Saturday, August 11, 2012

Simply a Paradox

Watching the political campaigns evolve, it occurred to me that the striving for a simple message is very good in politics—whereas striving to master complexity is at the very heart of policy. Simple derives from the Latin for singular, uncompounded, unmixed (simplex). Amusingly for me, inveterate student of cultural change, the meaning of simple to mean “humble, ignorant,” later “lowly, common” developed beginning in the thirteenth century. The decline of simplicity from meaning singleness, singularity (God is simple) dates from the sixteenth century. To reach the great masses, therefore, we must keep it simple, as in “it’s the economy, stupid.” Here that “stupid” refers not to the simple but to those who see complexity. The word contains a paradox in that two meanings abide within the word; one points up as in singular, never seen before, unique; the other points down at lack of complexity. The slogan modified should be: “Keep it simple for the stupid; its all about public spending.” And if you can frame things in this way, you’ll be labeled a wonk or an intellectual—two other words well worth unpacking.


  1. Right there is what's at the heart of any good political campaign: a simple slogan, hopefully with supporting detail beyond that which the more detail-minded can dig into.

    One of the great failures of modern politics, of course, is that simple slogans have often taken the place of coherent and complex policy analysis and implementation. You need to have the former before you can do the latter. But winning office on the former without any reference to the latter makes for quite a mess once the election is run.

  2. Perhaps these slogans should be devised and then assigned by a neutral commission members of which must be bipartisan and all aged over 76. For example, this year the NSC (National Slogan Commission) might assign the simple slogans of BACKWARD and FORWARD to Republicans and Democrats. Come to think of it, one party has already agreed...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.