Under the shades of grey

Perhaps it is easier to take a position at one extreme or the other, though it may not always be satisfactory

  • Did the Aam Aadmi Party understand the grey areas?
To expect clear answers in our quandaries is to set ourselves up for disappointment. In many scenarios, we are likely to get the explanation: It is not quite that simple, black and white, it is much more complex and grey. But is it because explaining an issue, especially to non-specialist ordinary people, is hard? Or is it because the explanation involves intricate technical issues, or simply that there are so many factors, interdependencies, and variables involved that a straightforward answer would convolute the matter rather than clarifying the doubts? Posing such queries as what is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust, noble or ignoble, not only means setting oneself up for a futile exercise in philosophy, but it is also likely to produce an unsatisfactory result, even if the queries are instinctive. Yet it is natural to be provoked by their inconclusiveness, and they remain topics for investigation – in fact, the subjects of much past and present post-doctoral research. The expedition must be interesting. Consider our approach to human inequality. We (me included) pay a lot of lip service to overcoming it, but when it comes to demonstrating our belief through our actions, we fall terribly short. To be sure, our collective attitudes don’t support the promotion of equality. There are as many generous souls as there are shrewd competitors, and there is also an understanding that “perfect equality” is not only impractical, but also undesirable, probably unachievable. The subcontinent has made good progress in obliterating the millennia-old prejudice (and pride and dominance) of a caste system, but there is plenty more to do. Social segregation – by caste, by income, by education, by sex, or in some instances by religion and ethnicity – is still very noticeable, and in fact it could be argued that it is the root of many problems. Though there are rules supported by liberal constitutions, governments run positive discrimination schemes to advance the deprived, and “untouchability” in its literal sense is almost non-existent in practice, the gulf of discrimination is still vast. Mental “untouchability” is prominently prevalent. One only needs to look at the matrimonial advertisements or talk to match makers in India; the conjugal aspiration still is: Brahmin looking for Brahmin, Shudra looking for Shudra and so on. Within other non-Hindu religions, aspiration to marry well continues to be the norm. Consequently but unsurprisingly, during an election campaign (such as that scheduled for India in May), the politicians are likely to use anything to secure votes. For politicians trying to appeal to the majority, namely the poor and underprivileged, using a “caste card” would make sense. A similar example from Australia would be the wedge politics in which both sides of politics engage when they try to use an issue, such as the treatment of refugees, for political gain. In recent times, especially since the 9/11 incident, there has been animosity towards refugees, in some cases even against migrants. How do the right and left act? On the surface, left would appear to be kinder than right, but in reality, the issue is very suitable for wedge politics. So we have seen both left and right try to sell their offshore plans (ie to block refugees to enter Australia) for dealing with boat people, which both parties considered a much safer ploy as far as getting votes was concerned. But where are the ethics in this – either from the politicians or from Australian society? Can we only blame the politicians for such social backwardness? Think through political issues of your liking, and in any context. We are likely to find that political parties are trying to use a set of random conditions to their own advantage, although in some instances, it would be reasonable to say the issues are not black and white, there are many grey areas. It is likely that we and our buddies have similar ethical standards, yet it is common for us to consider ourselves as more moral than the next person. If questioned, we promptly respond with a list of shortcomings among our competitors or opponents. Politicians are no different. So if in Australia, each side of politics vies to be deemed the better in their treatment of unwelcome refugees, or “boat people” as they are commonly referred to here, in India all major political parties may be playing the “minority,” “rural development,” “reducing/eradicating poverty” or advancing the “backward castes” cards to outmanoeuvre their opponents. Perhaps this is a context in which wish for an all-conquering “Third Forces” intervention should be seen. Though there have been phenomenal hype and support for, let’s say, either for Tehreek-e-Insaf or Aam Aadmi Party, and when both approaches in different contexts have been analysed with hope, following the hype, increasingly the evidence is that good will, honesty, sincerity, commitment, or dedication may not be enough. As Jyoti Rahman explained in his article, politics is hard work (Dhaka Tribune, December 9). It is a very dirty work involving myriads of shoddy deals and tricks. The “Third Force” usually easily articulates the moral high grounds, promising to take action to reduce corruption and bring much needed change. Yet, along with its moral rightness and tireless motivation to clean a system, it also needs to show the maturity (at least an understanding) that governance means dealing with trade-offs. Sometimes painfully undesirable trade-offs. Naturally, idealists would be disappointed. Would their disappointment be lessened, if they could accept that issues are not clear and indeed there are many shades of grey? How about the actions of your heroes? As an example, if you have been tantalisingly entertained by a Scarlett Johansson performance where her seductive mix of empathy, smartness, and reckless self-control took you though some irresistible but disastrous joy rides, her much talked about and analysed script involving SodaStream, Oxfam, and the Palestine-Israel issue ended disappointingly. In line with her silver screen indecision, she tried at first to have it both ways, but eventually dropped the international charity in favour (many would conclude) of money or her Jewish ancestry, or both. While many, and most certainly she herself, may choose to give her the benefit of the doubt, the issue falls into a grey area. How about the actions and reactions of loved ones? Who do you prefer, detest, or show indifference to – practicing believers who are trying to obey their religion as much as possible, those practicing only occasionally, those non-practicing, or those non-believers? How about our own actions? Can we explain our own actions in black and white? Imagine the role of an analyst or a policy officer – whether in government or in a private enterprise – when one collects and analyses data and other information, and provides it to their superiors or employers. How do they manage tensions between the short-term goals of government or private enterprise, and responsibility for the public good? The answer would obviously vary significantly for individuals – perhaps it is easier to take a position at one extreme or the other, right-left, liberal-conservative, pro-anti “anything,” though it may not always be satisfactory. And supporting any political party (or an individual leader) wholeheartedly can often result in supporting things we opposed only a few days ago, as our parties or leaders routinely making contestable decisions and dirty deals for political survival. So are we supposed to empathise with them or denounce them, in their roles as our servants, however illegitimate or unfair? As you can see it gets messy. Doing your own thinking is hard work. As much as I would want to live in a pristine black and white world, more than often I find myself living under unsatisfactory shades of grey, sans satisfaction.

– See more at: http://www.dhakatribune.com/op-ed/2014/apr/15/under-shades-grey%E2%80%AF#sthash.rE0jWFTM.dpuf

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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