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Final reflections on simplicity and complexity

simple complexity

For the last week of classes, I thought I’d look back on what has happened the last year in this column on complexity.

Over the last year, we’ve examined the simple complexity of problems with epistemology—how do we know that what we believe is true? And how can we identify potential flaws in assumptions that might undermine conclusions we draw about the world?

We’ve examined the ethics of utilizing tragedy for political gain, and the tragic passage of time that allows us to forget the importance of taking action on important issues like gun violence. As a proud member of the Orlando community, these columns helped me process the tragedy of the Pulse shooting.

During the election season, we examined why a disenchanted former Bernie supporter or a non-Trumpian Republican might have strong reason to “hold their nose” and vote for Secretary Clinton in order to avoid the inauguration of a historically incompetent president in Donald Trump. We all know how that turned out.

I also criticized the political absurdity that has normalized outrageous claims, alternative “facts” and the kinds of political theatre that lower our expectations for the leaders we elect. I also beckoned us to consider the “paradox of voting,” encouraging readers to vote despite the hard-to-visualize benefit that voting might have.

Later, we looked at the role that political memes played in the election season, encouraging people to “seize the memes of production” and offer positivity in return to hate and offence.

Post-election, we examined the role of our institutionalized electoral system and single vote methodology, considering the potential upside of a ranked-voting system that has been embraced in multiple countries (and states).

Later, we looked at the argument that, should we desire to “make a difference” in the world with charitable contributions, we ought to (all else held equal) give to organizations that are more effective. The implications of this argument could be huge; if it were followed, hundreds of millions of dollars in donations would be redirected, and thousands upon thousands of lives could be saved or improved.

We then examined the problem and ethics of high-priced drugs. We learned about the different classes of drugs that see high prices, the problems this creates and the institutional factors that allow this to be the case. We considered the ethics of this situation, and then looked at both existent and non-existent solutions that could propel us to reasonable, competition-driven pricing schemes.

We also looked at so-called existential risks, which are potential threats that could lead to the end of the human race. Though this is a bizarre and somewhat abstract concept, we saw that these threats might be legitimate and that we might have reason to devote time, resources and effective policy to addressing these risks. Surely, if the whole of humanity is at stake, we ought to at least consider these arguments!

We then looked at somewhat niche area, the policy (or lack thereof) surrounding digital currencies (or cryptocurrencies) like Bitcoin and Ethereum. I argued that we as a society need to have an honest conversation about how we can simultaneously recognize these emerging platforms of sometimes anonymous exchange as both legitimate financial systems and enablers of illegal activity (like the drug trade).

And lastly, we looked at the need for smart and effective regulation of emerging technologies, such as self-driving cars and artificial intelligence systems generally. Since there is a race to develop these technologies by companies and researchers, legal policy is necessary to ensure that we do not fall into a “race to the bottom” where we disregard safety to cut corners and “win” the race. The potential negative externalities of these technologies likely justify some sort of policy to mitigate these risks.

Basically, we’ve covered a lot. These aren’t easy questions, and the “best” solution is very difficult to discover. But the ambiguity and nuance surrounding these issues does not make the pursuit of solutions any less important. If anything, it makes it even more imperative that we work together—with the best information and experts—to work towards the discovery of truth.

As students, we are in a particularly interesting position to put this ideal into practice. We are taking time dedicated to the pursuit of skills, knowledge and wisdom that allows us to pursue answers, or think of new questions we ought to consider. It’s an opportunity to be taken seriously, one that we should not squander.

It is my hope that my column has helped readers discover new layers of nuance and ambiguity that might not be apparent at first glance. Because if anything is clear, it’s that the world is complex, confusing, nuanced and oftentimes beautiful—far too intricate to be considered only at face value. That complexity doesn’t mean we should ignore the quest for truth—it should only give us a greater respect for the task before us.

So here’s to that quest for more complete truth, and here’s to the discovery of more simple complexity.

David Wohlever Sánchez is a Trinity sophomore. This is his last column of the semester.

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