January 24, 2024

Simplify AND THEN Complicate

 When critics frame simple stories versus complex reality as a binary choice, authoritarians thrive. So long as it's one or the other, the domineering "reality is what I say it is" leaders can simply assert "the stories we tell are NOT fictions." Polarization is not the result of such conflicts; it is their fertile ground.

 If I could wipe away that false binary and re-write critical dogma I would tell academia to assert that simple stories often are and can more often be a pathway to more complex understandings. Scientists know this. Where the university history professor takes an oppositional stance against stories their students have previously heard, the university physics professor affirms the basic concepts of high school teaching and adds, "now we're going to incorporate friction and wind resistance." Although not everyone can keep up with the math in that case, they gain a new appreciation for how simplified the earlier teaching had been.

 Imagine if politicians were culturally expected to share two versions of each story. First, tell me the short version. Next, expand on that with the complicated details. The liars and spin doctors who prefer that the public options for narrative rhetoric should remain binary, suddenly, would be unable to compete. Because they only have their one simplified version of lies, expanding upon which would require receipts. In contrast, the earnest and honest would no longer face an automatic competitive disadvantage. Rather, those who understand the complex version and wish to convey it completely would simply need to learn strategic methods for non-fiction storytelling as an introductory practice.

 The logic here reminds me of the twin gatekeepers in Labyrinth. One liar and one truthteller, one guarding safe passage and one trying to doom you; the trick is to ask both of them, "Which door would he tell me to take?" The liar points to doom, the honest one points to doom, and you pick the opposite door.

 It may be optimistic of me, but I suspect "Give me the simple version and then follow up with the long version" would upend lots of nonsense... especially if we could establish that every purveyor of claims should be expected to follow that custom.

 On a personal note, this whole suggestion developed in me because I wish biblical scholas would see the four Gospels in a similar way - not as simple claims to uphold or dismiss but as authorial representations which point the way to considering various complex possibilities about the real historical past.

 A simple story should invite us to ask questions about the more complex reality.

 The false binary only empowers those who thrive on such conflict.


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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton