Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Complexity and Story-telling

As I have been investigating the process by which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States was established I've been impressed by the number of factors that need to be considered. Writing a simple, clear, readable, narrative is extremely difficult. For awhile now I've simply thought this was due to my poor writing skills and muddled thinking.
Fortunately for my ego however I have begun to think that my inability to develop a clear story might be a strength rather than a weakness. A couple of weeks ago I listened to this talk by Tyler Cowen, an economist, about the dangers of story-telling. His basic message was that the stories that we tell ourselves or tell others cannot give us greater clarity on a subject by disentangling or highlighting the Truth, but rather are always simplifications of the Truth and therefore always misleading. Listen to the talk, he speaks much more eloquently and entertainingly than I can write and its not that long.

In any case, what I take away from that talk is that I needn't be so concerned with attempting to identify, rank, and weave together all the various factors that led to the establishment of the NOAA.

Simplifying reality is simply lying.

Rather a better approach may be to discuss humbly the multiple, messy, complex, and ultimately bewildering factors that produced the NOAA (and everything else for that matter) in as organized and as readable a manner as possible.

Perhaps doing so will produce the strongest argument for believing that any idea or event like the establishment of the NOAA is inextricably entangled with, and contingent upon, an innumerable, and ultimately indescribable, web of interconnected historical and cultural factors.


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