Is it possible to have a conversation with nuance on the internet?

Right. No matter that Scott thinks conversations happen when someone reads and comprehends every word, if they then ignore those words and turn the conversation to their own ends, they just hijack it for their own purposes.

For example, I said I’d like to have a conversation to decide the best course of action for trans women athletes. The outcome I’m looking for in that case is a totally non-theoretical outcome which could impact the sport I personally manage, which hundreds of people take part in and thousands of people watch, and could change the lives of all the women (both trans and cis gendered) who take part.

Nothing that Scott contributed helps that outcome, because for him, making sure people use the right jargon within that conversation, and having people call them out on innocent mistakes, comes first. Having a conversation where anyone feels free to dive in and overwhelm the discourse with jargon-correcting posts is great for sorting out current jargon.

However, if I was a person who wanted to join in that conversation, and have unique or interesting viewpoints to add, or pertinent questions to ask, wading through such posts would be a big discouragement.

This isn’t to say using the correct terminology isn’t important! It’s just that in real world conversations, where there are maybe four or five people taking part, correcting jargon is a small diversion. In a public, online, recorded conversation, four or five people could be having the actual conversation, and there could be 100 people who only want to chime in with terminology corrections.

Let me clarify the nuance of this situation:

There are tradeoffs! Neither situation is perfect.

You can’t say “It’s ALWAYS better for people to only join in a conversation when they want to correct someone else’s language”, and not acknowledge that sometimes you want a conversation to run more smoothly, so people can concentrate on the topic at hand and the goal in mind.

On the other hand, you can’t say “Nobody should ever be called out for incorrect terminology ever” because, of course, they might unintentionally be using language that is insulting or hurtful, and that should be fixed before it becomes unwelcoming.

The nuanced view must include this possibility:

“And if the only response to what they contribute is people correcting their terminology, and nobody acknowledges the substance of what they shared, they wonder what the point was in the first place. They then don’t bother contributing further, and other people see that and don’t contribute either, and the entire conversation devolves into terminology discussions. Seems like a pretty unsuccessful conversation outcome.”

Again, my concern here was that in a historic record, no matter how well the people at the time thought they were using the correct terminology, 10 years later their words or thoughts will way more likely seem ableist/sexist/racist/etc. But to get shit done sometimes you don’t want to have that weight of historic judgement on your mind as you’re having a conversation to get shit done.


Maybe I need to re-read the thread (I’m not. I suspect this topic has been covered more meaningfully and knowledgeably by sociologists), but I don’t understand the discomfort with historical record. Life is a series of looking back a couple years & thinking how little I knew. I fully expect to make mistakes; all that matters is responding with humility and growth when they are noted.

As an aside, having multiple formats with historicity is helpful from an accessibility standpoint. Neuro-atypicality, disability, and mental health can make participation within various formats of conversation more challenging.

Regarding jargon, people perceive the importance of precise language subjectively, I think correlating positively with their detailed knowledge of the subject. I’ve had many conversations fail where I use a very specific term to highlight a nuance, and the receiver interprets the word more casually, growing frustrated with my insistence that their imprecise interpretation obscures my precise meaning. From their perspective, because they lack that knowledge, I am being unnecessarily pedantic.

Really, most failures of nuance, in my experience, seem to boil down to subjective mismatch. Subjective priorities, interpretation, and context, with insufficient meta-foundation (e.g. academic context & education) to compensate.


This thread should be in the flamewars category.


I specifically didn’t put it in that category, because it isn’t a flame war and it isn’t about flame wars.

Don’t worry about it. It was a very specific concern about a very specific case where I might prefer not to have a historical record out in the open available for out-of-context quote mining.

As an illustrative example of this from another realm, when running a country, sometimes you have to negotiate with terrorists. In public you’re telling everyone “We never negotiate with terrorists!” In private, you are reaching out to the terrorists to see if you can resolve the situation.

In the good cases, if it all works out, and something like a peace process happens, and there is a Good Friday Agreement, the historic record is kind to you! Nobody minds you were reaching out to terrorists and nobody minds that you lied about it.

In the bad case, if it doesn’t work out, and the terrorists go on to do some 9/11-style atrocity, and there is never a cease fire or peace process, the historic record can be less kind. Anyone who doesn’t know the context of the initial negotiations would be outraged! How could you possibly be negotiating with the terrorists?!?!??! They went on to kill thousands!!!

But at the time, it’s impossible to know if the talks with terrorists are going to lead to peace, or if they don’t.

This is a reason why the initial contacts and discussions happen in private, and the historic record is sealed for long enough that any revelation about the details won’t impact the careers or lives of the diplomats or back-channel agents involved.

From 1993:

"The communication link was said by the source to be a message-delivery service run by unofficial intermediaries; deniable ‘heroes’ who began operating after British Ministers’ public overtures - going back as far as 1989 - brought a positive reaction from the IRA.

The process, so secret that it was not even disclosed by John Major to Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, was described as an essential response to the terrorists’ ‘peace feelers’.

The go-betweens included clergymen, professionals and businessmen. The Observer source said that messengers often put their own lives at risk. Although the source emphatically denied direct government involvement, Sinn Fein chief of staff Martin McGuinness and others have said that a civil servant was used."

This is just an analogy. It’s an extreme example to illustrate a point!

It all comes down to how you feel about a conversation.

99% of the time I don’t worry about this kind of thing, because like you I see my past self as a different person, and it’s interesting to see change and growth.

But for the conversation I outlined earlier, where there may be actually real outcomes that impact the lives of others, and I want to consider all sides and try out all the arguments, I can feel the weight of history.

Feelings are real! How I feel about something impacts whether I do it or not!

In this case, I feel bad about it, so it doesn’t happen on twitter or in an ambiguous context in a public forum with a written record.

However, like I said, in a dedicated thread, with a good preamble, clear rules that “only people who have read the first post of the thread are allowed to contribute”, and heavy-handed moderation to stop floods of nuance-killing side comments, I would feel okay about it.

I feel like now that we’ve wandered into history and memory of it (kind of a hobby horse of mine for the last few weeks) I should have an opinion yet I don’t.

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Here’s another take on this topic from Lili Lofbourow at Slate about how the internet and social media has worn out everyone who started with a desire to have a real conversation, and as a matter of survival we just tune out, dismiss or insult once the subtext is clear.

" …Take “All Lives Matter.” Most people by now understand how the phrase works to undermine social justice protests, but for a long time, it did exactly what it was meant to: It made people who knew what it was actually saying seem paranoid and crazy for objecting to an anodyne statement that seemed bighearted and self-evident. “Why would you refuse to debate someone who’s simply saying that all lives matter?” is the kind of question an Enlightenment subject longing for a robust exchange of ideas might ask. Well, the reason is that most of us have learned, through bitter experience in the mirror-halls of the internet, that it would be a waste of time. It probably wouldn’t be a true exchange. We’ve tried. We’ve watched others try. And we know by now what “All Lives Matter” signals, and that what it signals is orthogonal to what it says. Your fluency in this garbage means you take shortcuts: Maybe, if you’ve been online a lot, you don’t even bother to refute the text anymore. You leap to the subtext—which is that black people don’t deserve public advocacy or concern despite being disproportionately abused and killed by police. So maybe you don’t argue. Maybe you just call that position racist and call it a day…"

This forum is pretty resistant to that toxicity (thanks NO NAZIS!) but it’s infected the world and is hard to resist.

I’m planning to share the article with my in-laws - it’s a pretty good summary of why it’s so hard to deal with their right-wing grandpa :frowning:


I read the same article, and it’s got some good stuff in it. It’s one of a few things I’ve read lately that make me realize how large the gulf is between people who are connected and those who are not, and how quickly that gap is widening. Even two people with largely the same fundamental belief system will have completely different worldviews if one is sucking on the information tap, and the other is not. As someone who has been “jacked in” for 20+ years it’s incredibly difficult to have a conversation with anyone who has not. How can I even begin to converse on a topic, even when both parties approach in good faith, when I first must explain the entire universe?


On the topic of subtext and being able to quickly identify when someone on the internet is saying something that has a significant amount of sub-textual meaning, I recall seeing a short Twitter thread recently (I searched my history and cannot find it right now) that argued that someone who uses an argument loaded with subtext and claims ignorance of that subtext (e.g. All Lives Matter being a dog-whistle for racism) is either arguing in bad faith or is too naive to be taken seriously. In either case they should not be engaged with because either of these possibilities are counter-productive to having a productive engagement. This is a 100% position itself, but it is indicative of the big hurdles to nuanced conversation online.

I agree those are the two most likely possibilities, but there is also one more that I suggested in my previous post. The person could simply be so disconnected and ignorant of the greater discourse, due to not sucking on the information tap. Imagine a very intelligent, not naive at all, person acting in good faith who is simply old fashioned. They watch real TV news (not some propaganda channel) and read real newspapers.

Now you go and tell such a person about the boogalooers wearing Hawaiian shirts or the QAnon believers taking oaths. Tell them that the OK sign, that has been nothing but the OK sign for their entire lives, is now a white supremacist dog whistle. To this completely decent person you sound like you read one too many cyberpunk novels. There’s no way to convince them of the reality which is that the cyberpunk novels have come true. And being unable to convince them, you can’t have a dialogue on pretty much anything at all since you aren’t starting from the same planet.

I’m also reminded that this tweet I saw earlier today very much belongs in this thread.

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I don’t disagree with the scenario you pose but I consider this situation to still be naivete. Someone can be intelligent and informed about various topics but then they wade into a new topic (like all of the ones you provided as examples) and on those topics they are naive and then they propose an argument that they genuinely came to on their own ("…but, don’t all lives matter?") or that they may have seen/heard somewhere in passing but never realized the subtext associated with it and simply regurgitate it without critically examining it or researching it first. Yes there is general naivete but there is also being naive when coming into a realm that is new to you but others have been exploring the depths of for quite some time already. Am I over-loading terms here or is there a distinction I am missing?

That Tweet is on point and depressing in its blunt accuracy of the situation we are discussing on this thread. Though it is why I prefer observing and at times participating in this community, as it at least has demonstrated the capability to dialogue a higher percentage of the time than the wide world of social media. Maybe not a high percentage of the time but higher :wink:

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If nuance is a subtle difference in meaning with the antithesis of it being “thing good” vs “thing bad” (as so well phrased by Lindsay Ellis) then saying more than what is posted is the first step in having nuance, and denying someone permission to add onto an analysis when you yourself added nothing is the death of nuance in the cradle.


Yes. Specifically Scott. I’m not interested in having any discussion about anything political with the person with the username “Apreche” in this forum. As I said, if anyone else had responded, I’d be happy to discuss it with them, but I’m not letting Scott dictate the discussion space beforehand without even reading the article.

My job is no longer explaining nuance to Scott. My job is now to avoid having discussions with Scott.

If literally anyone else wants to discuss a link I post, just reply to that post without being influenced by Scott’s framing.

You mean this person who read the article, had a take, and you didn’t respond to because you were more interested in fighting with Scott?

As I said, the conversation then became about Scott, as he had framed the article as he wanted it to be read before reading it, and before that person responded, and I’m just not interested in conversing with someone else about what Scott thinks.

I see what you’re trying to pin on me here, and I appreciate it. I don’t mind being called out like this, but you’ve got to understand my response is 100% due to Scott.

But as I said, I think the point of the article is clear in the article, and it stands for itself. It is full of interesting observations that don’t have to be boiled down to a single cause or a single factor. I liked those observations, and as someone who lives in a former eastern block nation, I can appreciate them for what they are.

If someone wants to share similar observations, like the one I shared of driving in Romania in 1983, I’d be interested in reading them.

If someone wants to expand on the ideas in the article, I’d be interested to join in too, but I’m not so interested in reducing the ideas in the article.

You made it about Scott. You were the one feeding that fire. It’s a you problem.

I know. Scott rubs me up the wrong way. He manages to suck joy out of things I share on the forum. I can’t help but respond, if only to encourage others to read the article.

There seem to be two problems here.

First, you seem to believe that as a person who starts a conversation you have some power or right over the frame of the conversation. It is true that there is such a thing as going off-topic, but out of the box thinking is not off-topic.

Whenever presented with any discussion on anything, I always attempt to find the alternate deeper angle. What’s really going on here? Not in a conspiracy theory way, as in a legitimate truth-searching way. We recognize an interesting observation, I immediately ask why. What causes this? What is the root?

And that brings us to point two, the root of a problem is the only part that matters or is worth discussing, because that is the only part which is reasonably actionable. In any aspect of life, to solve problems and make the world better, we must solve root causes. Treating symptoms often does nothing, delays the inevitable, or simply makes the path to the inevitable more tolerable. It does not change the outcome.

So whether we are discussing a poorly designed game, a failing business, or our society itself, I’m going to narrow in on the root cause. Don’t waste time discussing the parts that do not matter, and focus on what does.

It’s not my fault that all of the problems in our society are caused by the intersection of a few evil systems such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and most of all capitalism gone wild. And thus, any discussion on anything becomes a discussion of one of these things. We can spend the rest of our lives talking about symptoms of those systems and bad things they have caused, but what’s the point? Eventually we have enough stories that it leaves little doubt where the real problem is. The discussion of how to eliminate those root causes becomes the only discussion worth having.

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Because it’s interesting to hear stories from people with different life experiences. I find it interesting, entertaining, enlightening, fun. You know, just generally a fun thing to do.

This was my entire point of this thread when I started it. I know that you don’t think these things are worth discussing, but I do think they are worth discussing. Not always focusing on the biggest causes or biggest picture means that we can share smaller things that have different flavour. Flavour is what brings variety to life.

I know it’s your forum, but why should every conversation be derailed into root causes immediately? It’s truly exhausting.

If you don’t think a conversation is worth having, why not let other people just share their thoughts without continually butting in? We all know in advance what you think, and also that you think a conversation isn’t worth having, worth starting, an article worth sharing, or an article worth reading.

We get it. You don’t think these conversations are worth it. But for those of us who do… maybe just let us continue without constantly wading through your judgements on our interests?


I was just searching for the music thread, and came across this gem.