Nothing is Everything

30 April 2021

Jeff McCarty

In a complex world full of complicated problems with human beings, which are complex creatures, we constantly search for simplicity. This desire for simplicity plays itself out in various ways throughout society. Think about how many people are searching for a get-rich-quick scheme. Another way that this desire has manifested is in the rising allure of populism, which is a direct representation of simplicity in policy debates. Other movements like modern design and minimalism show this desire playing out in people’s lifestyles as well. The concept of simplicity seems fine and dandy when we begin to analyze things conscientiously; we can see that things are never so simple.


Some may be wondering, what is the big deal about wanting simplicity. I will gladly admit that not all forms of simplicity are harmful. There are ways that we can benefit from simplicity. Perhaps we are trying to make a process or procedure more simplistic in hopes of maximizing efficiency. Maybe we are minimizing the choices we must make to live a more simplistic life. There are plenty of ways people search for simplicity, and because things aren’t simple, I won’t sit here and try to tell you that all forms of simplicity are destructive. What gets forgotten is that the desire for simplicity can take a turn for the worse.


Simplicity can turn dangerous as we zoom out from the microscale and enter the region of the macroscale. Put another way, applying the concepts of simplicity within our personal practices can be benign, while trying to implement simplicity on a societal level can turn out bad. Mainly, this is because the problems facing humanity on a societal level are complex and intertwined. This interconnectivity of society's problems means that trying to prescribe a simple understanding and simple solution to a problem is rarely correct. It is bound to miss out on a crucial element of the issue at hand. This attempted simplification is what we see in society today, people trying to simplify problems down to one cause and then prescribing a simple solution to that one cause.


As humans who want genuine change in society that allows all humanity to flourish, we must be wary of these simplistic understandings and solutions. Anyone claiming that they found the one thing causing all the problems in society has not taken in the full scope of the problem. Even if they claim that this one thing is the cause of even just one problem, there is still something missing. I want to be clear that this isn't to say that the one thing that person may see as the causation of the problem is incorrect. It very well may be a contributing factor. What this is to say, though, is that nothing is everything when it comes to society's problems, and the second we think it is, we need to challenge those assumptions.

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