It’s NOT simple

 

Worst offense against human consciousness: bad oversimplification. Great art simplifies small and/or large ideas elegantly; crystallizes with beauty of form and content. Communication in all forms can strive for elegance, and often-necessary simplification. Otherwise anyone- even experts in any field- are just babbling schizophrenics to those who attempt to listen. It leaves the listeners only the construction of their own minds (with respect to post-structuralists, communication does/can happen), and encourages ignorance.

Advertising has elevated the business of lying to sell a product or service to an egregious degree, such that we watch ads now during events such as the super bowl for the ads themselves, not to find out about a product.  High entertainment indeed.   It is communication without content, only form.  Marketers do not want people to know content such as what is in a product, or the hidden costs of a service, because that might dissuade a potential sucker- er, customer.  Obfuscation, the intentional bad oversimplification, the appearance of truth within a lie- is what is expected now days to sell anything.  It is the opposite of enlightenment, of learning, of being informed.

This reality of accepting, even expecting bad oversimplification has transmogrified with the cult of celebrity, of instant tech celebrity, and of superficial, fleeting appearances over any other form of being.  While what I am considering is not new, the critiques began long ago I admit- it is the lack of outrage and even boredom with cynicism that does seem to be new.  Some have said they observe a sticking the head in the sand, hands over ears and eyes approach to the overwhelming presence of what I am calling the wash of bad oversimplification (bad in moral, as well as aesthetic meanings), but I find it much more a perverse boredom that does not want to be aware, and while some may ignore the cracks in the veneers of culture, allowing oneself- yes, choosing- to chase the next over stimulating lie in order to feel engaged, it is a drug of such power few ever dreamed of.  Many of those peddling bad oversimplification in all arenas of human activity tend to ignore it.  Mediocrity?  No real communication or exchange?  Grades as a reflection of how well one can cheat, and jobs having no meritocracy but for your age, looks and temporary utility?  The very idea of elegant simplification- of terse, beautiful and informative communication seems not only an unfair expectation, but something for which we have fewer and fewer models and hence any cultural memory for it is evaporating. 

Art that sells because it is obtuse, and the maker has disappeared up his or her own arse hole usually with a mind numbing string of unrelated words or written inanity (substituting verbosity for content) compounds a general expectation that the experts know more than anyone else ever will, and what is not understandable is therefore good and important.  Or as the evangelical christians have marketed so well: in the face of feeling overwhelmed accept your own stupidity and the authority of others- you’ll just never know, and to inquire is blasphemous.  Oh, and you must enjoy the bad oversimplifications given to you.  Ironically, this message can be masked in the sale of simplicity!  Think of the yoga-vegan stereotype of goodness and simplicity, that encourages a degree of happiness and tranquility by ignoring as much as one can, and simply purchasing the right product, eating a particular food, and “not over thinking”.  Bad oversimplifications all.  

It may seem paradoxical yet consistent that only after considering the complexity of an idea, act, or object one might arrive at good simplicity and elegant understanding.  I can’t recall the exact quote, but Twain is noted for saying when asked to give a speech, that it took him about an hour to write a three page speech, half a day for a two page, a day for a page, and a week for a paragraph.  Good simplicity is an art to be appreciated in all forms; a scientific abstract, a research design, an essay, a novel, a film, architecture, design, a policy, a curriculum, an assessment or evaluation design, and any other activity one can imagine, especially speeches.  Or as Bob Stake has put it: simplicity is often a marker of quality (certainly of clarity); and even on the best day, quality is damned difficult to define.

 

Note: Tackling this concept requires a display of my own bumbling over-simplification, I admit- I never said I was efficient at simplifying, just frustrated at being able to identify the problem.  And yes yes- “bad over simplification” is redundant in a sense- but there can be oversimplification that is simply a structural mistake, and does not fall into the moral and aesthetic category of “bad”.  Not  therefore good, but benign perhaps.

As a friend recently said, watching Fight Club is a good way into thinking about the problem, and with humor.


The grace of a younger spouse

I get it now.  I am embarrassed to say it, but I get it: The cliché of older men marrying younger women. 

I was flipping through Facebook and various other sites late last evening, bored out of my mind.  I randomly began, as so many do, typing in names of people I knew 15, 20, 30 years ago.  The ones I knew in college, many were older than I was by 3-5 years.  They are now in their early 50’s.  Most look like it too.  Men with thinning hair or bald heads, chins that have become one with necks.  Wrinkles.  On even the most fit, there are age spots and the fine sag to skin nothing can change, that makes the thin seem stringy.  Most of the women dye their hair.  I don’t blame them. 

We are not yet old, but certainly no longer young.  I saw some of those men and thought, if I had married so-and-so, that’s what they would look like to me now.  I looked over at Husband and smiled.  I did not intentionally marry someone so much younger than myself.  Even the few years between us seemed a bit odd at first.  When we were married people were surprised, often saying they thought I looked the younger.  Maybe they were just being diplomatic, but we didn’t think it showed either.

Being with someone younger makes me younger.  I am not so obsessed with the things I might be otherwise, and had the luck to have children late.  Husband has always been an attractive man, and is aging well.  He has a good sense of humor, and can be spontaneous.  I do not want to rush into old age, and he helps slow the clock for me. The pert young chippies on the treadmills can hunt their sugar daddies.  Let them be dragged into old age at light speed.  I found my best friend when I least expected it, and he just happened to be younger.  It has proven to be a terrific experience all around.

The bifocal prescription had to go up a few notches last week, but the eye MD told me after the exam that I had surprisingly “young eyes”, not a lot of wear and still very healthy.  She knows better than to be diplomatic, so it was good news.  I do not feel my age most days.  In my own mind I am usually around 35-40.  I am sometimes surprised when I look in the mirror, and know I need to get fit, but still do not feel like AARP should be filling my mailbox with solicitations.  The “girls” still hold up pretty well, the teeth are good, and while I have lost a little strength, am still able to do what I choose with my body.  It is more motivation to get fit, really, despite the fear of not being able to do everything as quickly or as well as I might like in the gym. 

 I’ll revisit the photos on the net in another 10 years.  I may look stringy then, but I’ll still have kids in the house and a younger spouse.  I’ll still have the grace of youth all around me to help me stay young too.  I expect many of those I look up will be grandparents (some already are), and will have very different lives.  I’ll take mine as it is, and like it just fine.  This foolish comparison was a good 10 year anniversary present.  Now to find that box of hair dye I put in the bathroom closet. . .

 

 

 

Community seeding

I suggested an idea to a doctor I know.  “No way anyone I know would do that”, she said.  She went on to explain that people going into medicine wanted to make decent money, and their insurance was so high they had to make a lot of money, and the only way to do that was to go to urban and regional areas.  But, I asked, what if?

What if insurance companies, in programs under-written by the government, agreed to create special rates to cover doctors and nurses who agree to open small local clinics in rural areas?

Think about how the country functioned 150 years ago.  There are so many small towns, especially those in the Midwest and West (that are now dying).  Some have tried financial incentives to get people to move to these places, and it did not work out so well because there was no connected, concentrated effort to “seed” the community with the services and professionals that serve as the infrastructure first.

Think of teachers: what if student loans were forgiven if professionals spend a certain number of years providing such infrastructure services in small towns?  How about schools that have multi-year classrooms?

Think about who makes the basic infrastructure in a community and make it bloom:  Electricians.  Plumbers.  Doctors, nurses, teachers, a lawyer or two, then shop keepers, maintenance persons of all types.  Seed the community with infrastructure first, and invite creative small businesses to open next (think organic farming, small scale grass fed animals, etc.).  You’ll find, I think, that people will be drawn to such small communities very quickly.

The sprawling suburbs with insane commutes are in decay.  Inner cities are experiencing gentrification, but only by those with the money that can afford to do so.  There are many young people who see the future and think there will be no place for them but starting groups who choose to seed communities together, it might work on so many levels.  Take this to your think tanks and see what happens. . .

Happiness as narcissism?

Happiness is. . .Curiosity.  Being driven to explore.  Creating something out of a mash up of materials.  Being occasionally surprised by science and art. Finding the impulse to think about and do things other than focusing energy on social manipulation.

Although, I suppose being a social manipulator could be a form of happiness, and driven by a curiosity to see what happens “when I do X”.  But that’s a bit sociopathic and clinical.  Most social manipulators do so because they are insecure, and are driven by a need for power.  Or because it is the only way some people know how to be in the world.  Sometimes this is defined as narcissism- being self-centered with little regard for the feelings or well being of others.

But what about people who are not interested in what is often the soap opera of life, necessary for a complex dart board of human relations (various levels of intimacy from the center out)?

What spurred this line of thought, you ask?  I enjoy the show House.  Husband claims (sometimes to insult me, sometimes to praise) that if I were male I would be like House.  At first I laughed.  I am not nearly that smart  Also, the show can be silly.  But I still like the character and Hugh Laurie acts the heck out of the role. I also realize that the constant sociopathic manipulation that the character participates in is something I just can’t find time to do; there are way too many things I’d rather be doing.  For example, I am driven by a curiosity that I call “itchy feet”, the need to travel.  Even if it is only to get to know every dirt road, fire road, black top and driveway in a 30-mile radius (or more when I did not live in a geographic fish bowl).  I also read arcane, esoteric things (to my destruction- I ended up with a dissertation no one could understand much less help me with.  Four advisors might have been part of the problem.  But what is a student to do when the first one dies, the second goes mad and leaves, the third retires, and the fourth just does not know what I was doing?).  I am rarely more interested in the people of my own environment than I am people I don’t have to interact with.  I can read people extremely quickly and usually am not interested in participating in what I find.  I can be blunt, abrasive, insensitive, and unaware (or just don’t care); but I am not intentionally mean or cruel (that takes way too much energy).  If I want to bash someone about the head, they know it.  I despise having to make small talk, and complex formalities.  On the flip side, I am unusually loyal to the oddball handful of people I love.  I have been told lots of things in the past several years by my friends, the most common theme being that I am “not your usual type of person”, “you are a strange duck but I love you”, that sort of slightly annoyed but committed interest.

So, ok, maybe a little like House.

I started this blog with a slant, an in-construction voice appropriate for the title.  This one breaks out a bit.  I only know three people who read it, so I don’t worry about morphing into something different from time to time.

If being driven by a curiosity about the world with little interest in manipulating the people around me makes me happy, I can be called many things.  I think the idea of narcissism has been given a bad rap- we think of people who were off-normal, passionate, and self-centered and had disastrous results (I listed some of the classic historical folks used as examples, but didn’t want to taint the idea so I erased them).  But aren’t the delusions necessary to be happy (read the happiness project stuff ad infinitum to see what I mean) a form of narcissism?  Don’t we disregard the feelings and experiences of others in order to maintain our world view?  Don’t we have to be slightly unrealistic about ourselves to just get up and eat breakfast in a first world country?  If my self-involvement in my arcane interests and my rejection of social norms is a form of happiness, is it also narcissism?  Is it, within a certain range, any different from the desperate, insecure and often boring machinations of many people?  Can we all be called narcissistic?  Or is it just those extreme risk takers, those megalomaniacs, those Wall Street bankers and people on the fringes who are labeled with the term?

I have come to reject much of what contemporary psychology uses as a basis for existing and functioning, so I use the term narcissism loosely.  Getting a label only by degrees of clinical saturation (how much narcissism did you pee out today? Oh then you are ok; or not) does not seek to understand terms.

Anyway.  My attention is drifting.  It is late and I need to either get back to sleep or pick up one of the many books by my bed and read.  Who cares what you think.

Narcissism shmarcisissm.