Wednesday, June 30, 2004

binary complexity

Nicholas D. Kristof:

Mr. Bush did stretch the truth. The run-up to Iraq was all about exaggerations, but not flat-out lies. ...

Mr. Bush's central problem is not that he was lying about Iraq, but that he was overzealous and self-deluded. He surrounded himself with like-minded ideologues, and they all told one another that Saddam was a mortal threat to us. They deceived themselves along with the public — a more common problem in government than flat-out lying.

Fair enough. This is one of the problems analyzed by Surowiecki in The Wisdom of Crowds -- group homogeneity reinforces dumb confidence in insular perceptions. (More on Surowiecki's book here).

But is there some gain in level of complexity in the way Kristof concludes his piece?
It wasn't surprising when the right foamed at the mouth during the Clinton years, for conservatives have always been quick to detect evil empires. But liberals love subtlety and describe the world in a palette of grays — yet many have now dropped all nuance about this president.

or have we simply reconfigured the "exaggeration" so that we have simplified the world, "for the sake of argument," thusly?

In the rhetoric of closure, is there not always the exaggeration of simplification? ("Always" -- as in, is it possible to have closure without some moment of radical reduction? Is it possible to be a pundit without murdering truth?)

Which is one reason Surowiecki is right in suggesting we hold our own illusions at arm's length. (Well, he doesn't come right out and say that, but I do, simplifying his reasoning as I "make" this point about closure.)


Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Jon Husband (in comments under the previous post) asks:

Could you say more about the seemingly ubiquitous, if not near-universal drive to simplifying, and reaching AN answer?Nothing that would be very helpful, Jon. The larger anthropology and cultural background are fascinating but elude my opportunities for evidence gathering. My particular interest tends to be the way texts work - their rhetorical strategies and modes of production. At least with these I can point to passages that other readers can share (whether our particular readings are shared is another matter). I'd of course welcome your saying more about your particular experiences with the "urge to closure and action." Is there something different about processes that lead to impulsive acts from those that issue in fully deliberative decisions?

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