Many years ago I found a website somewhere on PBS or NPR that took major issues of the day and argued both sides effectively. It was structured like a poll or a choose your own adventure, so it might say:
“What do you think about gun control?”
Click here if you think we need more
Click here if you think we need less
And whichever one you clicked would share some rational information about the other side of the argument. Then it would ask if you were convinced by the new information or not. If you were convinced, it would argue the other side again. If you weren’t convinced, it would try harder. It was really interesting!
A few years ago, I found a website that is set up to be a virtual debate between two people. I was friends with one of the contestants, so I read through their asynchronous debate which was about gun control. My friend wants more gun control, and he was arguing against someone who had some statistics to share about guns in America. The whole site was about reasonable debate, so the discussion was very level-headed and interesting. Here’s a general summary of how the chat went:
My friend: Guns are out of control in America
Other guy: They are, let’s talk about how to address it
Friend: We need stricter control over guns
Guy: Did you know most gun deaths (54%) are suicides? Let’s talk about the problem we’re trying to solve. Fewer gun deaths, including suicide, or less violent attacks?
Friend: Both are important, but let’s focus on violent attacks
Guy: Did you know stabbings are out of control in Britain? There are fewer guns but still a lot of violence. Higher than the US in places.
And so forth.
I enjoyed reading both experiences, but they uncover a whole new issue hiding underneath: seeing more shades of grey can be isolating and confusing. It’s pretty easy to get super mad at write in all caps with other people who are super mad and writing in all caps. It’s a lot harder to say “I mostly agree with you but I think your solutions may be too black and white.”
When we talk about privilege, we often talk about socioeconomic status, race, and gender. But over time a phrase keeps echoing in the back of my head while I do research: “nuance is a luxury.” Most of us don’t have time to go beyond the oft-repeated stats about climate change, sexism, capitalism, racism, policing, big tech, and so forth. So we cling to our datapoints, write off the people clinging to different datapoints, and don’t take the time to really learn the issues. We all think we do, just like everyone thinks they’re an above-average driver. We all think we’ve identified the problem, and it’s “them.” Because if it was “us” that would just be too much to bear.
I can’t really blame us. We’re busy and stressed out. Diving into more nuance, and getting further from like-minded people, only adds to our stress and isolation. New perspectives are a luxury. Actually absorbing them and allowing them to change us, even in small ways, is just too heavy a lift for most of us. So we despair, surrounded by friends, from our fixed perspective.