On 50 Shades of Grey

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Children see the world in black and white. They either love their food or hate it; they are ecstatic or in floods of tears; cartoons are battles between goodies or baddies.

As humans mature, we learn that things are rarely that simple. That there are two sides to almost every argument, and that nobody (not even a saint or a prophet) is 100% good or entirely evil.

There are some circumstances in which this dualist attitude persists – and can be positively desirable.

Moral certainty (e.g. the belief that murder, theft and rape are Bad Things) is generally not something we want to lose (although we recognise that there are ocassions when a killer, a thief and even in extremis a rapist may be worthy of some sympathy).

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Murderer or victim?

Tribalism in sport can generate atmosphere and add to the spectators’ enjoyment (it’s fun, and relatively harmless, to make fun of Spurs fans).

But in most aspects of life, adults ought to acknowledge the complexities of the world and that the real world is coloured in 50 shades of grey (as opposed to a hugely selling book).

Crucially, we also learn that some actions or characteristics may be acceptable or even admirable in some circumstances while abhorrent in others.

Thus, we can howl with outrage when the Chinese eat dogs and retweet pictures of cute lambs whilst cheerfully frequenting a butcher whose shop is festooned with the carcasses of dozens of creatures.

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Delicious or disgusting? 

(Yes, you guessed it, I am a vegetarian!)

But there is a disturbing tendency amongst both individuals and the groups we call “society” to throw off the mantle of maturity and to feel compelled to take sides.


Thus, if you are not a Corbynista, you are necessarily a Tory (or worse still, a Blairite traitor).

If you are in any way critical of the actions of Hamas, you are an Islamophobic ZioNazi (or, if you are in any way sympathetic with Palestinians, you must be antisemitic).

You can only be a member of the WOBs (Wenger out brigade) or a WKB (Wenger knows best).

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Which is the hero and which the villain?

If you want to allow Syrian refugees into your country, you are a self-hater (or if you say there has to be some control on immigration, you are a closet racist).

These are just four examples – I am sure you can add your own.


All nuance and subtlety is lost in such debates.

Whatever the cause for such a simplistic, childish view of the World, I do not hesitate to suggest that the more it persists in any given society, the poorer that society is.

This is very clearly demonstrated in those places with the misfortune to be under the sway of militant Islamists, where the division between “believer” and “heretic” or “apostate” is stark and leaves no room for compassion or any middle ground.

Recent world history abounds with similar examples.

It seems to me that the dogmatic, insular, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude is increasingly creeping into everyday discourse in Western society.

I, for one, find this trend profoundly disturbing.

Just as excessive tribalism in sport can (and does) lead to street battles between rival “firms” of hooligans and racist chanting by thousands, so over-simplification of political, ethnic and socio-economic phenomena can (and does) lead to hatred, persecution and (at worst) genocide.

It is often hard, in the world of social media and low attention spans, to elucidate a subtle shade of grey, but it is definitely worth the effort.

Speak soon.

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

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