June 28, 2019


We know a lot less than we think about the world - which explains the allure of "simplism": From how a zip works to Brexit, we often pretend we understand complex problems. But simplism has become a doctrine - and it is ruining our politics. (IAN LESLIE, 6/19/19, New Statesman)

The disease of politics today is not populism, so much, as simplism: the oversimplification of complex problems. [...]

It is not a coincidence that politicians have developed this ardently simplist sensibility at a time when complexity is growing. Voters are simplists too. We live in an increasingly globalised, diverse, interdependent, technology-led society, but most of us don't like to think about it. We take for granted enormously complex achievements, such as the presence of milk in your supermarket, or the phone in your pocket.

Similarly, the number of voters who truly understand the immigration system, or how schools are funded, is tiny (it's almost an axiom: any issue worthy of public debate is too complicated for most voters to understand). But that doesn't stop us from having strong opinions on them. Simplist solutions are seized upon because we don't like to feel that we don't understand things. When you don't understand something, you feel less sense of agency over it, and as the 2016 Leave campaign realised, people get scared and angry when they don't feel in control.

Simplism is changing the way we feel about each other, too. Dan Kahan, a Yale professor, is one of America's leading experts on political polarisation, and one of his findings is that partisanship results from incuriosity. If you have a very different opinion to me on immigration, that might be because you have a very different experience of it from me. But to contemplate your different life experience requires an expense of brainpower to which most of us are unwilling to commit. It's more efficient to dismiss others as bigoted or gullible.

Simplisms vary. The right likes to explain as much as possible with reference to the perfidy of foreigners. The left's preferred strain of simplism is conspiracy: every social ill can be explained by the existence of a self-serving elite. Liberals assume everyone else is less intelligent.

Posted by at June 28, 2019 12:18 PM