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American society’s most dangerous split is between “it’s simple” and “it’s complicated.” Some people think our problems are simple, and can be solved simply. Others accept that none of the issues are simple, and that it’s a mistake to act as though they are.
If you’re on the complicated side and you’re arguing with someone on the simple side, you have a problem. You can understand their point of view quickly, so you can decide immediately if the problem really is simple. But if you need to convince them that the problem is complicated, it will take them a lot longer to understand it.
So how can a person on the complicated side possibly win? One option is for that person to break their argument down and offer only the simplest part to the other side, so as to make a beginning. If the other person is patient, they’ll eventually hear the complexity of the situation in later conversations.
Unfortunately, most people who prefer the simple argument are predisposed to see it that way because it’s compelling, takes less time and effort, and matches their world view. Even if they’re open-minded and intelligent, a long, slow step-by-step argument is unlikely to engage them.
May I suggest creativity? A good book or piece of music has the advantage of being “simple” in that its art compacts it, makes it easy to digest, and compels the listener to hear the whole thing. At the same time, the complexity is there, and anyone who takes it in will experience, and perhaps recognize, that it’s not simple.
A Beethoven Sonata, an Emily Dickinson poem, a play by Lorraine Hansbury, these can all be described in a sentence or even a word. But they contain worlds and can be explored for days or years or a lifetime. As simple as they are to conceive in the mind, they defy all attempts to simplify what’s going on in them, creating in us conflicting emotions, alignments, and visions for our direction forward.
This is not always a welcome experience, which is why some people really don’t like complex artistic endeavors. But we are not after those people. We’re after the vast majority of the ones in the middle, the ones who might change their mind about how complicated something is if only you could get their attention for long enough.
If they begin to get a sense of complexity as a good thing, then they may be able to tolerate your complicated argument in a conversation. They may not feel the need to resolve everything in a simplistic way, may listen before speaking, may choose to act out of thought rather than fear. If enough of these people agree to think this way, then there is a chance for the complicated argument.
Has art ever had a more important role to play? If you are feeling powerless and you are an artist of any kind, musician, writer, actor, I hope you discover that you have a certain responsibility inherent in your talent. I hope that using that talent, whatever it is, empowers you.