Saturday, September 25


One of my personal favorites, Eugene Oregon of Demagogue:

A Simple Point: Politics is Complicated
Stanley Fish has an interesting op-ed in today's New York Times.

"In an unofficial but very formal poll taken in my freshman writing class the other day, George Bush beat John Kerry by a vote of 13 to 2 (14 to 2, if you count me). My students were not voting on the candidates' ideas. They were voting on the skill (or lack of skill) displayed in the presentation of those ideas."

He goes on to analyze Bush's rhetoric versus Kerry's rhetoric and concludes that Bush is succeeding because his arguments are simple and easy to understand, while Kerry's rhetoric is circular and difficult to follow.
He concludes

If you can't explain an idea or a policy plainly in one or two sentences, it's not yours; and if it's not yours, no one you speak to will be persuaded of it, or even know what it is, or (and this is the real point) know what you are.

I realize that this is all very true, but I find the idea that complex ideas ought to be made simple so that people can understand them infuriating.

Kant and Wittgenstein are considered two of the greatest philosophers Western philosophy has ever produced, yet their writings are nearly impossible to comprehend. And it is hard to comprehend because the topics they are analyzing are complicated and difficult. Their attempts to clarify and understand complex topics is itself extremely complicated (care to provide your own analysis of how synthetic a priori judgments are possible, anyone?) but it is the complexity of their philosophy that makes it so important.

Hell, even the books that seek to simplify Kant's and Wittgenstein's philosophies so that laymen can understand them are extremely difficult to comprehend (or maybe I am just an idiot.)

Anyway, I'm not comparing Kerry to Kant or Wittgenstein. I'm simply trying to point out that making complicated things seem simple just ends up glossing over all the important details that are the source of the actual problem.
Providing simple, easy-to-understand solutions to complex problems does no good if those solutions are made simple by totally ignoring the complex nature of the problem.

Americans seem to want their politics to be simple so that they can understand it. But domestic and foreign affairs are complex issues and can't, and shouldn't, be overly simplified for easy consumption. Doing so only undermines our ability to find genuine solutions to these problems.

In short, nobody should vote for the candidate who can provide easy answers to difficult questions because those easy answers are usually misleading and dangerous.

Or, as H.L Mencken said, "There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong."


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