These terms can be used to describe a mindset of inadequate intelligence and sophistication about the true complexity of the world. On the other hand, they can also be used to describe an accurate appraisal of the clarity and simplicity of basic truths about life and the world.
Depending on the issue, people on any side of an issue might accuse others of being simplistic and not recognizing complexity. This is usually meant as an accusation that the other side refuses to take into account factors that the other side does, or is selective about what is accepted as reality.
Although conservatives are more often accused of being simple-minded and unwilling to think complexly, this accusation also flies in the reverse direction. When liberals say something is complex, for example abortion, conservatives might accuse them of moral relativism. In the reverse case, when conservatives say that, for example, violence by police is complex, liberals might accuse them of racism.
Research has sometimes supported the inclination of conservatives towards simplicity. But more recent findings support the idea 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 the death penalty, socialism, and refugees, but were dogmatic when it came to religion. By contrast, liberal responses were complex when considering topics like premarital sex, biblical truth, and alcohol, but were dogmatic when it came to the environment. Overall, neither group showed greater overall complexity in their thinking.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
- Did you ever say to someone, “You’re thinking too simplistically”? What if you were to go back and ask that person to explain their view in detail? Would it still be simplistic?
- Did anyone ever say that to you? What do you wish you could have told them about your view?
- Have you ever seen anyone say something was complex when it really wasn’t? What do you wish you could have said to them?