Shades of Gray

by Henry Farrell on February 9, 2008

“William Skidelsky”: at the Prospect(UK)’s blog.

I was somewhat surprised, perusing today’s Independent, to be confronted, in the “5-Minute Interview” slot, with a picture of the philosopher John Gray, under the headline “Not many people know that I have a wellness centre… Upon looking more closely, I was reassured to see that the subject of the interview was not, in fact, John Gray the philosopher, but John Gray the author of the bestselling self-help book, Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. The paper had simply made a mistake, and plucked the wrong John Gray from its photo archive. … In addition to the philosopher and the self-help author, there’s also John Gray the multi-millionaire founder of the Spearmint Rhino chain of strip clubs (and husband of a former porn star), and John Gray the American Christian comedian. Which leads me to think that they should all agree to do each others’ jobs for a week, and film the result: the resulting reality TV series would surely be a huge popular hit (title, anyone?)

This is indeed an amusing thought. However, couldn’t you do very nearly as well with a show that confronted the various philosophers who have the name John Gray with each other’s intellectual positions? I’m personally aware of John Gray the Millsian liberal, John Gray the post-Millsian liberal, Rawlsian John Gray, John Gray the green conservative, John Gray the German Christian Democracy-style _Sozialmarkt_ advocate, John Gray the sort-of social democrat, and John Gray the nihilistic Ballardian. I can’t deny that a couple more may possibly have popped up since the last time I checked. The _Chronicle_ published “an article”: recently by Carlin Romano, which perpetuated the common misconception that these were all the same person, but it simply couldn’t be so; no one man could contain such multitudes. I imagine that this has to be another photo-archive mistake.