I should have known. The signs were all there, but I just couldn’t believe it was true. I was wrong. Nuance is dead.
Ideologies are no longer plotted along a spectrum of ideas; instead they appear only at opposing ends. Apparently, there is no longer a “gray area” in any area of religion, philosophy, or politics, and this is a terrible thing. Pick your cause or belief.
Abortion, you are either “pro” or “anti.” You are not allowed to say that you generally oppose abortion, but accept it in cases of rape, incest or where the mother’s life is at risk. No, no, no. You are either for abortion or against it. You must decide whether it is okay to abort right up until that fetus pops out of its mother’s vagina, or you oppose even the use of condoms because they interfere with the procreative activity God intended. There is no middle ground.
You either want all guns removed from society or you want every man, woman and child to carry one wherever he goes. You cannot support the private ownership of guns for law-abiding citizens, while opposing ownership by felons, the mentally handicapped, or children. No, no, no. Either guns exist for the sole purpose of killing children, or they are a necessity to defend against a totalitarian government, a would-be robber, or to settle disputes among men whose honor has been called into question. You’re a fool to say that any other position has merit.
Republicans hate the poor and love the rich, and Democrats love the poor and high taxes. Republicans want to lift people up without dependency on government, and Democrats keep people poor by encouraging dependency. Either or, all or nothing. As far as one is concerned, the other’s positions are without merit.
In society today, two people of opposing views find it nearly impossible to see the merit of their opponent’s positions. Now, if both positions came to be as a result of study, debate, and rigorous criticism, then perhaps it is valid that there is no merit to your opponent’s positions. That does happen. But, in most cases, the person espousing a particular position could not tell you why his position is correct, only that it is, in fact, correct. Let me give a few examples:
I recently saw a photo on-line that showed a label for some sort of seed product. It is unclear what the label was actually for, because the photo (intentionally) lacked that information. The label had this warning saying that the product was “made with poison.” It was also clear that the label was for some sort of seed because it also stated that it was for “cultivation, not consumption.” Now, the image was shared by someone opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMO), and the purpose of the image was to inflame others who oppose GMOs by showing that GMOs contain poison. What the image lacked was context. In fact, there was no evidence that the product was actually a GMO product. Most seeds used for cultivation (i.e., planting crops) are coated in a fungicide to prevent fungus from growing on the seeds during transport and storage, but they are not GMO. But facts like this are unimportant to people with a mission. If your mission is to create the impression that GMOs are poisonous, then showing a label for seeds with “poison” on the label goes a long way. And most readers won’t bother to research the issue themselves because they don’t have the time or don’t care. If it reinforces your current position, what does it matter that the facts oppose you.
Perhaps a different example will help. As a formerly religious person, I have embraced the logical position of agnosticism, but I have a friend who is an atheist. Whenever we have talked about religion or science, she has largely been unable to talk details because she doesn’t have any. She went to a religious college like I did, but wasn’t religious herself. She believes in evolution, but can tell you practically nothing about it. If you want to talk about evolution in a critical way, not even to say that it’s bunk, she cannot keep up, but she’ll certainly mock you for questioning it.
My friend and the anti-GMO activist are examples of the disappearance of thoughtfulness, which gives rise to nuance. Nuance requires that you consider the various arguments and positions within an issue, but most people are unwilling, too lazy, or incapable of doing so. They will simply say that “if I don’t believe in God, I must believe in evolution.” Or that “I don’t want to consume poisons, and someone tells me that GMO is poison, therefore I am anti-GMO.” What’s especially sad is that these are often intelligent people who certainly have the ability to come to more nuanced positions, but for whatever reason, don’t. It’s sad, but true.
Our country has always been a leader, in part, because we could see both the bigger picture and the brush strokes. You might say we could see both the forest and the trees. But the trees are disappearing, the strokes vanishing. We need to encourage criticism, not look on it with disdain.