The Pursuit of Happiness


Something that is complex is the opposite of something simple. Building a fire involves execution of several simple ideas. Building a fire and charging people to warm themselves by it is called capitalism, a more complex idea. Imposing regulations to prevent the capitalist from charging BJs for access to the fire is called government, a complex thing indeed.

Forrest Gump used the phrase “Stupid is as stupid does” to describe people who apply simple ideas to complex problems, but it is universally understood that people with PhDs can do stupid things. When I went to graduate school, I failed to learn beforehand that the odds of getting a job in my field of study were 1/13000. The brilliant Thomas Crapper, inventor of the toilet, failed to anticipate his name would everlastingly become synonymous with… well, you know. Clearly, simple ideas like “get a job,” or describing a bathroom break, rely on complexities such as market demand, or choice of words.

We get into trouble when we make simple ideas into complex ideas, or the reverse, and when we fail to accept that ideas have consequences. A stop sign is a splendid yet simple idea that works effectively only when it remains simple, but it’s frustrating when there are too many of them, or too few. Alternatively, the US Constitution is a complex set of ideas that succeed only interdependently. When one Constitutional Amendment is valued over another, both – and all – lose integrity and meaning.

The most useful human beings are those who understand both simple and complex ideas, can tell the difference between them, and anticipate and manage the consequences that result. Managing simple problems often requires help from someone able to solve more complex problems. I recognize when my dog is sick – a simple problem – but I depend on my vet – a more complex problem solver – to help her. That’s management.

I would not, of course, take my dog to a vet who hated dogs; I would find a different vet. Why would I then – and why would you – vote for a political candidate who hates government and can’t tell the difference between the NFL and North Korea?


Comments are closed.