Nuance-Trolls and Bad-Faith Policy Debates

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.

How do you make someone reluctant about supporting a policy? One strategy is to suggest people with clear answers do not appreciate just how complicated, complex, multifaceted—and my favorite — “nuanced” the situation really is. No one wants to view themselves as unsophisticated or unrefined and this plays on that insecurity. Unfortunately, major news outlets embraced this strategy, for some reason, and one can only speculate about motive.

What am I talking about? These constant nuance arguments. You’ve probably read them: the ones that muddy the waters but don’t seem to say anything. There’s even a term for it. It’s nuance-trolling; not the best term, but it works. Nuance-trolling is constructing a debate by evading and relying on rhetorical filibustering; it turns complexity into a virtue, a fetish for its own sake. Sociologist Kieran Healy of Duke University summed it up in his article “Fuck Nuance,” arguing that nuance, or rather what he called “actually existing nuance,” a pillar of academia and mainstream discourse, “is what one does when faced with a question for which one does not yet have a compelling or interesting answer. Thinking up compelling or interesting ideas is difficult, so it is often easier to embrace complexity than to cut through it.” In his essay, he writes about “nuance traps.” One is “the nuance of the fine-grain [ed],” an “empirical description… masquerading as increased accuracy.”

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Pointscast, Episode 3

Today, Alex Tepperman and Kyle Bridge bring you the third installment of the new podcast from Points.

On the third episode of Pointscast:

* Following a disorderly introduction, Kyle and Alex open with a discussion of Patrick Hilsman’s recent piece on drug decriminalization and Islamic terrorism in Vice Magazine.

* They then shift their focus to the inclusion, and subsequent exclusion, of an anti-vaccination documentary at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and the role scientific skepticism plays in our day-to-day lives.

* Later, Kyle interviews Points contributing editor Aron Ackerman, whose PhD research at SUNY-Stony Brook investigates the transatlantic movement drugs in colonial Britain.

* Finally, Alex tells Kyle about 1990’s Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue and the continuing uphill battle educators and parents alike struggle with when trying to teach pre-teens about drug abuse.

Enjoy! And you can let Alex and Kyle know what you think at pointscast@gmail.com.

https://soundcloud.com/pointscast/pointscast-episode-3-1