This master framework—complexity vs. over-simplification—separates all serious debate from hokum

While those favoring complexity see foes as ignorant or wrongheaded, reductionists insist not only is “their truth” the only truth, but foes act from malice and bad faith.


When biased reductionism distorts complexity, in jeopardy are both proof and truth

For a moment forget right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal, rich vs. poor, even fascism vs. democracy. Let’s focus on a more fundamental, instructive distinction—the holistic stance that engages the sum of variables and impacts before reaching judgment vs. the tunnel vision that starts with a predetermined agenda, cherrypicks only favorable data and ends up distorting context and outcomes. One addresses the complexity of human alternatives, honoring testing, method and magnitude, then fashions solutions that best honor the whole. Simplistic, self-serving reductionists begin with unsupported, often delusional end claims (elections are rigged, criminal immigrants are pouring in, Biden’s not in charge), then self-selects to present a demagogic slogan that fits an audience’s prejudices.  

No surprise that such “complexionists” reflect more worldly, reason-based educations and experiences, capable of balancing macro with micro and viable concepts with evidence. Big picture types posit a thesis (or goal) and filter tested data for support, knowing alternative, even conflicting viewpoints exist. Thus elections either represent the cleanest way for a legitimate majority to make preferences—or become firecracker shooting matches for losers. Nefariously, over-simplifiers assume all truth is reducible to their simple boxes, blithely battering ambiguity or contradiction; thus the dependance on soundbites, fixations and bad logic to obscure all the evidence, real-world context, even humane values. 

Naturally, over-simplifiers cling to facile dichotomies (us vs. them, right vs wrong, good vs. bad), then must blot out banished voices. When exposed, they double-down on belligerence, as if inflating confidence will offset wrong conclusions. In the end, they reject more knowledgeable “eggheads” because refined distinctions and “too much analysis” make stuff hard to understand. Albert Einstein’s apt quip, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” invites another, “complex problems deserve enough in-depth scrutiny to achieve comprehension, but not more.” 

Whereas higher education and positive learning experiences serve those with complex visions, a falloff in reading (and quality education) are fueling an anti-intellectual culture married to insular, facile packages. Mass media, vs. newspapers or books, are slaves to time slots, pumping out clip-bait come-ons. No human dilemmas fit simple boxes, and skepticism towards silver-tongued claims is the first test of intelligence. Thus does a mania for 24/7 “entertainment” (vs. analysis) serve propaganda.

The bigger the lie, the more simplistic the “truth”

Big Lies, plus other deceitful manipulations like wild conspiracy delusions, go hand in hand with willful reductionism. How else do hustlers work up easy formulas for the gullible to swallow, hook, line and sinker. Big money, fact-resistant religious models (on procreation, life processes), ignorance of American history, denial of class struggles, and sham manias (taxation is theft, gun control is wicked, the minority should rule) depend on biased slants, delivered by media that forever blurs the hard line between wishful thinking and verifiable truths. 

A) Reductionism plagues even less controversial topics, like federal debt stunts used as blackmail. That needless farce already lowered the US credit standing, upping national borrowing costs. So a few one-note extremists (“government stinks and costs too much”) throw a tantrum, ignoring the obvious debacles incurred by deadbeat nations. In contrast, a huge majority insists that bills due are legal contracts, not whims. The MAGA crowd acts as if demolishing US credit should match how Trump ruined his. Let’s hope GOP showboating wounds the party, especially with business interests obliged to understand full dimensions.

B) Or take the Hamas-Israeli war, between simplistic, irreconcilable fundamentalist groups locked in a tragic, doomed, no-win tug of war. Single-minded Hamas attackers sought to incite a regional war by terrorizing Israelis, spotlighting the long-term abuse of captive Palestinians. With awful irony, the subsequent war only maximizes civilian pain in Gaza – thanks to Hamas belligerence, a super-militarized Israeli government, and years of negligence by western nations and Arab neighbors. “Eye for an eye” killing produces rage that fuels more killing, without seeming end. Thus tunnel vision, as with debt, is very costly to all involved. 

Some day, this chapter ends, hostages will be returned, marginal subsidies will re-start, and the negative reputations of both sides will be reinforced. Until both sides internalize the overall historic, cultural and economic realities, what will change either combatant? Two things must happen: neighboring populations must acknowledge the reality and power of Israel, forever armed to the teeth by the west. Israelis must accept a two-state solution, with reassurances of defensible borders. If all players remain trapped in simplistic ideologies, this two-sided dose of fundamentalism grinds into irreconcilability. 

On top of which, deranged fundamentalists here match reductionists in the Mideast, with the insulting fantasy Israel exists to fulfill its bizarre evangelical, end of the world projections. Thus the right defends Israel, whatever the brutality, demonizing Palestinians as heinous terrorists. Like extremists in Israel and Gaza, twisted true believers ignore the complexity of history and geo-politics, thus helping amp up the next Hundred Year War. Pious Christians all, to a warmonger. 

Procreation is never simple

C) Or take reproductive freedoms, a seeming impossible convergence of religious, biological, legal and civil/personal rights tensions, taxed now by 50 state solutions. If the full complexity of “life” is reduced to a batch of undeveloped cells, deeming any intervention “murder,” that locks in total abortion bans and harsh penalties. This answers to (non-Biblical) faith-alone dogma that cruelly snubs good science, established law, women’s rights and no clear justification government should intrude on doctor-parent decisions. Further, absolute bans violate the rights of the victim plagued by rape, incest or sex slavery plus consider the permanent wounds to a newborn greeting a most unwelcoming, stressed world. 

On point, while personal rights have clear definitions, will we ever finalize when a fetus has “independent life,” issues of biological knowledge far beyond hack squabblers? On full bodily autonomy, complexionists address countless impacts—legal, moral, religious, family, scientific and community. The immense complexity disqualifies low-brow partisans from handing down harsh restrictions; thus most Americans default that the government should stay out of the birthing business. Who but a rape victim should decide her future? Further, in a secular, rights-driven democracy, no minority should trump the majority, certainly not by appealing to an unverifiable divinity “above” in an unverifiable heaven. 

Ditto for election-denial and worse

D) Finally, let’s fully confront a seditious president who defies a certified election and peaceful power transfer, instead inciting a malicious conspiracy to overturn a Constitutional election. The evidence for insurrection is indisputable, augmented by unspeakable negligence by refusing to stop the fatal Capitol riot he incited. Complexionists look across public evidence (videos, interviews), election law, tradition, the Constitution, courts, diminished confidence in voting and impacts on democratic institutions. Hard not to identify disqualifying infamy, especially as every fake justification makes him look worse.

In contrast, Trumpers worship a single, utterly baseless Big Lie that 1) he won the election, thus ordering violent challenges; 2) that Dem scheming “stole” his victory; and 3) state certifications and 60+ rejected court cases mean nothing. Thus this phoniest non-debate relies on a one-off, Trump concoction to drive a re-election void of other convincing imperatives. Expand to indicted GA election fraud and the phony elector scheme parallels—and only pathetic true believers buy into a treasonous conspiracy full of bad faith and contempt for law. Can “disagreement” exist when one side owns all the facts and logic. 

Anathema to civilization

Obviously, this simple, empirical framework illuminates any major issue. Whether caused by ignorance, ill-will, gullibility, criminality, fascist projections, or derangement, intentional reality rejection contradicts reason and poisons democracy. Can make-believe trump majority rule, plus the letter and spirit of Founding documents? The fix is in when any gang invents its own “alternative reality,” then goes ballistic when its subsequent grievances are rejected. Now that’s grandiosity in spades—and the beat goes on because the conned refuse to admit error or defeat—as if bearing true witness is “against their religion.” 

Worst of all, whereas the “complexionists” simply judge foes as ignorant, misinformed or wrongheaded, reductionists go full-bore judgmental, insisting not only is “their truth” the only truth, but foes act from malice and bad faith. Thus does absolutism feed moralistic self-righteousness that broaches no restraints, even violence or terrorism. Like bullies, rigid reality deniers must be confronted, for they take acquiescence as incentives for more aggression. Only the most misguided bullies threaten in public and in advance retribution and vengeance, claiming all rights for their clique. After all, “might makes right” reflects the narrowest, most reductionist view of self-interest, turning their “freedoms” into permission to dominate others. Demagogues must forcibly take power because no sane citizenry would freely grant it. The first step is forcibly making reality fit their anti-democratic biases—and that begins by forcing reductionist slogans as if fixed inviolate truths. 


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.