Nuance: It’s What’s for Dinner

Aaaand I’m already behind. I had this image of myself daintily typing at my laptop, luxuriating in the nice breeze, taking pictures of my progress, and all that kind of thing. But no, I’m banging on my keyboard furiously as if I have a final paper due in ten minutes. And all for the cause! Have you donated yet?

Jesse Galef, of the Secular Student Alliance (National organization, not campus group) has requested I talk about nuance.

“When do you think it’s better to describe things with less nuance than you actually see?  Secondly, when do you think it’s better to be seen as less nuanced or conflicted than you are?”

I like questions like this. Their answers take the form of outlines or flowcharts rather than paragraphs and sentences. Let’s delve.

  1. I think the distinction at hand (since the questions appear very similar) is: when is it better to describe things with less nuance versus when is it better to be seen as a person who is less nuanced/conflicted? So let’s answer these separately.
  2. It is better to describe things with less nuance when:
    1. There is a time limit of some kind. People will get bored with the infinite: “well, it’s actually not quite so simple” and “here are the exceptions to the rule” and “actually that example I used isn’t perfectly analogous because.” If you have to finish something in a set time or number of words, use one example to show that you’re not ignoring all the potential counterarguments and then let it go. Seriously, let it go. You have to finish. Note: This is something I’m very bad at. As a plus, it can make it seem like those counterarguments aren’t even worth considering, although this can completely backfire. See: William Lane Craig.
    2. When you’re trying to be persuasive. Certainly it’s helpful to seem knowledgeable and nuanced when you’re convincing someone of your point of view, but there are limits to how useful each additional correction is. I aim for one acknowledgement and dismissal (quick reason why it’s wrong or doesn’t apply) of a counterargument for every major point I make. It shows that I’ve thought about the issue, understand the counterarguments, and still feel my position is correct, which inspires confidence. Spending too much time on the minutiae detracts from the force of your argument, gets you boggled down in details, and makes you spend more time on the counterarguments than your own argument. As a plus, this approach gives the impression that you have endless more to say on the topic, but you simply couldn’t be bothered. This confers a sense of authority.
    3. Examples: Debates, short blog posts, casual conversations
  1. When is it better to be seen as someone who is less nuanced?
    1. Much less often than the above. The approach I outlined will make you seem pretty nuanced, but your argument less so. I think this is to the best, since it inspires confidence in your opinions while keeping the argument on point.
    2. That said, it’s best to seem less conflicted are when you are a public figure. Unfortunately, if you represent an organization, especially a religious or political one, it might be in your best interest to seem absolutely assured of your position, dismissing with a wave of the hand the petty annoyances of imperfect examples, inaccurate data, inconsistent positions and any positive qualities of the other side. It’s not necessarily ethical, but it sets up a very powerful Us vs Them dynamic, killing minds in deference to your absolute rightness.
    3. If you are trying to end an argument whether because you have somewhere else to be, it’s getting frustrating, or people have started to hurl insults, if you can’t bring yourself to simply walk away, you should make your points forcefully, without considering the other side much, if at all. You are the final word on the subject. Make your claim, preferably in a pithy, clever way, and walk away.

What do you all think?

This has been Post the Third of Blogathon

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