Things I've learned, part N: sometimes things are complicated

Particularly, when someone tries to tell you a thing that seems complicated is actually simple, be wary.

This happens in TED talks, Malcolm Gladwell books, and all sorts of other pop science fluff. “We thought that teaching kids/building livable cities/addiction/etc was very difficult, but then we found this one weird factor that explains 90% of everything!” See also: diets, politics.

It’s not always¬†wrong. I guess we used to think scurvy was complicated, then we kinda accidentally discovered Vitamin C. But nowadays we’ve solved most of the simple problems, and so anything that’s still around is probably complex. “X is actually simple” is usually wrong, and seductively so: it’s kind of terrifying to deal with a ridiculously complicated world, so of course we’re always looking for ways to simplify it.

I don’t remember what prompted this in particular, but it does come up a lot. Maybe something political? “Immigrants are taking our jobs” is a popular one. So is “Obama was bad because X, therefore everything he did was also bad.” (or even “Trump is bad, therefore…” - though most things he’s done have been bad :-/ )


blog 2023 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010