Gray Power by Trevor Plumbly
Aren’t colours funny? We’ve been indoctrinated with the concept that the principle ones are somehow linked to personality traits and moods; black, white, red, green, blue and yellow all used as descriptive indicators, but not gray. Gray is a sort of non-colour, along with being an escapist word ideally suited to those who’ve entered a process and emerged with nothing. ‘It’s a gray area’ is a phrase that might have been tailor-made for politicians, but lately it seems to have been hijacked by all manner of people to camouflage that they haven’t really got anything positive to offer. It also serves to muddy the waters a bit and keep things ‘in house’: if the cognoscenti can’t come up with a solution, uncertainty is a lot more appealing than egg on the face. ‘Gray’ doesn’t suggest limbo any more, it’s become a rock for every bewildered administrator to cling to.
The UN is good at gray, as is Syria, and if it wasn’t for the human suffering involved, it would be fascinating to follow what lengths either parties will pursue to achieve very little. First there were the chemical weapons; of course they didn’t have any, then they did. Of course they’d get rid of them, then they didn’t, well maybe some of them. After extremely prolonged and complex negotiations a gray area was reached and both sides seem relatively happy with that: the UN for getting the Syrians round the table and showing the world that the tired old watchdog can still bark if not bite and the Syrians for the opportunity to carry on business as usual. Countless thousands have fled the country while yet more will be killed or starved into some sort of submission at the same time as those that could and should stop this needless horror sit round a table in Geneva trading empty solutions. My guess is that they’ll be there for some time; fat ladies don’t sing in gray areas.
Despite its appeal to any form of governance, gray’s natural habitat is in law. As a general rule, law doesn’t really like black and white: in order for the law to survive and prosper it needs gray, the more the better. Innocence and guilt aren’t human realities here where the law is concerned, more tradeable commodities really, where doubt serves as the currency. A simple guilty verdict can be greeted with an avalanche of appeals and if they fail they’ve always got mitigation to gray things up a bit. Gray also works well when it comes to dealing with race relations, domestic violence and other nasty issues that most of us have a sort of arm’s length concern about. Many of us, I’m sure, would like to know and do more than pay lip service or chuck in conscience money, but most of these problems have become sort of no-go areas populated by experts in gray theory.
It used to be regarded as a sort of bridge between black and white, nebulous, even temporary and not of any significance; now, of course, it’s got serious value and having slaughtered the yes/no response and ‘mea culpa’ it’s here to stay. In the light of that I am currently working on re-evaluating gray to give it a bit of dignity. So don’t worry folks if you’re going gray, under the old system you’d be described as ‘on the way out’, wise or senile; under my new system you’d be recorded as ‘going through the decision process’.