January 31, 2015
The Lion King is a fantastic Disney classic that most of our generation grew up watching. It features a rather typical narrative: a definite hero and a concrete villain; there is no room for any complexity or greyness in the characters. In fact, the biggest mistake Mufasa and Simba—the film’s heroes—make is that they are overly trusting and gentle with the villain, Scar. That naive understanding of our world was perhaps acceptable when we were younger; we cannot teach a five-year-old the sophisticated nature of people and the world that surrounds them. Yet as we all grow intellectually, to the point where we now attend an elite institution such as Hamilton, it becomes nothing but idiotic to describe our world with the same naïveté as The Lion King’s narrative.
The tendency to oversimplify our worldviews could be easily explained: oversimplifying is easy, and as lazy creatures, we always seek the easiest path. Nonetheless, a second, stronger incentive, to simplify emerges when the issue is directly, or even distantly, related to us. If we oversimplify our worldviews into black-and-white heroes and villains, we could enjoy the advantage of classifying ourselves as heroes. It feels good to be the good guy and to describe the rest as bad. More importantly, viewing ourselves as the heroes allows us to label our actions—no matter how positive or even questionable—as being completely justifiable. Unfortunately, we must face the ugly truth that in this variously shaded world, there are no absolutes.
Political and social debates are a very clear example of our tendency to oversimplify. Alas, I too acknowledge that the oversimplification of political and social debates is easily observable on our campus, and this is concerning for a few reasons.
First, oversimplification reduces and diminishes the possibility of meaningful discussion; in fact, it supersedes its need.
Second, oversimplification, and those who are responsible for it, should not have a place in Hamilton’s nuanced intellectual community that is supposed to foster critical thinking and insightful analysis.
Third, and most importantly, oversimplification has caused real damage both to our world in general, and to our community in particular. Let’s take the attacks on Charlie Hebdo as an example. Since I came back to campus from winter break, I have heard and read a wide range of views from both extremes of the spectrum. On one side, I heard an argument that the attacks is a result of France’s racism and biased secularity. On the other side, I read an argument that posits that Islam and its followers literally are the source of all the evil in this world. As I listened to both sides, I assumed—and hoped—that there was no inherent background of hate or racism that motivated these two extreme views; I hoped that both views are only a product of oversimplification, and ignorance of course. Yet these views are still problematic. One-sided oversimplification should not be intellectually permissible in our campus. I do not believe that any opinion should be silenced, but I think that the ones who oversimplify deserve to be labeled bigots.