Oct 21, 2009

Nuance: It's not deception. Clarity: It's not truth

(noo'äns, nyoo'-, noo äns', nyoo -) n. 1. A subtle or slight degree of difference, as in meaning; a gradation. 2. Expression or appreciation of nuances: a performance full of nuance. [Fr <>nuer, to shade, cloud < nue, cloud <>nuba Lat. nubes.] – nu•anced' adj.

When I heard Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele proclaim loudly that he was not using nuance but rather was being very clear, I started to think about our understanding of subtlety. A while back, I wrote about the corpus callosum and the links between the hemispheres of our brains. It is easy to get into thought patterns that lead us to believe that ideas, policies and positions are very clearly this or that; black, or white; Right, or Left. In reality this is never the case. There is always degree of nuance.

Look at some of the great debates of the past several hundred years. Aquinas "proved" the existence of God with five proofs. The fifth, a teleological argument that since the universe appears designed to support people, god must have designed it. Like the existence of a watch proves the existence of the watch-maker. 400 years ago last month Galileo popularized the telescope and suggested that the Earth revolved around the sun, not - as the church said - the other way around. He was right. Folks believed the Earth was flat. It is in fact an oblate spheroid.

200 years ago, a boy was born who, in is 50th year would publish a theory so beautiful in its simplicity and insightfulness as to render all of botany, biology, geology, archeology, anthropology, and others in a completely new light! Charles Darwin was right.

150 years ago a couple of beer drinking young Europeans developed a political philosophy based on cooperation instead of cooperation. Recent research is showing that Marx and his benefactor Engles were right. Survival of the fittest doesn't mean "dog eat dog," it means the most able to cooperate will be the species that survives over the one who fights among itself all the time.

Time and time again, religious leaders tell us that something is true only to be proved wrong by the science. As a matter of fact, even facts are suspect. Humans are notoriously poor observers. The notion that there is an objective truth is false. We can't even be sure that anyone else is even conscious.

So back to Mr. Steele:
When he declared that he wasn't being nuanced - as if to say "no nuance here" he did so in a way that made it seem as if nuance was somehow a bad thing. He was being "Clear" as if simply stating his position was better than trying to explain the subtleties of it's implications. In this case he was talking about the health care debate and explaining that he and the GOP were against Government run health care. He went on in the next breath to say that Medicare should be expanded and secured for the future! The interviewer suggested there might be some nuance in the juxtaposition of these two positions. Steele jumped on the interviewer! No, there is no nuance in my position. I'm being very clear! Please, please remember that clarity is not truth or correctness. Nuance often conveys more than clarity. Here's to a complex understanding of our complex problems. Here's to an end of simple but, wrong political positions.
(Begun 9/3/09)

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