Over the summer, I kept following a variety of news stories that, while all different in actual substance and events, led me to further recognize the powerful drive within our society for simplicity. All these stories actually reflected, in my perception, very complex issues that touched upon the extreme difficulty in emerging at clear-cut enunciations of right and wrong.
The response of the public, however, was to simplify the issues -- and, sometimes, vastly so. There was a strong desire to be able to clearly declare who/what was absolutely right and who/what was absolutely wrong; there was a strong desire to be able to clearly state what needed to be done -- in clear, concrete terms. In my mind, the complexity of facts was often, also, a tragic victim.
The role of the media also, often, further reflected this drive to simplify. True, both sides on an issue may have still been presented -- even by the same media source -- but each presentation always existed in its own vacuum of certainty. There was one presentation with certainty and then another presentation of the opposite view, again, with certainty. While this inherently, it would seem, should point to the complexity of the issue, this fact was still not clearly articulated.
The message was still that a decision could be easily made -- albeit opposing ones. Complexity, actually, should leave someone somewhat stymied, not sure of what to do. This was not the case in these presentations. The difficulty in arriving at some conclusions, due to the complexity of the issue, was not really communicated. There was still, almost always, an overriding sense of simplicity in the air.
In almost every case, I thought that I should write something, articulate on this blog the complexity of the matter. In the end, though, I always hesitated. While my message of complexity was to show the difficulty of the decision-making process, I still felt that my presentation would not be complete unless I also presented some concluding thoughts as well. This, however, also troubled me.
Even as my conclusion, born out of this recognition of the complexity of the issue, may still be somewhat different, in voicing it, I could still then be evaluated, solely and thus simply, upon this conclusion. My message of complexity could potentially thus be lost; I would categorically be assigned by this drive for simplicity to one side or the other. The point of my writing would then be absent -- so I did not comment.
What is happening in Egypt, though, sadly provides me with an opportunity to comment on the complexity of an issue without the above-noted concerns. This is because, rather than solely an abundance of simple conclusions on the matter -- which there still are -- there is also a strong feeling of confusion. This still does not mean that people are thereby embracing the complexity of the matter. In fact, this confusion may actually be a further reflection of the overriding drive for simplicity.
People are left with this feeling because they are actually so tied to defining everything in simplistic ways. The inability to do so, in this case, thus leaves them without a way to relate to what is happening, leading to confusion. What this does offer, though, is the opportunity to discuss the complexity -- for this confusion also shows that trying to simplify everything also does not work.
There is a difference between confusion and complexity -- even though complexity may also hinder the easy possibility of a solution. Confusion implies that one does not understand what is happening. Comprehending the complexity of a matter is actually a statement that one in fact does -- it is just difficult to voice an easy response. The desire for simplicity emerges from a desire to see the world in black-and-white. Complexity demands that one see things within the parameters of the grey. The fact is that the choice is usually not between good and evil - which allows for a simple and easy solution -- but rather between values in opposition and/or between differing consequences, each with its own negative and positive elements. The embracing of complexity is built upon this recognition.
This is precisely the situation in Egypt. Attempting to define the matter in black-and-white terms results in confusion for neither side can clearly be defined as right or wrong within these terms. The demand for simplicity would want a consistency -- that the proponents of democracy also are the similar proponents of Western human rights. This, however, is not the case here. On one side, we have the clearly elected leader - the representative of democracy -- who also does not share the Western vision of individual rights.
On the other side, we have the military, the ones using force to impose its will, who also happen to be, it would seem, the greater promoter of these individual rights. We have a battle between two standards, which most of us support, that, generally, also share the same platform. It is understandable why those driven by simplicity are thereby confused. Embracing complexity allows us to see the truth, that this diversity -- even as it complicates the matter -- is a real possibility.
The fact is that life is actually complex and in Egypt we are only seeing another example of this. Potential conflict can be, almost by definition, a natural consequence of the promotion of individual rights, for we are thereby inherently directed by our own autonomy. A clash of autonomy is always a strong possibility. Democracy offers us one means of dealing with this through a construct of following the majority when there is such disagreement.
It, though, still has its inherent limitations since the minority's autonomy will still be somewhat stifled. How a society committed to these rights balances this value of individual autonomy -- and, by extension, human rights -- within the context of majority-minority decision-making is actually a most challenging undertaking within any society. Witness the American Civil War. Egypt simply highlights this for us today.
Recognizing this complexity may still not offer a solution in regard to how the world should respond. It might still be a time for passivity; for us to see how the Egyptian people themselves arrive at a solution. Then again, thereby, we may end up being only accomplices in a problematic conclusion. Arriving at an answer is still a great challenge -- but by recognizing the true complexity, we are not confused. We are encountering the truth and facing the question of how any group of individuals joins together to co-exist with the proper mix of personal autonomy and communal structure.