Praise the Complexity

The age of the great simplifiers.

Posted Jun 03, 2020

A few weeks ago, I was about to lose my temper in class. I didn’t. But I was about to. 

I was teaching my undergraduate ethics class and I came to realize that the belief that, after all, things are always simple and there’s always a simple solution for everything was becoming more and more diffused among the students.

Despite my strong affection for simplicity, I find it incredibly dangerous to think that we can make everything simple without losing a thing. Forcing complexity into simple outlets means becoming blind toward all the aspects that are part of that phenomenon.

If a friend comes to me and wants to share a complex problem she is experiencing, I cannot sell her an easy fix. Or I could, but then my friend would feel not seen by me and would return home feeling more lonely than before.

Human beings are not simple and neither are their problems.

The Great Corrupter

American sociologist and politician Daniel Moynihan didn’t like this trend either, and in 1970 wrote: "A century ago the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt foresaw that ours would be the age of 'the great simplifiers,' and that the essence of tyranny was the denial of complexity. He was right. This is the single great temptation of the time. It is the great corrupter, and must be resisted with purpose and with energy." 

Making things simple when they are complex is not a virtue but a temptation. Simplifying complexity is, as Moynihan knew, the great corrupter.

I understand the source of the temptation. Sometimes we do not understand all the aspects of a complex situation and we look at the people who do understand it with a mixed feeling of jealousy, inadequateness, or competition, as if they use difficult words and explain things in a way that escapes our understanding on purpose—as if they want, on purpose, to make feel us more stupid.

Well, often it’s not about us. It is possible that we need specialists who can read the complexity of a situation and struggle to find an easy way to explain it.

Do the Upgrade

As I love simple explanations and think that all of us have the right to access education and science, I believe that sometimes it’s up to us to do the upgrade. 

We do upgrades when it’s about our phone applications or computer systems, so why shouldn’t we do it when it concerns our well-being and our right to be happy?

Being humble and accepting that something is complex is the best way to guarantee happiness for ourselves and others. Sometimes we need to focus and learn something new to adjust to the complexity of our moods, needs, and life goals. Limiting complexity to a forced simplicity means denying our moods, needs, and life goals which would eventually lead us to feel uneasy in our own skin.

If we transform the complex and unique structure of a snowflake to the simplicity of its principle, what we would have is water.

If we give up on complexity we will be condemned to a society without beauty, variety, or surprises. 

So, let’s do the upgrade and keep our mind open to more complexity to come. Let’s keep the world beautiful and surprising.