Ask parents what ambitions they harbor for their child or children and among the most patterned responses is “I just want them to be happy.” I find such an answer thoughtless and disingenuous, and the insertion of the hedge just to make happiness sound like a small ask is a red herring. To begin with, for most kids still in their first decade, happiness and playfulness are relatively effortless and natural so long as a secure, loving environment is provided. Certainly not a default setting, but it’s still quite commonplace. As the dreamy style of childhood cognition is gradually supplanted by supposedly more logical, rational, adult thinking, and as children become acquainted with iniquities of both history and contemporary life, innocence and optimism become impossible to retain. Cue the sullen teenager confronting the yawning chasm between desire and reality. Indeed, few people seem to make the transition into adulthood knowing with much clarity how to be happy in the midst of widespread travail and suffering. Instead, young adults frequently substitute self-destructive, nihilistic hedonism, something learned primarily (says me) from the posturing of movie characters and the celebrities who portray them. (Never understood the trope of criminals hanging at nightclubs, surrounded by drug addicts, nymphos, other unsavory types, and truly awful music, where they can indulge their assholery before everything inevitably goes sideways.)

Many philosophies recommend simplicity, naturalness, and independence as paths to happiness and moral rectitude. Transcendentalism was one such response to social and political complexities that spoil and/or corrupt. Yet two centuries on, the world has only gotten more and more complex, pressing on everyone especially for information processing in volume and sophistication that does not at all come naturally to most and is arguably not part of our evolutionary toolkit. Multiple social issues, if one is to engage them fairly, hinge on legalistic arguments and bewildering wordplay that render them fundamentally intractable. Accordingly, many waive away all nuance and adopt pro forma attitudes. Yet the airwaves, social media, the Internet, and even dinner conversations are suffused by the worst sorts of hypercomplexity and casuistry that confound even those who traffic regularly in such rhetoric. It’s a very long way from “I just want to be happy.”

Both words, hypercomplexity and casuistry, refer to excessively detailed and subtle qualities. It’s probably not especially important to distinguish them, as their overlap is probably greater than what separates them. However, I’m going to attempt it anyway. Dictionary.com doesn’t have an entry for hypercomplexity, only the term w/o the prefix:

complexity: noun, plural com·plex·i·ties

1. the state or quality of being complex; intricacy: the complexity of urban life
2. something complex: the complexities of foreign policy

One might prefer overcomplex or supercomplex to connote something beyond merely complex, or one could insist they are all tantamount to the same. To me, over- suggests a pejorative lack of necessity, whereas hyper- and super- both point to an inscrutable extreme. For example, an engineering project such as a bridge or skyscraper is complex but comprehensible. Megaprojects get built, after all, and despite some notorious design flaws, failures, and unintended consequences, generally perform their intended functions. In contrast, the human body is hypercomplex and only partially understood. Moreover, many things in human experience (or the superorganism known as human society) are hypercomplex and defy full understanding and manipulation.

Casuistry has a more specialized meaning and suggests intent.

casuistry: noun, plural cas·u·ist·ries

1. specious, deceptive, or oversubtle reasoning, especially in questions of morality; fallacious or dishonest application of general principles; sophistry
2. the application of general ethical principles to particular cases of conscience or conduct

The quintessential example of mind-numbingly idiotic casuistry in the marketplace of ideas today is probably Critical Race Theory (CRT). How CRT fits into the wider context of Woke ideology is unknown and unimportant to me. James Lindsay at New Discourses does an excellent job dismantling CRT’s arguments and internal paradoxes, along the way warning how CRT is an exceeding broad brush currently painting over everything. Frankly, I don’t have patience to make of it an elaborate formal study. Something similar can be said of a large body of 19th- and 20th-century German philosophy necessary to understand thoroughly the animating thought of Western cultures. (A nearly infinite regress in that regard extends all the way back to the origins of modern civilization more than three thousand years ago. It’s fascinating stuff but irrelevant at the same time.) The effort simply does not provide answers to vexing questions but rather blocks my simpler ambition to retain some modicum of happiness in this life — something more reliably achieved through an aesthetic orientation.

That said, the central feature of CRT, as I understand it, is redefinition of terms as their inverse to push people off the foundations of knowledge into a maelstrom of delusional ideation and confusion. I recognize the modest irony of my resorting to definitions above as though I, too, were bent on leading readers astray. Difference is that I don’t redefine anything or indulge in casuistry to suggest “You just don’t get it, do you? That makes me the expert.” Those are effective power moves against common sense, and the first victims are true believers who trained and became adepts at Postmodern language games. Mental gymnastics necessary to arrive at inverted and counterintuitive conclusions hold no attractions for me, nor do regular folks bother with such distractions. But as the pandemic response has demonstrated, quite a lot of otherwise intelligent people are easily buffaloed convinced of quite of lot of nonsense, and those who aren’t so inclined are forced nonetheless to tolerate a mountain of BS or risk cancellation. How long can this ridiculous episode of history go on? My guess is conditions will continue to deteriorate, getting far worse even as the narrative collapses or indeed because of narrative collapse. Gird yourself.

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Comments
  1. cafebedouin says:

    Two points I’d make. One, critical race theory is a kind of bogeyman. The origins are a reaction by legal scholars to legal positivism and notions that law is just and impartially applied. This is obviously not true. Just as obviously true, the social environment that makes the law fundamentally unjust effects society beyond legal considerations. Places like Cabrini Green exist or disappear due to public policies formed in that social environment.

    And, the simple fact is that, if you don’t have to think about it, you don’t think about these inequalities. As with most things, people tend to focus on what effects them personally. It’s easy to ignore ‘stop and frisk’ if you aren’t the one being stopped and frisked. Personal note, I have lived for years in an area of a city that had stop and frisk when I moved in and that went away once the area was gentrified. What caused that to change? Probably because it became a lot easier to stop and frisk the wrong person.

    I’ve had encounters with the local police that were one way, when they were far enough a way to not be able to tell if I was Hispanic or not, flashing lights to indicate I should leave the park, that were different when they had to approach me and it was clear I didn’t recognize what their flashing lights meant. If I were Hispanic would I have been arrested rather than talked to? Good question.

    So, perhaps a little consciousness raising is in order. It’s easy to ignore stop and frisk’ when it doesn’t effect you. Not once have I been stopped and frisked in my neighborhood. Race has everything to do with that.

    Two, why you have to hate on the nymphos? =)

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. Race is definitely a factor in law and social reality. My principal objection is that by making race the centerpiece of CRT (substituting race for class in an otherwise BS Marxist critique, at least according to James Lindsay), a Kafka trap is sprung, ensnaring everyone with no possibility of resolution or escape. Thus, even if one wishes to not think about it or indeed not be racist, those possibilities are (re-)defined out of existence.

      As to my supposed hating on nymphos, it’s just another inescapable cinematic cliché that irritates my sensibilities in its laziness.

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