Sometimes It Really Is Black and White
Black-and-white morality is largely seen as childish and simplistic. There is a lot of messaging in media about how seeing the shades of grey and different viewpoints of a situation is sign of maturity and adulthood. How many times have you seen in a movie or TV show a kid or naive ingenue get angry about something they see an adult or more experienced person doing only to learn that the situation was more complicated than they realized, and grow up a little as a result.
But this attitude that black-and-white morality is inherently simplistic can allow people to obfuscate at times when things really are black and white. For example, take torture. Many people believe that torture goes against our values and laws but can also generate important information. But in reality, except for very specific circumstances, torture does not garner reliable information. But we’ve been so thoroughly propagandized to believe that things are never that simple or black and white that many people instinctively assume that torture MUST have some value. They can’t believe it’s both wrong and ineffective, that the situation can be so black and white, so they naturally assume torture must be effective. Ironically, to paint the opponents of torture as childish and naive, torture proponents must resort to the childish fantasy of a ticking time bomb that only torturing someone can stop, something that’s never happened in all of history.
This phenomenon extends to history as well. Take the Civil War. Surely the fairly common belief that the war was fought not over slavery but rather states’ rights (states; rights to do what exactly?) even among liberals and Northerners is due largely to Lost Cause propaganda, but I think it’s partly due to the idea that no war could be so black and white (or at least no war involving Americans; black and white morality is never treated as immature when it comes to America’s official enemies). Inventing nuance in this case appeals to our sense of maturity.
There are endless examples of this phenomenon. People say “It’s more complicated than that” to feel like they’re more mature and thoughtful than the person making a fuss about some moral outrage being perpetrated while also feeling justified in their complacency. Nine times out of ten it isn’t.