The World is Grey

And not just because it’s raining.

Once upon a time — forgive the computing example — I would have always said that the best choice for a computer is a Mac. And most of the time I still would: Macs are easier for most people, in most situations. However, I wouldn’t, today, try to talk an accountant into a Mac for their work computer when their dedicated software package runs only on Windows, nor can I recommend a Mac if your budget is $200. Grey uncertainty has crept into my world view.

Today’s internet and today’s media is focused on two sides and conflict between them. Fail vs win. The truth, in most things, is grey. Yes, the apps you can run on a stock iPhone has to be approved by Apple, but the far reduced risk of malware means that’s usually a win for the consumer. The comparative openness of Android, conversely, does not mean that the carriers won’t gum it up with all kinds of crapware that can’t be removed, or that the overall user experience is going to be better.

Follow forums and message boards on tech sites, however, and all you’ll see is polarity; one side pointing fingers at real or imagined “fanboys” on the other. A perceived failure on a single issue is apparently enough to taint a product forever. The media aren’t much better; the stories that get headlines are usually big wins or big problems. Worse, to produce easily written A-vs-B stories, the media will report conflict where none exists. I’m still hearing “I thought there was a problem with that phone” regarding the iPhone 4, from non-tech people who read an article in a paper or saw something on TV. Scientific consensus on climate change and safety of the MMR vaccine is clear, but the public view is not nearly so unified.

Presenting products as a total success or failure (instead of “mostly pretty good”), science as perfect or flawed (instead of mostly correct) or just repeating false data until it becomes “common knowledge” are all symptoms of the problem. Politicians love to be able to claim a win (in power) or claim a failure (in opposition) and rarely admit the opposite to be true. Even scientists would prefer to post results than nothing, and while they should be able to post a paper with inconclusive results, it won’t make everyone happy. (I don’t even want to tackle theists who think they have all the answers already.)

The truth is that the world is grey. Great products have flaws. Food that’s mostly good for you could sometimes be bad for you. Science’s main strength is that it’s OK to prove past science to be flawed. Most politicians have something valuable to contribute, but their entire worldview is unlikely to coincide with your own. To dismiss something because of a small problem is, in the end, to dismiss everything.

Next time you buy something, vote for someone, form an opinion or even fall in love, remember that the object of your attention is not perfect. Expecting it to be will leave you in a state of perpetual unhappiness.

One thought on “The World is Grey”

  1. As a theist (who btw doesn’t have all the answers), I kinda feel the same way when I get tarred with the same brush as the yo-yo element of Christian fundamentalism.

    I’m only focussing on this particular point because you know me to be a writer of these matters in my own blog.

    Your points about technology, science, and politics are well made, and I agree with all of them.

    But may I submit to you, that the same polarity you observe in all these fields, enters into your own argument when the subject turns to the theist vs atheist debate?

    And may I also submit that even in theism, the world is not all black and white. Not all theists think they have all the answers. Not all theists are fundamentalists. Not all theists are morons – even though I’ve said in my own blog that quite a few of them are.

    Even in theism, the world is grey. The belief in a God, while absurd to rationalists, may be the only thing left that helps someone to survive in extreme conditions. While there are people who do terrible things in the name of religion, there are also those who do wonderful and heroic things in the name of religion as well. For example, it is his religion which motivated the Dalai Lama to co-write “The Wisdom of Forgiveness” with a Chinese author.

    It was her religion which motivated Mother Teresa to found a whole Order dedicated to helping the poor in India.

    It was her religion which motivated Mary MacKillop to do the same for the poor in Australia, even in the face of Catholic bureaucracy.

    When a bomb goes off in the streets of Jerusalem, everyone points the finger at religion – and rightly so. But they forget that religion was also behind these other things.

    Religion isn’t perfect either. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. It, too, has something valuable to contribute. Even if it’s just once in a while.

    That doesn’t mean that everyone should believe in it. (I think atheism is essential, actually.) It does mean, however, that those who do shouldn’t necessarily be tarred with the same brush as the extremist element.

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