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Thoughts on Simpleism

I was hearing on the Philosophize This! podcast about Erasmus and his humanism and how he rejected everything corrupt about the Church and wanted simplicity and love for your fellow man and a move towards less ritual.

One of the things mentioned was how he believed that ignorance cannot be a sin (he also didn’t like philosophers and their ‘lazy’ dawdling about looking for the truth being the most important pursuit of life; what needs to be understood, of course, was that Erasmus was just after the black plague and the hardships of that time must have felt more important than looking for a higher truth, you know, Maslow’s…) because we’re born into ignorance and never in our life does it happen that we are suddenly NOT completely ignorant.

Stephen then goes on to link this to how ignorance is a bliss and I started thinking about how ignorance is something people nowadays strive for. The book some of my friends are reading nowadays – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – is all about staying within your own self, being more confident about what you are, and not constantly feeding yourself the news, or information.

Stephen ends the episode with a quote from the Bible – “The summit of happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is.” – and says that Erasmus thought this to be the key to happiness.

Well, it seems that humanism and simple-ism and being ignorant is making a come-back. With more books such as this one above coming out, with an increase in the noise in the signal, with every social network trying to capitalize on outrage as a means of increasing discourse, it seems that people are pushing back by finding their own corners in the world, focusing on what makes/keeps them happy, and by being more ignorant.

Colin Walker linked to a post by James Shelley recently, talking about how the word ‘simpleton’ needs to be repurposed from a derogatory term to someone who “reflects a healthy sense of skepticism about the comprehensiveness of one’s knowledge”.

I believe this is an important point in the current discourse, but instead of taking that one word, I’d rather use the word ‘simpleism’, simply because it’s something I do not already see as a pejorative.

To say, “let’s be simple”, to pursue simpleism, then, is to focus on reducing the noise, reducing the constant barrage of notifications, and news, and outrage, and even the implicit trust we have in our own knowledge and understanding.

This doesn’t mean one should simply stop looking at the news, or always be unsure. No, it means one who is willing to say, “I dunno” and being comfortable with it.

Now, if you ask my wife, I’m NOT one of those people. She asks me a question, and if I don’t know the exact answer, I regurgitate what I do know with something half coherent. The next moment she’ll ask Google and I’m completely wrong.

This surety is not something we should aspire to. It’s actually harmful. Now, that’s on a micro-scale, the personal level. The same doesn’t truly apply at the macro or the societal level. At that level, what quacks like a duck, walks like a duck…

Is simpleism compatible at a societal level? I dunno, James and Colin, you tell me.

What do you think?

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  • This Article was mentioned on micro.jamesshelley.com