How would his photos look without the grays? Fairly stark. Of course there are questions for which there are properly only yes or no answers. R.S.V.P.: Will you be attending the event? But many other questions involve nuances – shadings of choice. Those who try to polarize the public are very skilled at recasting complex, nuanced questions into stark either/or, black/white forms. It’s a lot simpler to pick between 2 choices. Alas, often that’s a false simplicity because the answer is “it depends.”
An even greater challenge is when we’re offered no choice: It’s either all black or all white. What dull pictures those make! (Even Ad Reinhart’s totally black Abstract Painting at MOMA – one of my favorites – is made of very subtly different shades of black.) If our worlds were all black or all white, we’d be blind and reliant on others to guide us. That’s the danger that Adams, Jefferson, and others warned against in founding the U.S.A. We must be educated well enough to make our own judgments or we risk becoming relegated to being subjects of totalitarian government.
So the answer to the Tyranny of the Either/Or must at least be Consider Both/And. That answer doesn’t quite do it, though, because we need to be discerning enough to see the multiple shades of gray. We’ll need to find a pithy way of saying that, though.