Wednesday, March 23, 2016

No Answers in Political Rhetoric


In his 2015 book Nonsense, former Harvard research coordinator Jamie Holmes explained how to boost creativity through “the power of not knowing.”  At the same time, he inadvertently explained the rise of such political figures as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders.

As Holmes pointed out, humans do not like ambiguity.  We like answers, everything neatly explained in nice little boxes.  When that is not possible, we become creative.  We look for reasons.  In fact, ambiguity drives creativity.  Holmes cited multiple examples how the lack of one definitive solution led to multiple creative answers, including the telephone, better vehicles, easier ways to transfer money and so on.

However, politicians are expected to have plans, simple answers to complex problems.  If you want to end the influx of illegal immigrants – no matter that the numbers have fallen in recent years and associated problems are minimal – build a wall.  Simple answer, even though the cost would be astronomical and unfeasible.

Great wall of Mexico?
Too expensive? Mexico will pay for it, even though Mexico, as a sovereign country, may have alternative uses for its revenue.  The U.S. has no way to force any country, must less Mexico, to spend a dime.  In the past, if there’s something we wanted, we just slipped the country the money to cover costs anyway.

Want to solve inequity in the social system?  Just change the tax code.  No matter that’s been tried numerous times, creating the highly complex code no one understands.  Moreover, there’s no evidence that such gerrymandering will actually help resolve social ills, which are deeply ingrained and related to far more than income.

Climate Change?  Deny it.  Trust religion, the most simplistic of all attempts to resolve ambiguity.  Religion thrives by asserting “truths” as if anything a member of the clergy proclaims is actually gospel.  Don’t worry about death: “true believers” are rewarded.  Others are punished.  Who are “true believers?”  The ones we say are. 

Such thinking drives terrorists to kill opponents, because they will be “rewarded” in their imaginary Valhalla. 

Unfortunately, there are no clear cut answers to the ISIS threat.  There’s no obvious solution to Climate Change, to immigration or to the disappearance of fresh water, increased pollution, impact of chemicals on our lives and more.  The most creative and intelligent members of society will need to address those concerns.  Many are.  Ideas are being debated; proposals are being made.

You won’t hear them in political debates or rallies where politicians pander to the crowds’ desires for instant, complete answers.  The work is being done in the quiet laboratories and in the minds of unheralded people who recognize that the lack of a concrete answer opens the arena to creativity.

No answers here
Such solutions will require flexibility, experience, awareness of repercussions of what seems like an answer, ramifications of any decision and the willingness to change minds and accept the ambiguity of reality.

In the interim, we are all burdened by politicians who are spouting what in reality, as Holmes described in another context, is nonsense.

Worse, they attract hordes of followers demanding simple answers.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His most recent book is Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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