About “Simpletism”

Simpletism can be defined as the conversion of complexity into more-rudimentary components so that a “simpler” version of parts may be understood in order to find fractured, partial understanding as representative of the greater whole. Simpletism is a largely unconscious activity which also crucially enables the less-intelligent among us to continue to “participate” in the conversation, since, quite seriously, the simple matter of contemporary existence within capitalism-as-usual has grown exponentially in complexity since our cave-person days. 

In developed society, one can observe simpletism as a human behavior that emerges quite commonly and spontaneously when individuals are confronted with what they, from their perspective, deem to be a complex decision or idea. There is likely strong evolutionary support behind the emergence of such a response behavior, i.e. a reflexive defense against the dreaded unknown (and we hope that more specialized scientific minds can unravel the genetic tale in due time), but for our purposes it is most critical to understand that simpletism (not to be confused with the process of simplification, which could be understood as a reduction in the irrelevant information that the psychologist Daniel Kahneman refers to as Noise) can be observed whenever a human constructs or reverts to a simpler or rudimentary means of understanding in order to apprehend a given idea. This act can then adversely affect the decision-making process and frequently leads to individuals behaving against their own best interest. Instead of full comprehension of the complexity of any given idea (or issue, etc.) a person enacting simpletism opts (consciously or not) to represent that which is complex with a simpler notion around which they can easily wrap their mind, equating their rudimentary understanding with full comprehension. 

This is simpletism at its simplest. And in the complexity of simpletism we find that the emergence of unintended consequences is realized from irreconcilable differences in comprehension according to the magnitude of complexity of the issue at hand. The effect of this is an ever-growing chasm between greater complexity on the one hand, and a greater need for simpletism because of that complexity on the other hand. The results? Less comprehension, more risk and higher uncertainty.  

From a survival perspective, simpletism is likely advantageous as it allows for the emergence of heuristics (rules of thumb) that reduce the amount of incoming information into a manageable number of inputs for the human mind. But most modern humans do not live in the wild; they live in cities, among strangers, more so every day, among all the modern complexities of developed urban life that continue to evolve at an ever-increasing rate. In other words, modern human life is immersed in increasing complexity. So, although simpletism has some ancient advantages it is becoming an increasingly strained (and increasingly harmful) behavior as we stumble forward through our species’ development. The simplification of complexity ground down to errant simpletism is becoming less and less effective when navigating the ever-changing challenges of contemporary life, and not only that, this rampant behavior is frequently proving to be self-harming misbehavior

Simpletism is a growing concern in modern economic progression as it represents the most intense and ubiquitous opposition to the integration of more advanced methodologies. Since progress is realized with the systematic incorporation of new information into functioning systems, and since additional information generally increases complexity, progress frequently results in systems of greater complexity. Depending on how strong or weak an individual participant’s internal “learning engine” is, progress in systems may promote a greater demand for simpletism from its users. When a person does not, cannot or believes that they cannot comprehend something, the simpler representation that they are able to hold in their mind must suffice, however less-than-accurate it may be. The pressing need to emphasize that the average person tends toward simpletism has always been relevant, but the rapid pace of current progress indicates that the act of combating this harmful trend must be taken more seriously. The future, if we make it there, is not going to be a simpler place.

The simpletist rendering is always flawed to at least some degree, through omission and likely also confusion, contradiction and inadequacy. And though a simpletist representation may be the best that one particular individual can come up with, it must never be utilized as an exact substitute for the original idea in all its detail, just as one color can never describe a rainbow. Never. That would be tantamount to, at best, misrepresentation, at worst, fraud. To paraphrase a wonderful notion that we have humbly borrowed from our Nigerian planetary co-occupants: simpletism is an enemy of progress.      

It is an unfortunate reality that progress for human life on Earth is so consistently hampered by the drag of simpletism, which must be combated at every turn, especially by politicians who don’t seem to understand that the State’s most valuable resource available to its citizens is the public library system. Patience, literacy and pointed educational efforts are how humans can effectively approach complexity, and anyone unwilling to learn what is required to conduct an effective analysis should be removed from the decision-making process—for the safety of the group, if nothing more.

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