The Bipartisan Body

In a conversation about navigating the election season when one holds vastly different views from the rest her family, a friend told me a story about a bunch of apes (or baboons or some other really intelligent primates). Scientists were studying the animals’ behavior in their natural jungle habitat that bordered a lake that they never approached. This aversion interested the observers, so they began throwing food into the sand to test them. A few brave apes risked the foreign territory of the sand to eat, and a couple especially clever creatures actually entered the water to wash the grit off the snacks even as the rest of the clan screeched in hungry disapproval.

My friend translates this into a need for both liberals and conservatives: someone needs to try something new and potentially end up with a tastier lunch, while others need to hang back and preserve the tribe just in case entering the water really does mean certain death.

This evening I gave myself time for another of Elsie’s Yoga Podcasts; this particular class was all about attuning oneself to the respective qualities of the right and left sides of the body. She spoke of the left as the cooler side, that of the moon, of receptivity; the right is the warm side, that of the sun from which all of our actions originate. In recognizing the difference between the joints and muscles and realizing that each side had its own sensations and means of communicating with the brain it becomes possible to look at the entire body with a holistic perspective. For all that I thought of my left and my right as separate entities for an hour, I can say that I feel a deep sense of integration that I might not have discovered had I not explored all that separates the two halves of my body.

Of course, it was impossible to listen to all of this talk of the right and left without hearing it as an allegory (Elsie actually recorded it over a year ago, so discovering it tonight was sweet synchronicity). I think you could read the Eastern perspective on the left and right sides of the body into our blue and red parties in a way that would serve both camps, but that would do little to describe the political realities of today.

Binary systems are ancient and useful and allow us to draw lines in the sand about the really big stuff like heaven and earth, female and male, spirit and body. At the same time, these dichotomies can lead to laziness rather than discernment and can create uselessly artificial enmities. They are handy rhetorical devices and make textbooks easier to write (understand the mood of an era by studying who were the good guys and who were the bad guys!), but in practical application, those carefully forged divisions must break down.

We live in a world so completely colored with shades of gray that we long for the simplicity of column A or column B. For the next week we can imagine that our decisions really are as easy as picking that one or this one.

I know I am premature in seeking a reconciliation between the sparring factions since we have to think in terms of blue and red, not violet and indigo for the next seven days. Still, I am already more interested in examining both the entire picture – the body, our country – and all of the pixels that constitute that image – each cell, each individual. I hope we will come to realize that both these macroscopic and microscopic perspectives are much more enlightening than trying to hack our whole nation in half.