Facing Chaos is a series of nine articles about what I have learned over the years about dealing with the chaos, pain, and darkness that at times seems to overtake our lives.
While chaos is often the undercurrent that undergirds so many of the problems in the world, it should also not be confused with complexity. Where chaos could be described as extreme disorderliness, complexity could be described as extremely detailed and fine tuned orderliness. As we face problems of many kinds, we must realize that we live in a world that is both complex and chaotic.
So when a problem arises, I think it helpful to consider two questions:
1. Are we being pushed to overly-simplistic answers that dismiss the complexity of a given situation?
2. If the problems we face have clear solutions, are we being pushed to proverbially “muddy the waters” by bringing in all kinds of “what if” and “what about” questions?
While these questions may seem like they don’t belong together, they could be described as two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, we must be careful of overly simplistic rhetoric in complex situations. It is a commonly known tactic to dismiss whatever complexities challenge one’s goal, and to focus on a very narrow set of facts to gain support to achieve particular ends. On the other hand, when there are clear solutions to a given problem, those who benefit from the problem being there or those who have nefarious purposes will use the language of complexity to prevent this simple solution from being enacted. They benefit from a particular kind of chaos, and so naturally seek to keep it there.
Let’s look at a few examples.
In political discourse, candidates and elected officials will usually frame all problems in terms of what their opponents did wrong, and how their political adversaries contributed to the problem. They frame the solution of each problem as being as simple as a vote for the right person, or in other words, a vote for themselves. Huge and complex problems that haven’t been solved for generations are blamed on their political opponents, and their political party is the solution. Then these politicians place all the responsibility for the outcome in the hands of the voters. Usually both political parties contributed to the problem, and framing it in political terms completely ignores the cultural, sociological, psychological, or historical elements in their dilemma.
In personal finance, there is a very simple rule-of-thumb: spend less than you make. It is astounding, however, how often individuals will justify bad financial decisions by trying to make things seem so much more complicated than they are. They may work diligently trying to save a few dollars here or there by clipping coupons, or trying different get-rich-quick schemes, while failing to live by that simple advice that would make all the difference in their lives. Just spend less than you make. It isn’t easy, exactly, but it is simple. There are certainly many exceptions to this, like when people have to pay out of pocket for medical care in times of emergency. Yet the truth remains that for far too many people, however, following that simple advice is all they would need to do to deal with their financial woes.
When people manipulate others for personal gain, it will create ripples of chaos in the lives of others. This is true whether things are over-simplified or whether the otherwise simple solution is made needlessly complicated.
Complexity, however, acknowledges an intricate order to things, and those who faithfully seek truth will seek to fix what is broken within that complexity.