The Death Of Nuance
Of all the many memes that are circulating in response to the war in Gaza today, one of them that caught my greatest attention was the following:
Yet it seems that there is no longer room for equivocation in today’s world of black and white responses to religious, social, moral, or political issues. You’re either pro or anti Trump/Biden, Israel/Palestine, abortion, gay rights, environmental protection, and so on, ad infinitum. Expressing an opinion on any issue risks getting you labelled as an “extremist,” an “anti-Semite,” a “pro-Putenist,” or a “main stream media dupe”. Gone are the nuanced understandings and responses required to address complex issues. You have to be either for or against and never, never in-between.
Can We Still See The Other Side?
Why do we cross our arms or plug our ears like petulant children every time we hear something with which we disagree? What happened to the days of reaching across the aisle to come to important decisions? When did outright rejection of another’s opinions become the fashion of the age? For example, you don’t have to embrace Trump to see how disillusionment with politics has fueled his rise. Rightly or not, many Americans feel that their voices and concerns are not being heeded by their government. Surely simply rejecting the approximately one-third of hard core Trump supporters and writing them off as crazies is not the way to achieve lasting solutions. Of course, this cuts the other way too. And though I in no way support the agenda of the right, the time has come for us to all step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and try to understand at least where the other side is coming from. Unfortunately, the practice of empathy seems entirely lacking in today’s social discourse.
Little Shop of Algorithms
I put the blame for this squarely at the feet of a few popular news agencies and social media giants, particularly Facebook. According to Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa, in her book, How To Stand Up To A Dictator, Facebook’s algorithms have been weaponized by authoritarian governments to “prioritize the spread of lies laced with anger and hate over facts.”1 By now we’ve all heard how social media reflects and feeds the biases we hold by responding to the searches and downloads we make and the internet programs we follow and offering suggestions for more of the same. We are like the giant plant on Little Shop of Horrors shouting “Feed me Seymour!” to which these algorithms are only too happy to oblige, trapping us in media bubbles and echo chambers.
But I think it goes even further than this. As we (rightly) tremble in fear on the precipice of creating Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI, it seems that our species is adopting the same sort of binary thinking process that formed the underpinning of pre-quantum computer programming. In his book, Origin, Dan Brown outlines how technology is using mankind as an agent of its own evolution. And although we are the creators of this technology, it seems so far that instead of helping us to liberate and expand the collective consciousness of our species, our complete adoption of computer technology is actually having the opposite effect, bringing about a de-evolution of our thinking processes. This is evidenced in the time we spend glued to Facebook and Instagram, endlessly scrolling and liking the content that their algorithms feed to us. It shows up every time we turn to Google or Siri to answer a trivia question instead of relying on our own memories. It’s apparent in the abuse of ChatGPT and other AI platforms by students looking for a quick shortcut to complete their assignments. And finally, it’s obvious in the way we favour simplistic opinions over nuanced thinking whenever we respond to an issue of our time. Concerning the Novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, fans are quick to point out that Frankenstein is the name of the doctor, not the monster. I’m afraid that in the case of humanity, binary thinking is making us become both the creator and the monster.
1 Lema, K. (2021) Philippine nobel winner Ressa calls Facebook ‘biased against facts’, Reuters. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/philippine-nobel-winner-ressa-calls-facebook-biased-against-facts-2021-10-09/ (Accessed: 13 November 2023).