Simplified Messages

By Alon Küster

The Paradox of Simplicity

Simple is easy to understand, you can easily share it with other people. If you want to effectively organize people, you need a simple idea. A good idea spreads fast and sticks in people’s minds. One example throughout history would be religion. It played a major role in persuading humans with no connections to cooperate. People do not always have the time to figure a situation out; they have other priorities, needs and responsibilities. Can you work from 9-5 and still have time to understand the complexities of an issues? Simple messages are the best way to get the main points of an issue across. Many messages have an aim; some change they want to enact in society. If this message does not get heard by those in power, people might act in order to do so. If low-level organisation does not lead to changes, then eventually the situation could escalate.  

Inevitably, a movement will gain opponents, who in turn will attempt to discuss the complexities of the situation, or who are guilty of also having a simplified message. In some cases, simplified messages lead to an ideology difficult to compromise. For many, a simplified message becomes a logo for an issue, a motto. A simple message can also get twisted to fit some narrative, either for those advancing the message or defending a status quo. In many cases, this is known as propaganda. This may lead to a deadlock, with two sides annoyed at each other. One side may also resort to escalation to get a point across. At this point, individuals have sacrificed so much time and energy into a cause that his investment needs to get compromised in some way as well. Thus, a situation can escalate and encompass a wider ranging amount of issues than originally intended

These simple message bulldoze reality; they can never capture everything that’s required. Extremes of any sort rarely help, mostly they do the opposite. If one side is gaining an advantage through an overly simplistic message or extreme ideology why can’t the other side do the same? If the status quo started off with a simplified reality, then when it gets opposed it would require a simplified message. It is difficult to debate with someone who’s already convinced that their opinion is correct. 

The Spread of Simplicity

At this point, simplification is everywhere. Many companies have used it to invoke a certain message behind their products. McDonalds: “I’m Loving It” effectively transmits what their products should make you feel when consuming them. Implicitly, I sometimes assume this when going to McDonalds, I know there are cheaper and better alternatives. This is a brief simplification of an example in the economic sphere. 

Politics is effectively the coordination of numerous interests to achieve some sort of societal goal. Therefore, simplifications are one of the most effective ways to share information and to organize people. Eventually, these messages become more extreme and simplistic if changes do not occur. These messages bulldoze realities to achieve a group’s goal. Sometimes, these messages create a clear distinction between those for and against. Messages are appealing if they infer some change from the status quo, but are broad enough to be interpreted in many ways. Some messages are more appealing than others: “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) sounds much more appealing than “Keep America Great” (KAG). MAGA has more impact on individuals dissatisfied with the status quo. 

The figureheads of large groups are those who encompass views of the widest range of people in their group and are willing to become identified with a cause. This means that those of an extreme faction of a group rarely become figureheads. Figureheads become sources of identification for a cause and become idolized along with their cause. For opponents, it is much more effective to get take these individuals out of the picture to weaken a movement. Cut of source and hope that everything else will scatter away. This can lead to a movement dissolving, a new figure head appearing or extreme factions taking over. All choices may have future repercussions in the future if the cause resurfaces. After all ideas don’t suddenly disappear. 

Violence comes after all other means have been exhausted after all, so is the violence justified then? I would usually say no, there are always peaceful alternative to violence. However, entrenchment of a faction may lead to the moderates forced to find more extreme means to achieve some sort of goal. Other moderates may feel alienate and either leave the movement or protest for a more moderate solution.  Against an authority that does not want to budge on any key points they are not many tools to get them to listen and do something. 

Popular Simplicity

Remarkably violence in Hong Kong has not lead to similar mass spread alienation of the general populous. Even after a violent week in August over a hundreds of thousands peacefully protested in the rain against their cause. Abroad it is remarkable that this protest has lead to headlines for 3 consecutive months. It could be inferred that many individuals abroad resonant with the protests or are at least interest in them. After all, a newspaper wants to gain attention of individuals, and if many people still read about an issue the newspaper will continue writing about the issue. 

There seems to be dying faith the peaceful means can prevail always. In Hong Kong it is looking less for peaceful means to enact change with each passing week. The opponent for these protestors is the Chinese Communist Party and they have gained the attention of many throughout the world. They like to portray themselves as a stable peaceful alternative to democracy. The party has miscalculated and the protests are still going on, there does not seem to be any change in treating the issue either. Now Hong Kong has gained the attention of many and fears have risen that China will solve this problem with force. If this is the case a new simplification of the situation may appear.

Edited by Sasha Zinchenco

Artwork by Chira Tudoran