies, I give you this quote, attributed to Charles de Gaulle, as a segue. “Only peril can bring the French together, One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 different kinds of cheese.” I’ve been thinking about that along with the Mormon Moment we’ve just watched in full spectacle. We’ve seen our triumphs, history, and even garments displayed on prime time television. While I gritted my teeth for some of those expositions,  I am grateful for most of it. The media and the church’s own effort with the “I am a Mormon” campaign has tried to show us in all of our 265 cheese varieties.  All of our binaries were on display: white:non-white, rich:poor, single:married, married:divorced, families with twelve children: those with two children: those with none, women at home with their children: women who work outside of the home, men who stay at home with their children: men who work outside of the home,  rock stars:farmers.  We’ve run the gamut, and yeah, we are a varied group, but unlike de Gaulle’s estimation of the French, I don’t think we always require peril alone to bring us together; we have something better: our faith.

It is refreshing to see so many different kinds of people presented,  but what matters most is not the opposing places they come from; it is what they say in the last few seconds, or last few lines of their bios: ” and I am a Mormon. ” Those words break down the binaries and bring us all together into one whole.  That doesn’t erase our differences, but just brings them together, to a place of bipartisanship.

I know it may sound crazy, but we are coming to the part of the political season that I appreciate most, the election is over, and everyone gets back to work. Yes, there were wins and losses, but I struggle to feel victory or  devastation on election night, no matter who I voted for.  What I crave are the days ahead, when problems and struggles ahead are faced head-on by both groups, who realize the crucial importance of their relationship together to make anything happen. Independents, republicans, green partiers, democrats, libertarians, tea-partiers, and everyone else must cross the aisle, ignore the lines, and find some space in between. I go back to the quote, “Part of what makes us human, is our need to reconcile those opposites, to find a balance between the raw and the cooked.” I don’t believe that God has a political party and spent last Tuesday night in celebrating or mourning. Instead, I want to believe that God smiles on the days ahead, when we try to come together again, welcomes more bipartisanship among all of us.

The spotlight on us Mormons may be dimmer now, but I appreciated its illumination. We were able to see a broader spectrum of light, a range of Mormons of all sorts, binaries galore, yet with the centering force that holds us together.  It is not just humanizing to reconcile those differences-I think it’s a bit of the divine.

Where did the Mormon Moment leave you?

About Sandra

(Blog Editor and Prose Board) recently moved back to California by way of north Texas, Baltimore and San Francisco. She loves sunlight, color, and intense dark chocolate. She devours cookbooks like novels and writes a bit at www.section89.com.

11 thoughts on “Binaries, Bipartisanship, and the Mormon Moment

  1. Excellent post, Sandra. I, too, am glad that the election is over and hope for the spirit of cooperation to take hold in the hard work of running this country.

  2. Sandra– thought provoking post, as always.
    I wonder what it is about being a Mormon that brings us together on common ground, despite our differences?
    When I was called, as a single woman, to be Relief Society president, I wondered what the married women in the ward would think.One day, not long after my call, I was visiting with another sister in the neighborhood. She mentioned to me that she was glad that I was the RS president because I was non-traditional.” I responded that I had often thought about the fact that I was non-traditional. I wondered how the sisters in my ward would respond to me– to someone
    whose life experience was, and is, so different from their own. I have never married, never raised
    children, and I work full-time as a university professor. What did I know about being a wife and a mother and the challenges that most of them faced on a daily basis?
    The impression came to me that what we share as women in Relief Society is greater than our differences. We are each striving to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen home and family, and serve the Lord and His children. How we accomplish those things may be unique, but our end goal is the same. It’s the common ground.

  3. Rosemary- I agree. It is that common ground of faith, desire for community, and culture that makes Mormons gel with each other and actively seek out each other. Your ward is lucky to have you, we don’t all need to be the same. I’ve learned some of the greatest lessons at church from people with a perspective and experience different from my own. I welcome the fresh insights and am glad we can all bring something to the table and share ourselves in addition to our faith

  4. I don’t have TV and WHAT?!?!?!? Garments on prime time television? Fro crying in the mud! What is this world coming to?

  5. Yeah, bth, with people wearing them.

    Sandra, thanks for this great post. So many good points. Truly finding that compound of everything in one is divine.

    I’ve always loved how being Mormon immediately unites me with others. One example was when my family had just moved to NY from UT and were at a gas station in the Bronx. The station attendant, a black man in a hoodie, came over to us and asked if we were Mormon since we had Ut license plates. He was the bishop on Staten Island. We immediately were shaking hands and feeling like family despite our differences.

  6. Wonderful post! I think we sometimes forget about the beauty of balanced binaries, both in the gospel and in society. (Sorry, the alliteration was truly unintentional…) We focus on the division and pass over the creative energy sparked by the differences. I believe it was Joseph Smith who said, “In proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” Eugene England wrote a great essay about that once. But I’m rambling. Mostly, I just wanted to say, “well done” and “amen”!

  7. Thank you for this post, it is something I have thought a lot about too (I’m bothered by how culture views one half of a binary as better than the other half – where on earth did this silly notion come from? Is yin superior to yang? Is heads more valuable than tails? So why does society tell us that thin is better than fat? Why is beautiful better than ugly?) And I just realised while reading this that the mormon moment has done a tiny little bit for the mutual appreciation across the binaries in the Church. We’ve discovered each other, we’ve seen faithful Mormons who have radically different opinions and lives than we do. We have learnt more about each other. I think this is a particularly nice thing about small wards and branches in places where there are very few members: you really see all sorts, and it is amazing.

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