TO EXPLAIN IS NOT TO JUSTIFY. How astonishing, that in 2022 so few people appear to grasp this simple truth. It’s as if expending the mental energy required to understand what is happening in the world will, in some mysterious way, rob us of the capacity to make judgements about it.
And, therein, lies the problem: judging the world is now much more important than understanding it. Complexity has become the enemy of clarity – especially moral clarity. “Keep it simple, stupid” has become the motto of the modern politician: proof of just how dangerous complexity is now perceived to be. Such fetishization of simplicity certainly explains that other great political motto: “Explaining is losing.”
If the world really was a simple place, then the demonisation of those who attempt to explain it would not be necessary. It has always been a problem for those exercising authority over us that the longer we live in the world the more obvious it becomes that it is very far from being a simple place. The more ordinary people begin to appreciate the world’s complexity, however, the harder the job of ruling them becomes. While philosophers may argue that to know all is to forgive all, most rulers take a very different view. In their experience, the more people learn about the reasons behind the rules, the angrier they become.
Perhaps that is why it was generally considered wise, by the rulers, to bolster the authority of the state with the authority of organised religion. Nothing beats organised religion for whittling down the awesome complexity of the world to a few hard, fast, and – most importantly – simple rules. Moses made do with just ten!
Enslave people to the simple “truths” of their faith, and any need for them to come to terms with the complexity of human existence is averted. Omniscience is restricted to God. Only He is able to comprehend the entirety of His universe. Men and women need only know that the Lord moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. Keep his commandments and all will be well. (Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to keep the commandments of your earthly rulers as well!)
A partnership made in heaven, you might say. Or else, that heaven is the partnership’s most successful invention. Works either way.
The problem with organised religion and its simple truths is that the human imagination, combined with human species’ insatiable curiosity, are forever throwing up individuals who refuse to believe in the comforting fictions of their secular and religious rulers. They can, of course, be suppressed. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!) But the irritating thing about these seekers after knowledge is that they all-too-frequently come up with ideas and techniques that are simply too useful to ignore. Organised religion takes a hit. Living gets more complicated – and so does the whole business of governing an increasingly complicated population.
The answer to this new problem turned out to be relatively simple. Replace the voice of the priest in the pulpit with the voice of the teacher at the front of the class. Replace the wonder of God’s creation with the “nothingbutism” of science. Human-beings are “nothing but” the product of millions of years of evolution. Morality is what works. Evil is what works in ways that make no evolutionary sense. Bad equals broken. Good equals the absence of damage – and difference. The best thing to be is the same as everybody else. Uncomplicated.
The Internet makes simplicity easy. Thanks to social media, the voice of the teacher at the front of the class can be retired in favour of the voices on the individual’s Twitter feed, Facebook Page, Instagram or Tik-Tok. Sophisticated algorithms ensure that practically all of these voices are saying exactly the same thing – keeping the conversation as simple as possible. Never has it been easier for people to know what they think. Never have people had less cause to be tolerant of those who think for themselves.
Attempting to explain to others why they may be mistaken in their thinking is fast becoming a dangerous exercise. For many people, being wrong is an outright impossibility. How could it be otherwise when everyone they know is telling them they’re right?
Introducing the concept of complexity: the idea that in any given situation there are a host of competing factors at work; is interpreted by an increasing number of twenty-first century humans as a criticism of both themselves and their friends. Moreover, since they and their friends are always right, the person “explaining” can only be trying to justify being wrong. And pretending to be right when you’re not right, doesn’t just make you wrong, it makes you bad.
A complex world is incompatible with a simple world. Explanation is incompatible with acceptance.
Contrariwise, the ability to distinguish the majority view of reality from reality itself is arguably the most vital adaptation of human evolution, it’s what drives our species forward.
Unfortunately, it can also get you killed.
Unfortunately, it can also get you killed.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 24 March 2022.
“Intolerance of others’ views (no matter how ignorant or incoherent they may be) is not simply wrong; in a world where there is no right or wrong, it is worse: it is a sign you are embarrassingly unsophisticated or, possibly, dangerous.”
― Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Thank you Chris, I love these sorts of discussions, hopefully the point won't be lost and the comments section won't be filled with insistences of personal or ideological rectitude.
Perhaps we, the people and our governments, need to be more grateful for what we have in our free, just and prosperous societies. It's a long way down from here.
Fukuyama: "You’re living in a liberal society. The government is not asking very much of you, but even the slightest imposition on your individual freedom, you compare it to the worst tyrannies of previous ages. You can only do that in a society that’s really forgotten what real tyranny is like. And I think that one of the things that has happened with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is to remind people what real tyranny looks like. It isn’t a mask mandate. It’s having your city relentlessly bombed because somebody doesn’t like your national identity. That’s what real tyranny looks like."
Having said complacency can flourish where gratitude is lacking as well. It is deeply concerning to see the values and institutions that underlie liberal democracy so casually disregarded. Governments and the media seem completely unaware or unconcerned with what is at stake, they willingly and openly subvert democracy and straight out lie. Our own governments moves against democratic representation, equality before the law and the right to free speech indicate a scant regard for some very fundamental essentials of liberal democracy.
The Biden laptop case, the one that was dismissed as fake, a Russian conspiracy (or something) has re-surfaced and only now admitted to being genuine. Something that was clearly proven at the time. The worst aspect is not so much it's revelations of corruption and underhand dealings with dodgy Ukrainian, Russian and Chinese outfits, bad as they are, but the way the media, politicians and big tech shut the story down. They outright banned it and probably altered the US election result as a consequence.
"It confirmed that the new woke elites will do whatever it takes to crush inconvenient facts, to bury stories and ideas and beliefs that pose a threat to their power or their interests. And it confirmed that Big Tech billionaires will happily engage in explicit political censorship to protect their allies and sponsors from scrutiny. If an established newspaper like the New York Post can be forcefully locked out of the 21st-century public square, just imagine what could be done to you or me if we ever happened upon some facts the elites would prefer to keep hidden.
Hunter’s laptop is an embarrassment to Hunter and potentially to President Biden himself. It raises questions that must be answered. But the ruthless war on the laptop story waged by spies, corporate bosses and the shapers of elite opinion is a far larger problem. It should be seen as a very loud warning sign by those of us who believe in press freedom and democratic discussion."
We have the capacity, the divine ability, to directly apprehend beauty, love, meaning and truth, let them be your guide.
This is a very deep and insightful essay. I agree with your ideas about the current state of human perception when it comes to matters of complexity. How do we keep our sanity? It helps to share so thanks.
We can do what we can while navigating our daily lives.
When dealing with human nature it is important to remember that "The average intelligence of the average human being is not that high". Present company excluded.
Therefore the sheep will follow the easy path to traverse the hill.
Politically we need transparent policy and honest leadership.
It would be interesting to see some media discussion around the WEF Young Global Leaders. Who are they and how do their policies and practices compare? There is info on the WEF website. Interestingly the WEF (which is an independent body headed by George Soros) has recently applied to be a part of the UN. Why is there such a dearth of information in the public arena? Because secrecy is a dark veil that facilitates private agendas.
Interestingly, came to a similar conclusion. I instead refer to the binary (or Boolean if you think I'm referring to gender) labels we hear about everything. We see this daily, especially in politics and the diatribes that much of the internet has become. People on benefits are frequently categorised as either unfortunate working angels that life is treating unfairly or lazy scum who would do anything to avoid an honest day’s work depending on your ideology.
We see simple labels categorising broad swathes of people or views. It simplifies the polemic but further divides us as suddenly the Muslim neighbour next-door becomes falsely equivalent with the bonkers extremists suicide bombing their way in to heaven in parts of Africa we really don’t understand.
As you say, such massive over-simplification hinders understanding and squeezes out common sense and pragmatism. It also lends itself to an “us and them” mindset as one now sees oneself as a series of labels with more a tribal and combative way of thinking. Politics being the perfect example.
One always must remind oneself that, while useful, labels also have dangers. Maybe if we all chanted “reality is a continuum” several times before any discussion it might be more productive.
"But the ruthless war on the laptop story waged by spies, corporate bosses and the shapers of elite opinion is a far larger problem. It should be seen as a very loud warning sign by those of us who believe in press freedom and democratic discussion."
But all these people are right wing. You really need to make up your mind about these elites David, because most of them are allegedly on your side. And anything but "woke" a word which if used by anyone but a black teenager makes the user look stupid.
And yet like most conservatives you didn't turn a hair at Donald Trump's deep-seated, ongoing, and absolutely blatant peculation and sale of political influence. You could perhaps have mentioned Trump's attempt to blackmail the Ukrainian President some time ago – you had every opportunity, but didn't. It isn't as if I needed another reminder of conservative hypocrisy but thanks anyway. But perhaps you could ease up a bit? My irony meter is feeling the strain.
Complexity introduces a variety possibilities and answers.
Therefore, to be better equipped to tackle any complexity in human relationships, is it not best to be first aware of the simple physical (not pure philosophical or faith related) demonstrable universal fact, that without capitalism (saving for security reserves and useful, profitable investment) - we would survive living only at hand-to-mouth consuming poverty level of hunters and gathers ?
And that mixed capitalism including personal capital ownership and management by all citizens is more democratic and economically effective than state monopoly capitalism ?
In another life, I was often hired to write up the ‘final’ reports for a number of influential international consulting organisations.
Early in the piece, one of the ‘big thinkers’ at one of these organisations took me to one side to explain that ‘for every complex problem there is a simple solution. And, ninety percent of the time, that simple solution is wrong.’
We have the capacity, the divine ability, to directly apprehend beauty, love, meaning and truth, let them be your guide.
No problem there. Those of us down in the stalls (see parliament grounds recently) have always possessed such ability. Its up in the Gods of the said palace that no such attributes exist.
But all these people are right wing.
Compared to GS they probably are, even the former CIA chief who voted for communist Gus Hall in the 1976 Presidential election: America eh? what a great nation.
You really need to make up your mind about these elites David, because most of them are allegedly on your side
Alleged by who? You? If David supported Trump then the elites were most definitely not on his side.
And anything but "woke" a word which if used by anyone but a black teenager makes the user look stupid.
Chuckle. GS has been banging this drum for some time but judging by the widespread use of the word by Lefties he's lost yet another battle over a term he and the Left thought was just super great but then was turned on them as people discovered how rotten the concept was. Sort of like CRT and most other Lefty ideas, and of course the response is always that it's the fault of others (Rufo, wreckers, saboteurs, Kulaks) rather than the crap concepts at the heart of the theory. US Lefty humourist and satirist Bill Maher caught the concept well in responding to the same crap from AOC:
What?!' Maher said, reacting to Ocasio-Cortez's criticism of Carville.
'This is a term folks like you brought out very recently, had been proudly displaying it every march since.
'Just last year, The Guardian declared "woke" the "word of our era."
'I guess they didn't get the memo from the Mean Girls Club.'
'What a great strategy, never missing an opportunity to remind voters how lame and clueless and hopelessly uncool they are, especially since those are the ones who actually vote.
'But OK, fine. What word would you like us to use for the plainly insane excesses of the left that are not liberalism but something completely different?
'Because you can't have that word "liberal" from us and think it should cover things like canceling Lincoln.
'And teaching third-graders they're oppressors. That's all your new-think.'
Heh. The Mean Girls Club. Mind you, despite all his support for abortion, gay marriage, drug use and such Maher's still a deep right winger thanks to making millions from capitalist TV, amirite?
And yet like most conservatives you didn't turn a hair at Donald Trump's deep-seated, ongoing, and absolutely blatant peculation and sale of political influence. You could perhaps have mentioned Trump's attempt to blackmail the Ukrainian President some time ago – you had every opportunity, but didn't.
Another aspect of GS's debating style is, when on the defensive, go on the attack and do so via spraying a vast array of accusations and demanding they be responded too. In this case it would be helpful if links were supplied, preferably ones with some arguments attached instead of just repeated assertions.
Re attempted blackmail of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, it's surprising he's said nothing about that since Trump left office. Perhaps you and your sources were thinking of Biden's captured-on-video boasting of getting the Ukranians to fire the prosecutor investigating his drug-addled son's huge payments from Burisma for expertise in the gas industry he didn't have. Lots of excuses made about how the prosecutor was not approved of in general so Biden was in the right - except that papers have since appeared showing that the US DOJ fully supported the prosecutor and thought he was not corrupted.
Naturally the new prosecutor dropped the investigation and the Ukrainians got the billion dollars Biden threatened to withhold from them.
Actually that's another classic Far Left trait: projection; you accuse your opponents of what you're actually doing. Works a treat.
Tom - as usual TL/TI/DR.
All these numbnut commenters growing in the sewage pond of sources (sewage pipes) from the American plutocracy. Tom Hunter with 'Far Left' was funny. We want a little more rule of the people i.e. democracy. No far left exists. GS going at their 'facts'. I can't do it anymore. It's too endless.
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