Our Frank and Open/Deep Complications

Our Frank and Open/Deep Complications September 17, 2013

They get me nowhere, they just bring me down so…. Alan Jacobs is right about the academic (and not only academic) fetish for “complicating” issues:

…I think there are a couple of major reasons for this particular habit, which Jacoby rightly identifies as an excessively common one. First, this is one of the few tendencies of academic writing and speaking that has its roots in teaching. Students are forever wanting to offer simple, straightforward answers to difficult questions, presumably so they can move on to more important matters, which means that teachers are forever having to say, “Hold on a minute, it’s not that simple.” So the “complicating” tic is in part an extension of the everyday pedagogical situation.

But there’s something else, something more revelatory of the pathologies of the academic mind. “Complicating” gets you a twofer. If you arrive on the scene telling everyone that you see complexities that others have failed to note, you show your depth of thinking and your intellectual courage. (“I can dwell in the midst of uncertainties that lesser minds feel the need to resolve.”) But you are also not making any claims that are likely to be undercut. When one academic says “Other scholars have failed to note these complexities,” it’s almost unheard-of for another to say, “No, you’re just inventing all that crap, these matters are actually pretty simple and straightforward.” “It’s complicated” is, effectively, an irrefutable claim and is therefore the safest place to stand on any given issue.

more; comments also worth reading. The lack of the movement after complication–what Jacobs describes as asking, “After complication, what?”–seems like the same problem as the one I was gesturing toward in “Beyond Critical Thinking.” As with that piece, the answer isn’t “just accept a simplistic ideology!” but rather, “Learn when and how to say yes, not just ‘but…’.”

Link via Wesley Hill, here.

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