Across the world lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are gaining political rights in the same way that other oppressed groups had in previous centuries. This progress is not uniform, particularly in parts of the world where conservative religious views are commonplace, but certainly in the Western world LGBT acceptance occurring at a rapid pace. I believe that framing other political discussions in this way will push back the encroaching forces of intellectual laziness.
I spend a lot of my time arguing in favour of thinking about nuanced issues without resorting to crude generalisations. Indeed the term I often use is ‘binary thinking’, the act of looking at a political issue and believing that only two positions exist, and the rejection of one is by default an endorsement of the other. Politicians have often peddled this idea in order to tarnish their political opponents, however there has been a growing trend of people viewing the world through this prism. Humans have always thought in this way- man or woman, gay or straight, black or white, good or evil etc.- however modern technology has allowed people to openly display their flawed views of the world. That is why I believe it necessary to make a concerted effort to eradicate this approach in politics.
Take the example of homosexuality. In its original conception, homosexuality was seen as an absolute state, one was either gay or straight. However after investigations by a number of scientists, most notably Alfred Kinsey, it was discovered that sexuality existed on a spectrum. This concept challenged the binary understanding of sexual orientation, and as a result the discussion around this topic became more nuanced. For example, few people in the present day would argue that a gay man who haves sex with a woman is actually straight, because the ideas of sexual acts and sexual orientation have been decoupled.
However this understanding of sexuality being on a spectrum led to people wondering about other things. The two examples are in the case of sexual attraction and gender identity. The idea of people who did not find anyone attractive was known by anthropologists and sociologists for a number of years, however the idea of demisexuality, being sexually attracted to people with whom one has an emotional connection with, is incredibly knew. Indeed the term ‘demisexual’ was coined in 2004. The discussion became more difficult, but few became hostile to this greater complexity.
Similarly in the case of gender identity; facets of this have been known for a long time but the idea of gender identity being distinct from gender of birth has until recently been inextricably linked. With exploration of these concepts and people coming out of the closet, wider society was forced to think about these ideas in greater depth, which drove the discourse around these topics. Again, nobody would deny the existence of transgender people in the modern day, however to do so just 15 or 20 years ago would have been uncontroversial. When acceptance became the dominant position of people of societies, the discourse became more nuanced, and this should be welcomed.
I believe that we should take this recent example of LGBT acceptance and apply it to many other areas of political discourse in order to combat lazy thinking. Take the example of terrorism. The false dichotomy that is set up is either to bomb groups like ISIS or to do nothing. Thankfully many people in government don’t think in such simplistic terms, although there are also some that do. In the wider discussion about terrorism in the country, a nuanced discussion allows the citizenry to hold politicians to account.
For example, if the discussion was framed as a spectrum of options with doing nothing on one end and full imperialism on the other end, citizens could ask themselves the important question ‘how involved do we want the government to be?’, because a binary dynamic prevents such introspection. Bombing could be evaluated, alongside other ideas like financial aid to other regional powers, logistical support, domestic counter-terrorism measures, covert operations etc. At the moment the dichotomy put forward by politicians prevents this range of options being discussed.
Another example is policing. The recent spate of police killings has led people to believe that supporting groups like Black Lives Matter automatically means that one hates police officers. By using this spectrum method of discourse we can say that these things can be decoupled and placed in different categories. BLM have a series of demands for how to improve society for African-Americans, including police reform, however these measures are not limited to the criminal justice system. Supporting BLM, therefore, doesn’t instinctively mean that hatred of the police is an inevitable result.
Embracing nuance is difficult as there are sections of the media that exist purely to reject detailed policy analysis (Fox News) and others that exist purely to remain neutral at all costs (CNN). Although there are well publicised instances of young people being obstinate in their views for no apparent reason and displaying traits of a persecution complex, there are just as many who are incredibly intellectually flexible and willing to change their opinion. I believe that framing policy discussions as spectra rather than binaries, people will be more willing to engage with politics and that the wider citizenry will be more intelligent as a consequence.
To clarify, this is not an argument for moderation. It would be illogical to argue that rejecting the radical or extreme course of action in every situation is best because if I did think that I would extol the virtues of ideological centrism. In some scenarios taking a radical option is a good solution. For example if the policy discussion is ‘should we torture this person or not?’, I wouldn’t advocate somewhat torturing them. In this situation the binary choice of yes or no is sufficient. But most policy discussions are not as black and white as this.
LGBT acceptance has forced people of all ages to re-examine societal ideas that have existed for thousands of years, and binary thinking has been overwhelmingly rejected. Transferring this approach to policy is difficult, because ideology and perceived practicality become involved, but I believe that the venom currently existing in Western discourse will be reduced and society will improve. By placing the discourse of policy on a spectrum just as concepts of gender and sexuality have been, the media will be forced to change its approach and the effect will snowball. Tolerance of ideas is essential in a democracy and I cannot see how understanding things as more nuanced than they appear will have a negative impact on citizens.