You hear it all the time: “Just give me the bottom line”. My friend, Trishia, a magically brilliant, accomplished person, is asking me for these all the time. In her case, it’s simple time pressure – she wants to know, feel, enjoy and experience everything; her life is a very demanding juggling act of high-grade work, social interaction, sports, travel and God knows what else. There’s just no time for rambling descriptions or idyllic reflection.
But I hear it also from lots of other people whose lives aren’t nearly as hectic, among them, oddly enough, judges. Now these folks are (theoretically, at least) paid to listen, not only to broad strokes, but subtleties – after all, law is about shades of gray, more often than not. Their noticeably increasing impatience with full-strength argument is partly a response to larger numbers of poorly-prepared, prolix and windy lawyers – but not completely. It likely simplifies the process of deciding to just select between the respective “bottom lines’.
A phrase I’m fond of is: “God’s in the details”. I surmise the ‘Butterfly Effect’ we’ve all heard of is the ultimate extension of the notion that seemingly slight things can have big consequences – a good case for being alert to nuance. But we’re living in a time when complexity is so pervasive that we’re seemingly hungry for the the seductive sound-bite of a simple equation. Unfortunately that also makes us easier prey for the monomaniacal huckster’s song.
Theodore Dalrymple writes so eloquently about the evil that has been wrought by monomaniacs “who believe themselves to be in possession of a theory that explains everything, including the future”. Look around you and see just how many monuments there are to failed “solutions”- in politics, economics, technology and, particularly currently, on the climate change question. Just as forced complexity is often used to obscure an absence of substance, simplistic bottom lines should cause one to look about warily for where the bodies are buried.