Felix Writes: Who's afraid of complexity?

DigitalThoughts / Who's afraid of complexity?

When they taught us in high-school about the "nature versus nurture" dilemma, I remember being dumbfounded (and vocal about it). Nobody else seemed to notice it was a false dichotomy. I mean, it's quite obvious that people come with a genetic baggage, which is further shaped by individual experiences. To ignore one or the other is to deny yourself essential information. The teacher slammed my argument pretty hard. It took me years to learn that not only I was right, but things are even more complicated, as genetic factors can be overcome and not all experiences influence everyone equally. So much for a simple, black-and-white issue.

See, people love inventing false dilemmas like that. Much of the 20th century was defined by the tension between Communism and capitalism. One of them had to be wrong... right? It took decades of research, and a very special economic crysis, to acknowledge the fact that while most resources are best managed by a free market, others are better off as a commons.

For a fictional example, comic book superheroes are either universally loved in-universe, or (more recently) universally hated. There are few comics where the general populace gives supers a mixed reception... the way you would expect from real people. Incidentally, real-life superheroes (yes there is such a thing; it's a growing movement) experience just that. Not exactly a surprise, is it?

But my favorite example by far is the issue of sexuality. Used to be that you were either straight or gay (and gay was illegal, or at least bad). Turns out, it's not that simple.

First, there's the issue of whether you are biologically male or female, and how masculine/feminine your body is. Then there's the question of whether you have a male or female brain. And then comes the issue of attraction towards the opposite sex, and towards the same sex. (Those are continuums. Separate continuums.) To top it all, as a friend pointed out, sexual attraction is distinct from romantic attraction...

So instead of a simple on-off switch, suddenly you have a five-dimensional space (or six-dimensional, depending on how you count). Good luck drawing a line.

The big question is, why are humans, with their oh-so-complex brains (and their lousy ability to abstract and simplify), so scared of the complexity inherent in reality? And does anyone stand to gain from this black-and-white attitude people have about everything? But who... and what?

2010-12-08