Our Extreme Nuancing Trend
I just finished watching the Apple Announcements earlier today and enjoyed them as I always do. The technology on display is amazing, and the innovation seen there is always unparalleled.
But you know what Twitter is talking about?
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) September 9, 2015
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) September 9, 2015
Twitter is totally up in arms that Adobe demo’d how to auto-find a face, and then manipulate it. In the demo, the (male) Adobe representative gave the model a smile. And now the sky is falling.
I’m sorry… but I don’t get it.
Then, an hour later, I was reading the news and the tag line for the article implied that Palin called protesters protesting about how #blacklivesmatter dogs. Surprised that she would be THAT tone deaf I read the article. And here is what she literally said.
“Oh and you know, since your president won’t say it, since he still hasn’t called off the dogs, we’ll say it. Police officers and first responders all across this great land, we got your back! We salute you!”
She said, call off the dogs. Really? We are busting Palin’s chops about ‘call off the dogs’? I’m not a Palin fan. I’d never vote for her, for anything… even dog catcher. But really? This is the news cycle we live in? Call off the dogs? If I were in front of a microphone I would be so flipping busted… all the time. ALL THE TIME. I really do think tact is for weenies.
I realized how in trouble I would be in the other day when I had an innocent enough conversation with my next door neighbor. Good people. Don’t know them well, but well enough to stand there and chat 5 or 10 minutes about life and laugh. Well, his wife was recently in a head on car crash and I was joking with both of them about wanting to help in anyway possible. And I said to her, “I mean, if your slacker of a husband is too busy I’m happy to do whatever I can around the house! No, I know you are both very busy with doctor appointments etc. I’d love to help.”
A couple hours later I was like, OH NO… what a terrible thing. I hope they know I was playing. You see, the husband is African American. And the wife is caucasian. So now I was stressed that he thought I was calling him lazy. But that never once crossed my mind. He’s a dentist. And they have like six kids. Obviously he’s working his ass off to make ends meet and take care of their family. But now I was stressed they both thought I was calling him lazy. Gah.
Which brings me actually, to the point of this little post. We’ve come to this point in our society and we are nuancing the hell out of everything. Its just stupid. And so recently, a scholarly paper came out by Kieran Healy of Duke University that has sort of taken the world (metaphorically speaking) by storm called “Fuck Nuance”. Well, besides the glorious title it is a fascinating discussion of argument, debate and legitimacy to research and study within the world of sociology. It’s a quick read and quite interesting to see his argument and point of view:
However, I do claim that the more we tend to value nuance as such—that it is, as a virtue to be cultivated, or as the first thing to look for when assessing arguments—the more we will tend to slide towards one or more of three nuance traps. First is the ever more detailed, merely empirical description of the world. is is the nuance of the fine-grain. It is a rejection of theory masquerading as increased applicability or range. Second is the ever more extensive expansion of some theoretical system in a way that effectively closes it o from rebuttal or disconfirmation by anything in the world. This is the nuance of the conceptual framework. It is an evasion of the demand that a theory be refutable. And third is the insinuation that your sensitivity to nuance is a manifestation of one’s distinctive (open metaphorically expressed and at times seemingly ineffable) ability to grasp and express the richness, texture, and ow of social reality itself. This is the nuance of the connoisseur. It is mostly a species of self-congratulatory symbolic violence.
See? Simple enough to understand. I really think Kieran is on to something here. We obstruct pretty much anything and everything by our violent nuancing. Parsing is another hostile activity. And while Palin and Apple events are necessarily connected, they are still very problematic for similar reasons… whether through our Ad Hominem attacks or our argumentum ad lapidem (dismissiveness due to illogicality, but not explaining the illogicality), we have taken to tearing down anything and everything we do not like, but not having real reasons for it.
But you know what, who cares if I am nuancing here – or whether I misunderstand my foes, who cares if I really am not understanding that nuance is important or not… what is important is that Kieran’s paper is legendary and for more than that amazing title.
A third objection, or plea, is to say that there must surely be some room for subtlety of thought and ne distinctions of meaning in a social theory worthy of the name. I am happy to grant this. As I have argued, whether subtlety and distinction-making is intellectually productive or deathly boring is not really a feature of those practices themselves, considered in isolation, but of where it is being done and for whom. For the sake of argument, imagine a base rate of nuance production characterizing research and argument of decently average quality. Given the current state of theory in some field, the question is—should we be trying to increase the supply, or reduce it? My context is theorizing in American Sociology at the time I am writing. We are glutted with nuance. I say, fuck it.
If you would like to read something else that is a fascinating read try out Kieran’s paper on data visualization – its also very good – with all the necessary references to Edward Tufte to make it very insightful.