2021, issue 2
Either Or
Oshrat C. Silberbusch
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Krisis 41 (2): 104-105.
1042021, issue 2
Either Or
Oshrat C. Silberbusch
The a priori reduction to the friend-foe relationship is one of the
Ur-phenomena of the new anthropology. Freedom would be not to choose
between black and white but to step out of such prescribed choice. 85)
Either Or, which holds such sway these days, is about much more than political
polarization. It is about a strangely contracted imagination, about thought broken o,
freedom crushed by prescribed choices. The prescription is all the more inescapable as,
by all accounts, there is no prescriber. In their stead, there is paucity: the reduction of
an innitely complex reality to the black and white of the Either Or, the squeezing of
the messy, unruly phenomena into a neat binary. Red or Blue, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice,
Free Markets or Servitude, Live Free or Die, Pro-Vaccine or Antivaxx. Binary thinking
is identity thinking on steroids. Everything is either friend or foe, A or not-A. There
is no need for reection, only sorting. The answer is already given. Just check the box.
Either Or forces thought into a corner, a corner in which reection is stied
or worse: a threat, a dangerous concession to the other side. Just like in the One Drop
Rule the paroxysm of America’s primal binary the most innitesimal trace of not-A
erases A, turns it into its opposite. There is no in-between, no nuance, no new coming
out of the old, no innity of possibilities, only a jealously guarded Either Or for which
intransigence is strength and humility a weakness. Lost is the possibility of true reec-
tion, the richness of an argument not decided in advance. Lost is the fragile freedom in
which thought blossoms, the quest for a truth that can only be found because it can be
lost. For Adorno, the ability to think, to reect, hinged on the ability to see in the small
dierence a Dierenz ums Ganze a dierence that changes everything. In the world
of Either Or, there are no small dierences, only the Big One, and there is no change
either, certainly no change of mind –only xity, ever-sameness, and the unshakeable
conviction to be on the right side.
Either Or is the language of power. It tends to be most forceful where power
needs to be consolidated or feels under threat. In America, British settlers, at the fore-
front of their white supremacist times, created a black-white binary so rigid that it
would outdo all its colonialist peers in exploitative power and longevity. Spanish settlers,
on the other hand, relied on a complex nomenclature of intermixtures (negros, mes-
tizas, mulatas, moriscos, castizas, albinos, barcinas, cambujos, zambaigas, and many more)
whose multiplicity undermined the very hierarchy it aimed to construct. Power relies
on the constriction of the possible, on the withering of social and political imagination.
Complexity, multiplicity, ambiguity, and nuance feed the imagination. They are the
beginning of freedom, just as Either Or is its end. Those who trumpet the prescribed
choices know that all too well. They do not want you to be free; they do not even want
you to choose. They want you to believe that there is no alternative.
Either Or thrives on fear. “Either” it ominously rumbles, “or else ”. War,
imagined or real, is its terrain of choice. In the United States, the protracted Cold War,
with McCarthyism as its brief but revealing ideological paroxysm, has led to a withering
1052021, issue 2
of the collective political imagination whose legacy continues. But America, as Adorno
knew all too well, is not an exception it is the exaggeration that is the medium
of truth, always one step ahead. The thought-structure that the One Drop Rule and
McCarthyism relied on and perpetuated, the merciless A or not-A, is alive and well and
can be found everywhere. As the prescribed choices become ever more entrenched, the
capacity to step out of them wilts away. For the sake of that very freedom whose name
is so often fraudulently invoked by the Either Or, we need to relearn, urgently, not to
choose between black and white.
Oshrat C. Silberbusch holds a PhD in Philosophy
from Tel Aviv University and an MA in German
Studies from the Université de la Sorbonne
Nouvelle, Paris. She is the author of Adorno’s
Philosophy of the Nonidentical. Thinking as Resistance
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and has written articles
on Theodor W. Adorno, Jean Améry, W. E. B. Du
Bois, George Orwell, Günther Anders, post-Shoah
thought and German-Jewish history. She lives in
Brooklyn with her husband and three children.