Fictional Jedi are, ordinarily, divided into two major factions: the light side and the dark side. We are told that this dichotomy is also present in all things, up vs down, left vs right. But the more I learn, the less realistic I find this view. True, in isolation elements of reality may appear one thing or its opposite. That is a function of our heuristic ability to quickly conceptually interpret things – one is up, so the other is down.

Heuristics are ways of learning which enable us to quickly (another word would be “dismissively”) learn or approach problems by making certain assumptions. Whilst I haven’t consciously monitored the trajectory and rotation of the earth today, given the likelihood of it’s happening, I predict without additional computation that there will be a sunrise tomorrow. Given my understanding of human biology and neurology, and my experience of life so far, I assume it’s sensible to take a pen into my right hand rather than my left hand when I hope to write something. Heuristics are often sensible.

But reality, whilst composed of such heuristic dichotomies as “light and dark”, is not really about blackness or whiteness. If I take one black dot and one white dot, and repeat them in sequence over an area then stand back, they appear as something else: grey.

This is, in my opinion, the true nature of the Force. Reality is never exclusively one thing or another, and whilst we acknowledge the interdependence, the insinuation one thing brings of its opposite, we are wrong to interpret this as a fundamental split-into-camps. Reality is blended, merged, mixed. In my own life I’ve worked with the darker parts of my nature, my alcoholism, my anger issues, and a number of other large “dark” issues. And what I’ve learned is that the wrong way to approach them is to try to “extract” them from myself. It doesn’t work – taking something out of your life creates a void, a void which begs to be filled until it is.

Better is the more harmonious, more Forcely, more “grey” path of accepting some things about ourselves which we don’t like, from a purely white perspective. We can learn to channel the energies and impulses which give rise to “dark” elements within our nature without submitting to ferocious anger or substance dependency. We can learn moderation, compromise, harmony. We can learn that it’s better to be grey, than always to fluctuate between black and white.

It’s a common feature of all philosophies that they look to answer questions in isolation. To pull out a single thing, look at it “objectively” outside of its regular context, and then to put it back in place as though we now understand how it works. Whilst that works well for relatively simple systems like a car engine, where we can pull out a single cog, inspect it and then replace it, in our lives, in the world, in the wider system of the Force such an approach is, frankly, useless. To give a comparison it would be like extracting a cog from a car engine and trying to infer from it the meaning and purpose of all life in the universe.

The Force is “more than the sum of its parts”. Necessarily so. It is not just about one part interacting with another, but all parts interacting with all other parts, across all time and space. It seems wiser, therefore, to investigate the currents, eddies and patterns we find within the Force, the small ecosystems within the wider system, to infer things about the system as a whole: as above, so below.

And as we only ever find objects or concepts “in situ”, we never once have found a free-floating idea simply waiting for us in space, we must examine things with a true phenomenological rigour; instead of imagining things in isolation, we must choose to see them as they are, situated, contextualised. The Force is nothing if not the sum of contexts! And where we find ideas is with other ideas. Where we find objects is with other objects. For every “light” there is a “dark”. The sum total of that arrangement is the most perfect grey possible – literally all the white and all the black ever, entwined at the deepest and most subtle levels.

It isn’t black and white. It’s grey, and must always be grey.

And so are we; as expressions of the wider Force we are simply subsystems, the “below” to the overarching “above” of the whole. We reflect an aspect of that great system and we are, universally, flawed. We are imperfect. We are complex and changeable and difficult to define. We are not cogs! We are systems, systems many trillions of “black and white”s deep. We are grey to our very core.

So why does this matter? Some describe TOTJO Jediism as rather grey, not defined by any particular requirement that Jedi or even Knights at the Temple perform or maintain great acts of “light” virtue. I think the challenge of greyness comes when considering our doctrine. We ask followers of this faith to speak in favour of one side of a dichotomy, in contrast to the necessary opposite. I don’t find a strong philosophical basis for this; we trust in the Force, in greyness, in both the positive and negative, or we betray it.

Perhaps the idea is that we are seeking to be light to counter an overabundance of darkness. That is certainly how I used to see the role of the Jedi, which drove me to ministry and to taking apprentices of my own. But the truth is we’re all of us imperfect. No Knight of this temple goes a single day doing something which isn’t at least grey. It’s an ideal, something to aim for an not to achieve – I know that. But it’s not true of the Force. It’s not embodying that which, as jedi (small J intentional) we have faith in, put our trust in, seek to embody.

I’m not advocating going out and harming as many people as we help. I am perhaps questioning the idea of virtue as held up in this Temple. I recognise that the more senior Jedi have approached, accepted, integrated the very challenge of purpose I describe here. They have answers which are complex, grey. I respect them.

But to the wide community of curious visitors, guests, and Jedi of all stripes, this distinction is lost. We talk of embodying the Force whilst doctrinally misinterpreting it.

I’m reminded of Wittgenstein’s oddly chilling conclusion to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and not for the first time in this journal:

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Perhaps our doctrine is there as a similar heuristic to seeing the world in black and white. It’s not the truth of what we find, at least not the whole truth, but it is elucidatory of some key underlying principles of reality. It’s a ladder for the new guys to understand concepts and ideas we can’t yet speak to them about directly, not a working functional model of the Force. And, naturally, as our understanding of the Force deepens, so too does our appreciation of its underlying – and desirable – greyness.