The Grey Area
Thoughts on polarisation and where we go for rational debate
“We’re living in such a black and white world and we forget that there’s grey in between. We need to get back into the grey." (Dr Traci Baxley on the School of Greatness podcast (paraphrased))
I've been thinking about this quote since listening to this podcast and I've been working on this image to try and get it clear in my head. It's not quite there yet, so consider this a work in progress.
The idea is that we're driven to these polar extremes, but the grey area in between is where all the debate happens.
Consider Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen's testimony to the UK government this week. "Much of the blame for the world’s increasingly polarised politics lay with social networks" (Jim Waterson and Dan Milmo in the Guardian).
These networks drive us to the black and white parts of the model, as that's where the profit is made. There's no incentive for Facebook (or others) to expend any effort to deradicalise discourse. Rage pays.
We used to live in the grey area quite happily and talk to people without it descending to personal attacks, violence and discrimination.
The grey area is the realm of difficult conversation. Yes, things may get uncomfortable. Yes, you may be challenged, but these things are necessary if we’re to grow. If we’re all divided into two groups all we can do is look across the grey area and throw things at the other end.
Nowadays, even though our political leanings, our moral codes, our life experience will all place us somewhere on a spectrum, we're categorised and placed at one of the ends. Here the discourse is only "us or them".
In a society where we all consider ourselves more educated, more enlightened, more knowledgable than our forebears, isn’t it odd that we can’t just converse with those we disagree with?
So what can we do? Firstly, we have to understand what Facebook and the other platforms are. When we do this we can look beyond them to seek out opposing views. We can seek out facts when thinking about issues and make informed decisions.
Secondly, we need to talk. To our friends, our colleagues, our neighbours. Seek out dialogue on all things, instead of just shouting.