It seems to me there’s been a death of nuanced thought. Or at least a death of nuance in public discourse. You’re either with us or against us. Some things are purely good and some things are purely evil. But nothing is really that way. Most things have complexity and nuance to them.
I had a great conversation with a friend last week about charity. One of the things we talked about was the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, one of the most prominent charities fighting against breast cancer. He had some big problems with the organization — the biggest being that it encourages over treatment. Treatment itself has risks; anything that involves anesthesia has risks. By encouraging aggressive treatment, he argued, Komen was putting women at risk. But there’s no way he’d ever discuss that in public.
I posted this on Facebook. I got this response from another friend:
Komen funds some good research, but I’m not a fan of “how” they do it (though they re-wrote fundraising through their pink parade of rah-rah community — they understand there are people who want to do something — take some action — and they’ve turned that into a marketing juggernaut more powerful than almost any commercial brand other than Apple). And just in case you thought only men can’t say that, I can’t say it either, even though I’m female, and my partner has had breast cancer twice.
Don’t question the unquestionable.
I have some problems with the current hoopla around the Ice Bucket Challenge. Yes, it’s fun and viral. But according to the ALS Association, they have raised more than 30x what they normally do in the same period. It’s a massive windfall. Historically, people and organizations that receive a massive windfall have a hard time dealing with it. They generally can’t grow fast enough to take advantage of it. This time could be different, but that’s unlikely. (I’ll be doing my own variant of the challenge, with the money going toward a charity that funds research on NMO, a rare disease that affects a friend.)
It’s also a broader problem around how (at least) Americans give to charity. Many contributions happen in response to specific events. It’s usually a major disaster like Hurricane Katrina. We contribute en masse when there is something visible versus supporting charities on a steady, ongoing basis. Massive contributions also create the opportunity for scandal.
I’ve been pretty vocal about how Uber and Lyft have been trying to free ride on the auto insurance system; they’ve tried to push the costs and risks of their business on to the rest of the car-driving public. As many companies do, they’re trying to internalize profits while externalizing risk.
That’s been interpreted by some as me hating innovation and these companies. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I use Uber and Lyft all the time; I’m annoyed when I have to use a taxi instead. (Especially in Las Vegas, where the corrupt taxi industry has managed to keep Uber out.)
The insurance aspect is a nuance to what I consider companies that on the whole could be really good for society. They help to break up a system that was designed decades ago when gas prices were cheap, people traveled less, there was no concept of climate change and technology like GPS and smartphones didn’t exist. That created local fiefdoms; people in charge of those fiefdoms rarely want to let them go. (See my LinkedIn post on the taxi industry for more on that topic.)
The “with us or against us” attitude that a lot of people have hampers quality discussion and the type of discourse that can really help us move society forward. Instead we get shouting matches on TV where each side speaks their talking points. No one listens to what people on the other side are saying. Everyone talks their book.
Short attention spans and brevity in communications is part of the problem. (If you’ve gotten this far in the post, thank you!) You’re generally not going to have a lot of great discussion in 140 character doses or 2-minute TV segments. As someone who has done a lot of both, I know that those media are as much (or more) about entertainment as they are about elucidation.
The permanence of those communications is also a problem. It’s easy for someone to take a comment out of context and brand you as someone who hates women.
It would be great if we had a forum for nuanced dialogue. Know of any?