The case for (and against) nuance

Where can we see abundant nuance in our society?

In an increasingly atomized society becoming further plagued by identity politics, nuance regarding one’s own identity appears to be unending. Played forward, it isn’t hard to imagine a future where every individual inhabits their own personal reality based on who they identify as. Seemingly, we have developed into identity connoisseurs judging who we are by our origins, tastes, sexuality, class, political leanings, etc. and, further, what constitutes truth based what “self” we land in. There are likely many explanations for where this type of thinking comes from, yet, the post-modernist philosophy seems to be one of the main culprits. And, while it can prove handy to question the possibility of objective truth in philosophical debates, it doesn’t lend itself to much in the way of a practical way of life. This is an example of where there is no shortage of nuance in today’s society.

Where is it sorely missing?

The ever growing ideological gap amongst different groups of people, while certainly exacerbated by social media (i.e. the ability to build up walls and participate in echo chambers), cannot fully explain the phenomena. I propose that a concurrent decrease in the ability and/or the willingness to hold nuanced opinions (let’s stick to political opinions for now) has acted like a turbocharger, further spinning up the machine that is driving multiple wedges between overwhelmingly similar people (I mean, we’re all humans, right?). An example might be how an U.S. citizen formulates and holds their view on immigration. It seems that in the marketplace of ideas the two main competitors are “America is a land of immigrants and our doors are wide open” vs “Protecting our borders is not only a sovereign right, it is a safety issue”. We can see clearly here how easy it would be for certain people to throw their full weight behind one or the other of these ideas and be flabbergasted when they run up against someone on the opposing “team”.

“How could you possibly not want to let refugees into our country, are you heartless?”

“How could you possibly not want to secure our borders from criminals and terrorists, are you suicidal?”

I would argue that neither side fully represents the majority of Americans (obliging that ideologues on either side will sure profess their undying support of their “team”), however, given specific anecdotal experiences, they will recognize their own opinion more closely reflected in one of the two main offerings and choose their “team”.

This, in turn, leads to a further crystallization of positions that people take in public discourse, decreasing the flexibility of any given individual, and contributes to the apparent grid lock in the discourse of our representative government.

Why do we do this?

One theory is that the majority of people believe that they do not have sufficient time to digest all the possible sources to come up with a more detailed position on the seemingly endless topics of modern day political discourse. Operating under this assumption, picking a party line and sticking with it makes sense, and, if you combine this with an increase in rhetoric designed to produce as much outrage as possible, the outcome is clear: deeply entrenched positions without any real analysis to back it up, and, the false equivalency of political opinion and identity, AND, a culture-wide neurosis requiring the fierce defense of one’s identity.

Other contributing factors

Another major factor in this story appears to be the current revenue strategy for news outlets. When outrage = clicks = ad revenue AND ad revenue is your main source of income, hard hitting journalism suffers. It appears that any legit journalism being done today is IN SPITE OF our current distribution methods and sources.

Way forward

In closing, this type of simplification and crystallization can be seen in all of the hot debates taking place in the public sphere and needs to be addressed. I believe that a project must be undertaken to take a crack and breaking down the ideological divides and opening up people’s eyes to their ability to hold on to complex ideas and to further progress debate, ideally, leading to the evolution of our society.