This is the story of the past three years of my life. It’s romance in a way, but it’s also a breakup story. It begins sometime in 2015, a year during which my life was coming apart in various ways. In addition to the unraveling of my marriage, I began to sense some fraying around the edges of my social circles. Both online and in real life, people who’d once shared a common set of assumptions about the realities of the world and the nature of human behavior now seemed oddly divided. Questions that had once been treated as complicated inquiries requiring scrutiny and nuance were increasingly being reduced to moral absolutes, especially as far as liberal types were concerned.
I first noticed it with issues pertaining to feminism. If, for instance, you suggested that (or even wondered aloud if) the gender wage gap might not be due entirely to systemic sexism but also to women’s interests, choices, and the inconvenient but unavoidable realities of pregnancy and young-child rearing, you were likely to be labeled an internalized misogynist. This same dynamic played out in other spheres of public debate, of course: gun control, immigration, and due process in campus sexual assault cases, to name a few. If you more or less toed the requisite liberal line but thought there were some gray areas that warranted consideration, you were quite possibly on the wrong side of history. If you called for nuance, you were part of the problem.
That was three years ago.
This summer, amid a roiling debate (largely taking place on Twitter, but roiling nonetheless) between what you might call the civility camp versus the outrage camp of the Trump resistance, nuance became a kind of fighting word. For civility types, who fear that displays of indiscriminate and unfettered rage against the Trump regime are as strategically misguided as they are viscerally satisfying, nuance is what’s sorely lacking. In the outrage camp, the call for nuance is sometimes seen as a form of tone policing, a dog whistle for centrist and right-leaning scolds whose privilege blinds them to the severity of the crisis before them. Both sides have a point (naturally).