Friday, August 19, 2011

Of Systems and Simplification

A few days ago, I wrote about the economy (everybody's favorite topic) as a problem that had to be viewed and addressed as a system. You can read that post here. Yesterday, I ran across a very interesting article that also bears (if tangentially) on solving the problem of the economy ... it deals with the problem of simplification.

Author Norman Manea's article Against Simplification appeared on the Project Syndicate website. His particular argument dealt with the oversimplification of culture and its effect on the human condition. He begins by noting that we Americans "have a genius for simplification," and that this quest for simplicity and the desire to avoid disturbing, overly complicated ideas is spreading around the world ("...conquer(ing) new territories, just as blue jeans once did"). Here's the key part of his article:

"Culture is a necessary pause from the daily rat race, from our chaotic and often vulgar political surroundings, and it is a chance to recover our spiritual energy. Great books, music, and paintings are not only an extraordinary school of beauty, truth, and good, but also a way of discovering our own beauty, truth, and good – the potential for change, of bettering ourselves and even some of our interlocutors.

"If this respite and refuge is gradually narrowed and invaded by the same kind of 'products' as those that dominate the mass market, we are condemned to be perpetual captives of the same stunted universe of “practicalities,” the ordinary agglomeration of clichés packaged in advertisements."

I like that last part: the ordinary agglomeration of clichés packaged in advertisements.

Mr Manea was speaking specifically about the negative impact of oversimplification on culture, but his observation applies more broadly than that. The causes of the current economic crisis are many and complex, and the tendency on the part of our elected reprehensives is to dumb down their approaches to a few oversimplified bumper stickers: the problem is too much debt, or job-killing regulations, or too-high taxes on business or the wealthy. Anything more complicated than that makes single-issue political partisans' brains melt.

Oversimplification of culture leads to dullness of thinking and a diminishing of the spirit. Oversimplification of politics leads to ... well ... the mess we see around us.

Think critically. Look beyond the bumper stickers. Avoid the desire to go for the satisfying, but overly simplistic explanation. Challenge yourself. Remember Bilbo's First Law -

Never let anyone else do your thinking for you.

Least of all me.

Have a good day. Think. And come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.



Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I read these words as I have to sell a home and my business is trending down as i hear people say they are afraid to spend money even though they have a job and no fear of unemployement.

why is it that those that could do good for us do not run for office? Those that haven't a clue and are more interested in power than helping are the ones that run? yea, I know it's rhetorical but i'm in that kind of mood today.

have a good weekend Bill....I am going to go do some thinking for myself now.....

Big Sky Heidi said...

Apropos of what you wrote regarding oversimplification, there's the example of a possible consequence of doing that hanging in many quality schools of engineering: the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, commonly called "Galloping Gertie." THis bridge collapsed in 1940 because of high winds resulting in a sympathetic vibration of the structure. The point is, oversimplification or overlooking details can be costly.

Mike said...

'oversimplified bumper stickers'

Yeah but you have to love 'No New Texans'.

Anonymous said...

Some chlorine in the gene pool?