In Christopher Hitchens’s interview with EconTalk about his book Why Orwell Matters, Hitchens praises George Orwell on his “plain honest speech, transparent political positions, detestation for euphemism and falsification” and argues (1:00:54~):
The job of the intellectual, the so-called public intellectuals as we are now for some reason doomed to call it, is or ought to be to say something along the following lines: “It’s more complicated than that… You mustn’t simplify this… There’s more complexity to the subject.” That’s what an intellectual should be doing to public discourse, one thinks. But then there are occasions when it seems to me that the reverse is the case. That actually what the really thoughtful person should be saying is actually: “It’s simple! Do not make complexity here, where none is required.”
You can listen to the above quote (and a bit extra) straight from Hitchens below:
What an excellent point. Often I find myself exasperated with commentary on the internet which frequently represents the extreme and the childish, with no indication of understanding or nuance. The short-form of the blog only exacerbates the problem. It is almost enough to abandon the enterprise altogether. But all hope for public discourse on the internet is not lost! The point made by Hitchens, that sometimes things are just that simple tempers my irritation. It is a useful aphorism to keep bias in check.
Of course, the problem remains of proper application. The non-complexity argument cannot be used for every issue, and one must recognize its misuse and call it out. Truly complex issues should be handled in other forae, such as academic journals or conferences. But there are issues that can be broached in shorter formats. For example issues of morality or principle. Abandoning relativism, properly defining terms and being transparent in speech (as Orwell advises in his classic essay Politics of the English Language) should lead to clearer understanding in general. Casting off complexity is not drawing an arbitrary line in the proverbial sand (eg. moralizing), but stripping away the unwarranted and getting at the core of an argument. Often simple is not easy, and complexity is used to obfuscate. Nobody ever said being a public intellectual would be easy.
Listen to the entire Christopher Hitchens interview with EconTalk.