Simply put

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Simple                      -                   Complex
Mono                        -                   Poly
One                           -                    Many


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“Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.

One third (33%) said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.””

'How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday ... and why'

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Following the referendum on the EU there are many who have found themselves asking why the vote went the way it did - why did so many people vote ‘Leave’? In the post-mortem that has played out in the media, some reasons have been more prominent than others, with ‘immigration’ being a particularly hot topic. But what are we really talking about when we talk about ‘immigration’? Is there more to it than there appears to be?

The subject of whether to stay in or leave the EU is extremely wide ranging. There are many different considerations, ranging from the pragmatic to the ideal; from concrete concerns about business, legislation or immigration, to more ephemeral notions like ‘togetherness’, or ‘independence’; from those considerations that occupy the mainstream, to those more esoteric viewpoints on the lunatic fringe.

Much of the commentary following the referendum has seemed to suggest that people voted for a few, or even one, core reason. For instance, one prominent exit poll gave a list of three pre-determined reasons for voting, and asked its subjects to rank them in light of how much they influenced their decision. In light of their responses it claimed to explain why people voted the way they did.

No doubt there are some who are only aware of, or interested, in a single issue, and have voted with only that in mind. However, it is equally true to say there will be others who feel pulled in many directions by many different, and even contrasting, considerations.

In asking someone to select a reason - or even a core group of reasons - we are demanding that a multiplicity be shrunk down to a unity; that something complex, expansive and nuanced be converted into something bite-sized and simple.

So for example, a person may, when asked, give their reason for voting ‘Leave’ as ‘immigration.’ Whilst it can refer to a specific issue, ‘immigration’ can also be a catch all term for a variety of other things. The person in question may be worried about the disintegration of their community; or about their lack of individual, local or national identity. Indeed, these notions can also be taken apart and seen to consist of many other, smaller, issues.

In this sense, ‘immigration’ is used as a shorthand; perhaps because it is the most relevant of the available options; or because the person can’t, for whatever reason, articulate a better, more accurate, reason.

When I’m asked to explain my reason for doing something I’m often unable to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It may be that at some point in the past I have come to a conclusion based on a rational thought process - a moment of clarity - but now, some time later, this thought process has become lost in all of the thoughts, feelings and experiences that I’ve had since.

Recalling my reasoning may be difficult, and could take a long time. It may be that I simply can’t recall it at all. All I may know is that I have a conviction about something, and, at best, I may have a memory that there was a thought process that led to that conviction. Remembering the ins and outs of the that process is another matter.

Or consider the person who is not used to rationalising their thought process, or articulating their motivations. When asked to articulate and to rationalise - to provide a reason - they may struggle, and reach for the nearest available option; an option that may not be entirely accurate.

A person may even tell themselves that immigration is the core issue for them, whilst remaining oblivious to their deeper motives; to the wounds and grievances that really move them. For instance, they may feel deep grief because the lack of community in their life, whilst being in denial about this grief, and in the dark as to its causes.

Its also worth considering how people are polled. Have they been given the time and space to articulate their own concerns, or have they been asked to choose from a limited range of options? Have they been given enough time to think their answer through?

When we are forced to choose from a selection of pre-determined answers our thought is shepherded in certain directions. Indeed, the very fact that we must limit our reasons (choose one, or a few) closes out nuance and complexity. If we must give our answer within a certain time limit - for instance, if we have a questioner in front of us who is waiting for an answer - then we may feel compelled to rush and could find ourselves groping for the nearest available option.

I suppose my point is that stats can be very misleading. Or to put it another way, my point is that I have many points.

Perhaps this impulse to conclude with a singular, simple ‘point’ is at the heart of the matter. Put simply, we have a need to simplify.

There are always a multitude of reasons, and we can, if we wish, simply things and whittle them down; place one above another and so on. And this process of simplification - or purification - can be very useful. But it seems to me that its always worth remembering the multiplicity that lies beneath every unit; the complexity that lies beneath every simple answer.

To say that a certain percentage of people voted ‘Leave’ because of ‘immigration’ is a simplification.

Whether it is too simple depends on your point of view.


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When I wondered about the cause of the estuary die-off, an hypothesis may have jumped into your mind – climate change, the culprit du jour for nearly every environmental problem.  

If we could identify one thing as THE cause, the solution would be so much more accessible. 

As I was doing research for my book, I googled “effect of soil erosion on climate change,” and the first two pages of results showed the converse of my search – the effect of climate change on soil erosion. The same for biodiversity.

No doubt it is true that climate change exacerbates all kinds of environmental problems, but the rush to name a unitary cause to a complex problem should give us pause.

The pattern is familiar. Do you think the “fight against climate change,” which starts by identifying an enemy, CO2, will bring better results than the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, or the War on Poverty?

[Charles Eisenstein]
'Of Horseshoe Crabs and Empathy'


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Twitter encourages simplistic thinking.


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One of the main themes on which Taleb touches in The Black Swan, is "Platonification", or our tendency as humans to simplify.

We like to explain history by using general themes when, in fact, history is very complex and cannot be simplified into one theme and a few pages. We not only simplify history, but we also generalize problems and make simplifying forecasts. Our tendency to Platonify also leads us to depend on averages and to believe that the future will be average. We then miss the "Black Swans".

'The Black Swan, by Taleb'


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Related posts:-
The Pyramid
Short Cuts
Digging Deeper
This, Not That 

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