Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Simplicity Sells, Complexity Languishes

I just read an article in this morning's The National Post by David Rieff on the Darfur crisis. In it, Rieff makes the observation that "simplicity sells, complexity languishes." It is a trite truism I suppose, but gives me pause for thought with regard to my work on policy on North Korea and on China.

The fact is that it is hard to get people engaged by analysis that can't be boiled down to a single page of words. Faced with so many competing demands, Government policymakers need terse summaries to work with. I try my best to furnish them. And there is a certain elegance about proposing clean and simple interpretations of the complicated realities of these places. But I always worry about slighting the myriad aspects and factors that have to be smoothed over to produce this sort of précis.

As I accumulate more and more data by simply having been an observer of Chinese politics and society for already some 35 years, I now see a lot of sides to a lot of issues --- they all now seem to represent a complicated interaction along 3 dimensions. But on the other hand I am more and more committed to standing up for what is right and good.

This is related to the fact that I that I have started to notice that so many Chinese colleagues of the generation senior to me are now retired and inclined to self-absorption with their failing health, regrets over their past, and hurt over their perception of neglect by their grown children. So they don't talk about the contemporary public things that inspired our political passions 20 and more years ago anymore.

While it is discouraging to lose my conversation companions to old age, their fate does inspire me to try to do the right thing and strive to make a meaningful contribution, even if just a modest one within my limited area of expertise, before I join them as a new "has been".

No comments: