Too few shades of gray

Today I’d like to talk about gray rights.

No, that was not a typo. I do mean the color gray, and our right, I shall even say our duty, as humanity, to see things in that miraculous yet so often neglected color, as opposed to the binary, black-and-white, world view so many of us seem to cling to.

(Note that the witty “gray rights” wordplay isn’t the fruit of my own creativity but that of a clever person in the comments section of a Youtube video)

George Carlin and Tim Minchin are at the top of my list of favorite comedians of all time, and it’s not just the fact that they tackle serious issues in their comedy; dozens of their peers have done and continue to do so. It’s the fact that every now and again, they have come up with little nuggets of wisdom that were their very own. I cannot recall the number of times I found myself knowingly pointing at my screen screaming “exactly ! that’s what I’ve been saying all this time, thank you!”. This happened when Carlin spoke about national pride or the sanctity of life. But on a more related note, it also happened when I first heard Tim Minchin’s “The fence” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGErC6QQdoc)

“The fence” beautifully destroys moral absolutism, much to my happiness.

Doesn’t really matter if you find you can’t see which grass is greener, chances are it’s neither

Moral absolutism seems to define the way an alarmingly high number of people perceive things around them, from the smallest personal matters to the bigger more serious issues concerning current affairs and world politics. We seem to be wired that way. Gray areas make us uncomfortable, so whenever we have to take a stance toward something, we run for the tranquilizing safety of pre-defined “clans”. We put things and people into categories. As humans, we feel the need to be pro-things or anti-things. Things come to us in packages. For every idea, for every opinion, there’s a label, an entire ideology we vow allegiance to. We’re feminists, or liberals, or conservatives, or anarchists, et cetera. It’s much simpler that way because it means we don’t have to put too much thought into it. Maybe it’s intellectual laziness. Or maybe it’s fear. Maybe we’re scared of a world where things aren’t quite as simple, where right and wrong aren’t pre-defined for us, where our enemies aren’t very clear and our allies even less. 

This world is big and it’s scary and its politics are complicated. I can only applaud anyone who strives to understand them because political indifference in a world where pretty much every move we make is political is the most irresponsible of attitudes. However, while we should try our best to understand the world around us, who “rules” it, what’s happening in it, we should all have the humility to know that there are many things we’re not aware of, either because top secret information is a very real thing and has nothing to do with absurd conspiracy theories, or simply because unless we devote a lifetime to researching every detail of how every government runs its internal and foreign affairs, it’s practically impossible to know everything that’s going on, let alone analyze it so meticulously that we’re able to come up with an accurate list of who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. What’s always true, however, is that every government, every corporation, every entity is trying to serve its own interests and whether the actions they take in doing so happen to match your moral convictions is merely a coincidence.

I’ll throw in my opinion, however biased it may be. We should all steer clear of pre-defined “moral packages” as much as we possibly can. It’s not easy, as life shapes our beliefs and personalities in more ways than one can imagine. We should try and question everything. Every single thing. And base our judgement solely on the most universal of values. We might find ourselves disagreeing with people on all sides of the political spectrum, but it’s okay.

That’s actually one last thing I wanted to talk about. If you ever read your Facebook news feed, or any comments section of any video or any article, you’ll come to the realization that people nowadays seem to hate those who have a different opinion as to how we should cure the evils of the world more than those actually perpetrating those evils. If we started hating injustice and hunger and diseases and poverty as much as we hate those who don’t agree with us as to how we should fight them, we might actually do some progress. Maybe sometimes we should remember that, at the end of the day, we’re all fighting for pretty much the same things.

I will further quote Mr Minchin, who, when giving an address to the students of an Australian university (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoEezZD71sc), imparted this wonderful piece of wisdom on them :

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege. Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

On this thoughtful note, I wish you all many nuanced reflections and unbiased opinions.

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