Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Clarity and Oversimplification

I've had this article in my Blog Fodder file for a while, waiting for an opportunity to use it properly: The Price of Clarity, by Robert Skidelsky. In this short, yet wonderful piece about plain speaking and thinking, Mr Skidelsky writes,

"The greater the distance between the language of elites and ordinary people, the greater the risk of revolt. To the extent that complexity in finance or politics creates new opportunities to deceive, impedes understanding, or blurs lines of accountability, we should aim to reduce it. To the extent that such problems reflect decreased ability to express oneself clearly, the remedy is to improve education. The price of clarity, like the price of liberty, is eternal vigilance, and the two are connected."

I thought about this article recently, but not in quite the way Mr Skidelsky intended.

While it's true that politicians, economists, insurance companies, lawyers, and others use obfuscation and complexity of language to keep unpleasant truths from us, it's equally true that oversimplicity of language can accomplish the same thing. The GOP's Pledge to America is a classic example...full of simple, plain speaking ("... stop out of control spending and reduce the size of government;" "... reform Congress and restore trust;" "... replace the government takeover") that sounds like it says a lot, but actually means nothing.

The problems that we face are complex and interconnected, and there are no simple answers, regardless of what our elected reprehensives and the wannabes who want to replace them would have you believe. Over the next few days in this blog, we'll look at how many of these problems fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and why simple statements and pious platitudes won't solve anything. If you enjoy thinking critically and trying to solve problems rather than sweep them under the rug until they're someone else's responsibility (like our grandchildren), come back tomorrow and join me for the start of Bilbo's March to the November Elections.

We'll still be stuck with the same slate of incumbents and candidates, but maybe we can get them to be a little more honest with us ... starting with being a little more honest with ourselves.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

I saw the words Pledge To America and I ran away..

I'm joining Jon Stewart's March To Restore Sanity!!

Mike said...

"but actually means nothing"

Bold, italic, underscore.

KathyA said...

I agree that elitist language confuses, but I think over simplified language often misses the point entirely.

George Orwell wrote a similar essay some years ago.