People like their black and white. They like things simple, cut and dried. But rarely are important issues so easy to dissect. Problems are complex, yet we persist in trying to describe them in simple terms.
In an election year, the tendency to oversimplify issues gets magnified. Take, for instance, the topic of free trade. With manufacturing jobs disappearing overseas, people have become disenchanted with treaties such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Some of our presidential candidates have seized on voter discontent and vowed to do away with all free trade agreements, imposing hefty tariffs on our trading partners around the world. That may sound good to the factory worker whose automobile plant has just shuttered and moved to Asia. But it won’t look great when the consumer shops at Walmart and finds a lack of bargain merchandise made in China. The issue of trade is complicated by so many factors, among them tax policy, the global market, and technological innovation, to name a few.
Nuance, however, does not play well in the sound bite atmosphere of modern politics. So we have politicians posturing and promising all kinds of things that they may be unable to do – or that will have unintended consequences we don’t like.
Even outside of politics, the tendency to anoint or vilify things runs counter to sound thinking on issues. A perfect example is the case of GMOs, which stands for “genetically modified organisms.” That term sounds scary, doesn’t it? I don’t want to eat those. Yet GMOs have been around for decades and are considered predominantly safe by scientists. The bigger issue surrounding GMOs has to do with pests becoming resistant to the widely used pesticides sprayed on the crops and, therefore, the need to use greater quantities of potentially cancer-causing agents. Yet some farmers believe that their genetically modified crops require less pesticide than their other, non-GMO crops. Furthermore, GMOs have enabled farms to produce more crops and feed more people. So the GMO debate is far from simple.
When it comes to wanting our choices to be cut and dried, I get it. I really do. It can be exhausting sifting through the amount of information and reasoning on a given issue. We have jobs, children to care for, and homes to maintain. It’s hard to be informed on all the issues of the day. I think it’s important, though, to realize that there are few simple problems and even fewer simpler solutions. As we make decisions for ourselves and our families, and as we elect our leaders, we need to keep that point in mind and not be lured by simplistic messages.