The Death of Nuance

The extremists have won. All debates are now binary, and you will be required to pick one extreme or the other. We are no longer allowed to see the merits in conflicting points of view, nor take a middle ground incorporating the best ideas of two conflicting sides.

The Internet has been abuzz over the last few weeks regarding an open letter written by a mother named Kimberly Hall to the female social media friends of her teenaged sons. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. I’d like you to form your own opinion before I tell you what it says.

I’ll wait.

What I read, was a heartfelt letter from an adult woman to adolescent young women which addressed them as adults, advised them as to the consequences of their actions, and implored them to recognize the impact of their decisions before making them.

I also read the hopes and fears of a mother who cares deeply for her sons, is actively involved in developing their moral compasses, and who has set limits- however unpopular- to maintain the shared beliefs on which her family is built.

The Internet, however, made it ugly. Google it. As of this moment, there are 868,000 posts condemning Kimberly Hall for ‘slut shaming.’ While a few of those are defenders, most are critical.

Hall was perceived to be blaming the girls instead of educating her sons. Another post noted that Kimberly Hall’s blog lists her title as Director of a Women’s Ministry, as if that is de facto proof that her position is one of religious sexual oppression.

One critical blog used the following quote about modesty:

It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning.  It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing.

Because- and here’s the really crazy thing- I agree. I agree with Kimberly Hall, and I agree with the critics.

I believe that families should have values. I agree that parents should convey those values to their children. I believe that parents should embody those values. I believe that parents should be involved- especially in the digital age- in monitoring their children’s on-line interactions both for predatory dangers, and for behaviors that don’t conform to their family values.

I also agree that a woman should be treated with respect irrespective of how she is dressed. I believe that the public domain is not subject to the prohibitions of individual interest groups, and that people should have the freedom to act in accordance with their own beliefs unless they are harming others.

But I’m not allowed to agree with both. You see, the debate is binary. You can choose misogynist religious fundamentalism or absolutist sexual libertarianism. Take your pick.

Have we really come to the point where nuance is dead?

Is a public decency law which bans nudity truly a slippery slope to mandatory burkas?

Can’t I fight for your right to make any decision you want, and care enough to implore you to consider the impact of your decision?

Are the only available paths centralized power and anarchy?

And while this incident surely underscores the polarization that is killing nuance, it is far from the only example.

My advice? Fear the absolutist position. It will make for boring editorials, and a society built on a far greater consensus of shared freedoms and values.


About the Author
Noah Roth is husband, father, business owner, and marathoner, living in Bet Shemesh.