Tag Archives: nuance

“It Depends”–But Sometimes It Doesn’t

I don’t know who Susan Hennessey is, but I think we are probably what used to be known as “kindred spirits.” The reason I came to that conclusion was the following paragraph from her post at Lawfare:

 “Much of my education has been about grasping nuance, shades of gray. Resisting the urge to oversimplify the complexity of human motivation. This year has taught me that, actually, a lot of what really matters comes down to good people and bad people. And these are bad people.”

For years, I have included some form of the following statement in my courses’ introductory lectures: You will find, during the semester, that I can be an opinionated professor. Your grade in this course absolutely does not depend upon agreeing with me. My goal is not to inculcate policy positions.  I will, however, consider that I have been a success as an instructor if, after you have taken this course, you use two phrases more frequently than you previously did. Those phrases are “It depends” and “It’s more complicated than that.” If you are better able to recognize contingency and complexity after being in this class, I will have done what I set out to do.

I have often criticized Americans’  knee-jerk, “bipolar” approach to issues, the tendency to see every debate in shades of black and white, good versus evil. We live in a world that is largely gray, with complicated problems that don’t lend themselves to solutions by way of  bumper-sticker slogans and rigid ideological mantras.

I continue to understand arguments about policy and governance that way–most of the issues we debate are what lawyers call “fact-sensitive,” dependent upon context, factual distinctions, the art of the possible. But it is getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that not every argument is nuanced, or conducted in good faith, and not every party to our ongoing national debates is honorable.

Not every conflict is between persons of good will who simply see things differently.

There really are bad people. Not people who are simply misguided, not people who just don’t understand the issue, not people who are “coming from a different place.” People who are deeply flawed, and utterly devoid of the qualities thought essential to membership in a civilized and humane society.

The challenge is to tell the difference between the people who simply see things differently and the people who are irredeemably bad. At this point–at least with respect to the gangsters in Washington–I think we have enough evidence to make a determination.