and it is always wrong.
The structure of simpleminded solutions is always the same. Massive amounts of reality are sheared away, complexity ignored, subtlety abhorred and the principal project of organizing the remaining facts to ratify prejudice is all that is left.
The world is an increasingly complex and interrelated place. It is also increasingly beyond the ability of most of, much of the population to understand. The great environmentalist John Muir was fond of observing that, “nature is not only more complex than we think, it is more complex than we can think.” Well the world has become much more complex than we can think.
The difficulty with simple-minded solutions to complex problems shows up in what are generally referred to as ‘second-order affects’. These are occurrences which are unintended by the action taken. In complex systems, second-order affects often overmaster the intentions of the actor. In exchange between William Roper and Sir Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons might serve to illuminate.
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
The simple-minded solution that Roper proposes would come back upon him with a vengeance. What seems intuitive would produce counter intuitive results.
The world changed when politicians discovered that they could sell simple-minded solutions to voters. Released from having to deal with the difficult challenges of an increasingly complex global community, these office seekers began peddling faux solutions to faux problems. And, to their amazement, voters bought it.
That was the great sea change in the relationship between the wealthy and powerful on the one side and the rest of the population on the other. The first group discovered that, if they recruited the right kind of politician, they could distract the bulk of the population and feed them drivel while they systematically and purposely enriched themselves.
And so, during the last election, one of the candidates led the cheer “lock her up” while never intending to do so. That same candidate pledged not to touch major components of the social safety net and has subsequently backed proposals that eviscerate it. The campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” (echoes of National Socialism) was followed by a systematic effort to insult our allies and embolden our adversaries.
All of this is possible because voters mistakenly think that neat, plain solutions and campaign slogans adequately address the problems they face in their everyday lives and their country faces in the world. The truth is, that these solutions don’t work and are often a smokescreen that allows the wealthy and powerful to raid the cookie jar.
There are only really two ways out of the current situation. The first is that the population continues to you buy simple-minded ideas. That path will result in the wealthy and powerful accumulating virtually everything of value. The second is that the citizenry turn away from such ideas, get engaged and deal with life as something other than a reality show. That is a past that most likely ends and revolution. Thomas Jefferson had it right: