"The lunar flights give you a correct perception of our existence. You look back at Earth from the moon, and you can put your thumb up to the window and hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything you've ever known is behind your thumb, and that blue-and-white ball is orbiting a rather normal star, tucked away on the outer edge of a galaxy. - Astronaut Jim Lovell
Nuance is hard. It is time-consuming. It is unpopular. It requires deep thinking, reading, and analysis. Understanding shades of meaning demands critical attention and focus. It is not as easily marketed, or understood, as a good versus evil, or us versus them, narrative. While black-and-white thinking may produce clearer, more pure narratives, real life is rarely so cleanly defined. Real life is messy and complicated, and more often than not much, much more complex than you think.
Contemporary issues seem to stem from the fact that people have a very difficult time getting along with one another, especially with people we don't understand (initially). Yet, a prosperous global society depends on polite tolerance, because our problems are at a planetary scale, and we cannot afford to ignore each other's needs, interests, and ideas. It may be very difficult, or close to impossible, to resolve the differences between UK and the EU, Hindus and Muslims, or Hong Kong and China. But for the sake of our shared future, and of future generations, we mustn't give in to the temptations of fear, greed, and terror. We have to find a new perspective -- and understand each other's positions -- to ultimately achieve our own goals.
For this, nuance and compromise are key. Why do our opponents think a certain way, and how can we meet them at their own terms? Are the differences ever so intractable, that the only way forward is violence and suffering?
In architecture school, we practiced a method of "radical compromise" with our proposals, in which seemingly intractable solutions can be hypothesized and tested through architectural thinking, models, and drawings. In the first couple years after graduation, this always seemed to be a futile exercise -- we were just producing beautiful graphics to illustrate visions and objects that could never be built in reality. But I think these thought exercises go beyond mere "architecture" -- it is more like creating mental models, in which we try to critically understand and analyze problems for what they are, and imagine solutions from our understanding. The strength of each solution is entirely dependent on the parameters being produced from the analysis, as the solution cannot exist without positing the initial parameters. These projects, more than anything, teach students about critical thinking, and how to navigate crises and opposing forces to ultimately harmonize potential solutions. (If only actual architects were paid to do this type of work.)
Imagine bringing that type of thinking into politics -- in which compromise is radical, and partisanship is stale and status quo. Imagine how "radical compromise" can generate solutions to the most pressing crises and conflicting interests, by bringing new mediums and tools and industries into the realm of possibility. Imagine how "radical compromise" means establishing "hyper-nuance".
- Gun Control: In the American gun control debate, rural residents clash with urbanites over gun restrictions. This fight has to do with the cultural geography of rural America, which favors individual freedom and conservatism, in contrast to American cities, where population density favors public welfare and the collective good. What if gun control policies were not blankly applied across all regions, but were specific to population density and per capita? In this new gun control landscape, dense populations, where gun accidents/violence have a higher likelihood to take place, have strict gun rules, whereas sparsely populated regions close to nature have less rules? Such a map would certainly highlight the true fault lines of gun violence -- which are the suburbs and small region centers, both isolated and populated -- where deranged and radicalized individuals often strike. In these in-between zones, gun rules may be even stricter than cities, in a zone-by-zone basis, based on past histories and proximitiy to cases of violence. A scientific and data-driven solution, based on geography and history, may diffuse the very emotional debate around gun control by reducing polarizing viewpoints.