In The News

The war on nuance

One of the things I was taught in school to be wary of was absolutism, and it was good advice. Absolutism is all around us and it is only fueled by the online world, especially in the world of politics, and it can be extremely dangerous, and can inflict dire consequences.

In many ways, I find it sad how uncommon it has become to be able to sit down with someone who might have viewpoints different than your own and have a civil conversation on nuanced, complex topics, especially with anything to do with politics. It has come to the point where most people I know prefer not to talk about politics at all because of how polarizing both sides of the political spectrum have become, something that is both not productive and extremely dangerous. Like it or not, but the political atmosphere and the decisions made by those in office on our behalf affects us all in every way imaginable, from the type of job opportunities available to us, to the types of education accessible to us, to the very future of the planet and nation as a whole.

In my opinion, refusal to have a conversation with someone you disagree with is an indicator of having an absolutist opinion — it’s your side or no side, and there are only a few, clearly defined sides to a matter — and it does you no good. Like it or not, the world is complex, and very rarely can issues be boiled down to just one thing or another, no matter how convenient it might be to do so. Now, this does not mean you need to have a conversation with anyone — there are many extremists that you should rightfully steer away from — but the majority of the people don’t fall into this category, and you should be able to hold a civil discourse with them.

To some extent, the news and even politicians have to simplify matters in order to break down complex issues into working parts that people can understand, but where this goes wrong is when this breakdown results in issues being reduced to talking points divorced from facets of the issues that they don’t like, so suddenly these complex issues become boiled down to simple problems with simple action items that have no hopes of solving the issues themselves, because talking points are not representative of reality.

Some examples: You feel like it’s hard to get a job in America? Well, obviously Mexico and China are to blame, because manufacturing has moved over there, so let’s punish them, despite the fact that job migration was a result of the complex process of globalism that cannot be undone. You feel like the media sometimes lets their political bias in their coverage? Suddenly the media as a whole is corrupt, even the enemy of the American people. Issues that have a spectrum of colors get boiled down to either black or white, as is the basis for absolutism.

While this has always been the case in politics and in news, it’s also very worth mentioning that this happens organically online, where online algorithms often show you news coverage and opinions that you like in hope of bettering their engagement, unintentionally creating online echo chambers that encourage absolutist behavior and leave little to no healthy contact with those with opinions you disagree with. Talking points are also easier to get people to engage with than nuanced pieces about what’s actually going on, which has led to the rise of sites that specialize in this content, particular Breitbart and Infowars, and their content doesn’t need to be correct so long as their readers agree with what’s being written.

Online discourse itself also encourages arguments and divisiveness, creating artificial social groups where you’re either all in or against a topic or group as a whole. And then there is also the issue of craft, and the fact that the internet has suddenly given everyone a voice and a platform, but with little to no media training, allowing citizen journalists to perpetuate and encourage the very behavior just described.

I’m a firm believer that the world might be too far gone in terms of the state of the environment to be saved, but I think that it can be salvaged — and when we talk about large issues, I think that that is the biggest one that has been inflicting permanent damage. Regimes can change as can philosophies, but damage to the physical world is hard to undo. As the truth gets buried down to talking points and party politics, we need to keep in mind that the world is starting to operate on borrowed time, and this war on nuance helps no one.

Nuance is the key to having complex conversations with people you disagree with, for it is through that nuance that you can communicate to them on their own terms, possibly changing their mind on a topic, or at least finding common ground. Nuance is also how you understand why someone thinks the way they do and once you know that, you might be able to work with that. But none of this is possible if you dismiss them on face value, because their opinion so happens to fall into the very broad box of things you don’t like or agree with.

There has also been a second war on language going on in the world, a war on context, but that topic would warrant its own opinion piece, and in my opinion, the war on nuanced opinions and discussion as well as context are the most prevalent methods of control enacted through language.


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