title. The Black And White Misperception
name. James Thorp
When I saw that the colour-theme for the next issue of Lux was ‘black and white’, I immediately thought about what those colours mean to me. I will not pretend to know much about art or photography and I am pretty sure no one would want to read any poetry or stories I might try to write. What I do know, however, is that in art ‘black and white’ are of course colours, same as the rest. But, have you ever been told that, scientifically, black and white are not actually colours, at least not in the same sense that the others are? Well, I am that annoying pedant - one who also likes to inform people that there is no such thing as a ‘seagull’ - you see, ‘black’ is simply a reflection of no light and ‘white’ is a reflection of all light, trust me, just go and Google it. Google knows all, just like Facebook knows everything about you, your friends, your family and probably your dog - cheers Facebook. The end story is that the ‘colours’ black and white are a misperception.
Thinking about this idea made me think about how many things in this world at some point ended up being viewed as ‘black and white’. I then realised just how many these have also been misperceptions. The following might sound rather obvious, but seriously, as you read it take a step back and consider that the traditional habit of viewing the world in a ‘black and white’ way has eroded rapidly over the last 50-100 years - long may it continue - and with that think about exactly how far we have progressed in terms of assumptions, prejudices and unnecessary exclusion. Be proud for a second, yet consider what work we still have to do. But just what are these ‘black and white’ misperceptions I am focusing on?
Gender is no longer ‘black and white’. Someone’s gender is not constrained to a binary definition, it is not something to be assumed and the gender roles society has drilled into us from birth need not be the one you have to follow. Recent years, especially in the West, have witnessed the rise of Feminism, LGBT(Q+) and HeForShe, for example. We have come very far, further than the human race has ever gone in terms of gender and sex; but as the Weinstein Affair helps in highlighting, we still have work to do in ridding the world of gender prejudices and assumptions, Patriarchal society and misogyny.
War and Peace is perhaps an outdated assumption of one or the other, of ‘black and white’. Since 1945, there has been an unprecedented lack of inter-state war, most evidently in Europe. There has been nothing on a massive or catastrophic level since WWII. But, can anyone really say we have been at peace? Have humans gotten any less violent, biologically, or is our predilection for violence inhibited by cultural, moral, economic and systematic structures that we have formed; and then what happens if those structures are changed or removed? So we are certainly not at war, but where are we then? Sticking to this archaic sense of war and peace, combined with the naive belief that we have eternally curbed our violent capacities, is complacent. Not wanting to lionise it too much, but Russia has no such naive beliefs and is already freely using what is known as the ‘grey area’ in between war and peace to wage a kind of ‘hybrid’ war against the Ukraine and launch cyber tactics against the US and the rest of the world.
Morality used to be set by monotheistic religion, making the world a lot simpler, with fundamental tenets of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ almost completely ‘black and white’. But, who defines morality now, in our increasingly secular world? We have global human rights, we have international law, we study and espouse morality and ethics, yet, what actually are ‘good’ and ‘evil’? Sticking to a binary vision of morality may be outdated; morality is complex, defining ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is not linear either - it is not even a spectrum.
Race (ethnicity) used to be, by and large, a case of ‘us and them’; you were usually one or the other. In the West, it was a case of being white and ‘superior’ or not being white and therefore ‘inferior’. It is not a prejudice limited to the traditionally white Caucasian West, but it is the most glaring example. Lack of prejudice and widespread inclusion has indeed been growing, in most places anyway. Ideally, ethnicity should only be cause for a sense of pride, in all other things it should not matter or make a difference to how you are treated. Again, in a third sense this time, being ‘black’ or ‘white’ is a misperception, a lie even - there are no races, just one.
Society, to a great extent, used to be a case of common- and noble-birth; it was usually quite ‘black and white’ which one you were. In most cases nobility has all but died out, with royalty in certain nations a benign historical remnant who technically retain constitutional rights of sovereignty. The problem is now not a ‘black and white’ definition of birthright, but one of privilege and wealth; with some projections estimating that one percent of the world’s population will own two-thirds of its wealth by 2030 – disgusting, I know - the issue is clearly not simple.
Politics is typically seen as a struggle between the ‘left’ and ‘right’, another binary definition. We have come a long way since then, with political views and parties creating a spectrum, with most modern parties sitting near the centre. But, we can save our celebrations, we seemed to have devolved a little of late; right now in the West, it is a struggle of the liberal left and centre against the typically hyper-nationalist right – I am talking Trump, Brexit, Marine Le Pen, the Freedom Party of Austria, Catalonia and so on. This situation - political polarisation and a lack of a viable ‘third option’ - may be better than Russia and China’s newly ‘re-elected’ President’s (neo-dictators?), Putin and Xi Jinping, but it is still fairly worrying.
I have just realised, whilst thinking about and writing this piece, that I have been guilty – everyone is a hypocrite right? - of using a ‘black and white’ view of the world: the ‘West’, with the alternative being the ‘East’. Of course, there is a reason why we use such a classification; there is a very real difference between the two and it is therefore helpful to have terms to define them. But, in this young century, with the ascendancy of Asia, we face a ‘Thucydides Trap’; so in reason it would be better for the world in general if we could think in less of a binary way and more in a homogenous way; that way we could avoid targeting one another and focus on the real problems at hand, primarily climate change and ecological collapse. Throughout our existence we have steadily united into larger groups, so how else other than a global community based on a shared goal are we going to move forward? That might all sound both very gloomy and full of ridiculous utopian bull. But come on, think about it: if you had not yet realised it, the world is a pretty rough and unforgiving place, so it is what we do despite it that can be so incredible and beautiful.
The future will be bright, but only if we work hard to make it so, and do so together.