Complex/Complicated

Depending on the issue, it’s common for one side to accuse the other of being simplistic and not recognizing “complexity” - which usually is actually an accusation that oneside doesn’t take seriously enough into account factors that the other side does. Although it is often conservatives who are accused of being less willing to think complexly, this accusation sometimes flies in the reverse direction too.

Whereas some see complexity as reflecting a mature and 21st-century mindset of adequate intelligence and sophistication about the true complexity of the world, others see this same mindset as sometimes making otherwise simple realities overly complicated and muddied. “Complexity” is also sometimes viewed as cover for something else, like moral relativism (e.g., liberals arguing complexity in regards to abortion) or racism (e.g., conservatives saying violence by police is complex).

Although research has sometimes been interpreted to support the inclination of conservatives towards simplicity, more recent findings suggest that both liberals and conservatives are inclined towards simplicity on different topics (especially those about which they feel the strongest).  For instance, across several studies conservatives showed more complexity when dealing with topics like smoking, capital punishment, easy access to birth control, open-door immigration, and socialism - while being more single-mindedly dogmatic when it came to religion. By contrast, liberal responses were more complex when considering alcohol, abortion on demand, premarital sex, biblical truth, organized religion and making racial discrimination illegal - while thinking more simply when it came to the environment (see summary here).

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

-Which areas or issues seem “simple” to you vs. “complex”?  How would you account for that difference?  

- Think of a topic you see as simple and someone else sees as complex. Then ask them to explain the complexity they see to you. Does it seem more complex to you now? Now try it the other way around. Can you explain why something is more complex to them?

-Did anyone ever tell you that your viewpoint on something was overly simplistic? Did you ever say that to anyone? What do you think either of you really meant - just that, or something more?

 

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