Nuance seems to be disappearing from our lives. It is this disappearance that fuels the polarization of our civilizational discourses. It may be the cause, it may be the effect, but that should be an entirely different conversation. Now I just want to lament the fading away of nuance.
The other day, at the yearly paella event at a friend’s cottage, I asked someone what she thinks about the overturn of Roe vs Wade by the US Supreme Court. I most definitely got a most definite answer. The right of women over their own bodies is non-negotiable.
In retrospect, my question may have been provocative, as I expected a feminist answer and disregard for the constitutional aspects, but I was honestly hoping for a conversation about the implications of the decision. Instead, I got a non-negotiable position statement about the unalienable ‘rights’ of women. Yes, the pun was intended. Unalienable, as if it was right next to the pursuit of happiness.
There was no discussion. None. It intrigued me, so I asked the question from some more friends.
I got the same, expected reaction from the same kind of people. Even as there is a lot to discuss. About the implications of the decision. About the nature of democracy, about the extent of our expectations and about the lines we are not willing to cross. About the possible changes it will bring to society and politics.
I tried nuanced conversations with some pro-lifers as well, but these conversations never happen as conservative virtue signaling isn’t any better than the progressive one. On this issue, the right is almost as rigid as the left. A conversation that starts and ends with “me right – you wrong” cannot get anywhere.
Nuance is missing everywhere. We can talk about Covid, the War in Ukraine, climate change or nuclear energy, the answer – in essence – will always be the same. You are either with us or against us. As if nuance, the understanding of complexities would threaten the clarity of the virtue signaling position.
Understanding and appreciating nuance is the first step toward a compromise. Nuance is the first step away from ideology toward a better understanding of the problem and the position of those holding different views. Without nuance, there can be no understanding, no mutually acceptable compromise. Without nuanced understanding all we are left with is a contest of wills and power.
I blame this polarization of civil discourse on postmodernism. It may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out.
“The concept of postmodernism that swept American universities in the late-twentieth century posits that there are no objective truths or transcendent realities and that all claims to knowledge are mere “social constructs” that mask exploitative and unequal power relationships. Postmodernism rejects the Western applications of reason and science to discover knowledge, pursue truth, and advance human progress, which ideas are now deemed oppressive. Postmodernism considers all knowledge to be relative and established by groups based upon the beliefs of their cultures.”
In a postmodernist universe, there is no truth or reality, there are only narratives. In this new world of socially/culturally constructed realities, professing one’s alignment with a particular narrative is more important than the narrative’s alignment with objective, observable reality. A nuanced view is a threat to the narrative and therefore to the alignment with that narrative, potentially leading to a crisis of identity. For the ideologically aligned, protecting the narrative is, in a sense, a form of self-preservation.
Once you chose your narrative, once you identified yourself with a particular social construct of reality and the social group representing and articulating it, your ‘job’ is to protect and shape that narrative into its idealized form.
An interesting manifestation of this phenomenon (relating to the Ukrainian war) was the recycling of WWII stories of the primitive, uncultured Russian soldiers, who do not even know where they are, indiscriminately robbing and raping innocent civilians.
The idealized form of the narrative is the brutish primitive Russian soldier. (…. and I am not kidding. I got it from two different sources)
In a world of competing narratives, reality no longer matters, the only thing that counts is the narrative’s appeal to potential adherents to the group shaping the narrative.
The ultimate effect of post-modernism therefore is not the promotion of diverse views, interpretations and opinions, but the transformations of any and all of those differences into conflicts of power.
It does not matter whether you are right or wrong, because the only thing that can make you ‘right’ is the POWER of the group that shapes the narrative you chose to identify with.
Nuance, complexity, truth, science and reality have no place in the post-modernist universe.
My personal appreciation of the above places me in a group most vehemently attacked by all who label it as just another narrative.
The break-down of societal discourses is not accidental. It is part of a greater design driving us toward total societal breakdown. A revolution, if you will. A showdown, where one’s preferred narrative will be victorious and will become the official reality. One that does not require nuance, one that does not require thinking, tolerance and understanding at all.
What do you think? Since this is an incredibly complex and infinitely nuanced subject, I would love to have your thoughts on it. Unless, of course, you just don’t like my narrative; in which case you only need to name the time and the place where we can duke it out in a fisticuff.