Democracy in a complicated world
In this article I present a negative view of complexity and a hopeful reframing of it.
Firstly, the negative. Someone shared this article with me: The lesson of Trump and Brexit: a society too complex for its people risks everything. In it, John Harris suggests that:
Complexity, after all, is a 21st-century leitmotif, captured in those news-channel screens on which scrolling tickers and stockmarket data combine to create the impression of a world so elaborate it is beyond anyone’s control.
It’s not so surprising to me that people resort to being anti-politics, or ignoring the whole thing, when the world looks too complex. The author quotes historian Joseph Tainter, who writes:
The simpler past seems more attractive than today’s complex reality, and so people vote [thanks to] inchoate frustrations,” he told me. “They choose simplicity and locality over complexity; identity over internationalism. Politicians promote themselves by giving voice to this.
Brexit, and Trump are two examples, and there will be more: the Netherlands, France and more are expected to deliver strong returns for the Right.
Secondly, the positive. Is complexity really so bad? I turn to Thomas Wagner, whose words I found in a magazine found in a book exchange in Amsterdam.
When a matter is complicated in a positive sense, we become accomplices of puzzles, astonishment, magic, contraband and arcanum, of things that are not obvious, not evident, not known by anybody, maybe not even meant to be known.
So, complexity can be beautiful after all. Maybe it is the inner child in me that enjoys those images so much. So much to see, so much to learn! (The perils of the ever-curious.)
Maybe, over time, we can learn to think, “that’s complicated… how interesting! Tell me more” and become wary of the over-simplified answers. I hope so