Duplicity Part Five: Simple vs. Simplistic

I don’t know whether to call it “splitting hairs”, but I tend to enjoy – well – splitting hairs. Now just to be sure, let us first try to define the idiomatic expression splitting hairs:

  • to quibble; to try to make petty distinctions. They don’t have any serious differences. They are just splitting hairs. Don’t waste time splitting hairs. Accept it the way it is.

  • to argue about whether details that are not important are exactly correct ‘She earns three times what I earn.’ ‘Actually, it’s more like two and a half.’ ‘Oh stop splitting hairs!’

Ah, petty distinctions. Details that are not important. Hmmm…if the details and distinctions that we try to argue about are petty and not important, then we are indeed splitting hairs. But if we are able to whittle things down to their very subtle but significant distinctions beneath the salient but misleading similarities, then we are not splitting hairs.

Now, are we splitting hairs here? How about we take an example from a previous post, the first (and my favorite) Duplicity article:

Some say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, while for others it’s out of sight, out of mind. Which do you believe? For me, I go with François de La Rochefoucauld: Absence diminishes minor passions and inflames great ones, as the wind douses a candle and fans a fire.

So, are we splitting hairs? You be the judge. If you think we are, please move on to other articles now before I annoy you further.

(Now, since those who think that we are splitting hairs have already left this blog, we can now talk about certain potentially offensive things without them knowing.) Earlier I was tempted to put “simplistic” instead of “other” before the word “articles”, so it would have been written as “please move on to simplistic articles before I annoy you further”. Which is, of course, potentially offensive. But since those who would be offended by such remark had already left this blog a few sentences ago (they think we are splitting hairs, remember?), then I guess we have not offended anyone. Not yet, anyway.

Now when I said (or would have  said), “simplistic articles”, I did not mean simple articles. Because there are countless very simple yet very beautiful pieces out there, and they are not a bit simplistic. Just look at the words of Rochefoucauld above – a single sentence made of less than twenty words but it answers the question about distance and passion more clearly than volumes of books ever could. Definitely not simplistic. Okay, now before we go any further, let’s try to differentiate simple from simplistic:

Simple is an uncomplicated word which means ‘straightforward, easy,’ as in a simple solution. Compare a simplistic solution, which is too easy, i.e. it oversimplifies and fails to deal with the complexities of the situation.”

Ah, that’s a simple yet important differentiation. But then I found something even simpler and it has all the distinction I need:

Simplistic is failing to capture the essential complexity…”

The key word here is essential. And so we now have come full circle. We started by talking about splitting hairs – making petty distinctions. Then we arrived at simplistic – too simple to see the essential complexity. Indeed, we are definitely not splitting hairs here.

* * * * *

Oh, I forgot to write something about morality as requested by my nephew. Please forgive me, but that topic is so complex (there is a very long article in Wikipedia complete with countless cross references) and I still haven’t read much beyond the basics, much less experienced it (kidding). I do not want to make simplistic conclusions, you know – only simple yet profound observations. But perhaps I will try to write about it someday…when I have the answers whittled down to their simple yet essential cores…

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Attempts at uncovering the underlying simplicity beneath apparently complex concepts as well as the core complexity within seemingly straightforward issues


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