The Snares of Simplicity

by Joseph S. Salemi

Liberals, Communists, and capitalists all share one dangerous and demonically-prompted trait. They want to simplify. The complexities and nuances of any traditionalist society irk them no end, and they are driven by an impulse to flatten and homogenize everything.

To understand the real-world implications of this mentality, look at what Enlightenment-drunken French city planners did to medieval Paris. They wrecked it without quarter, and imposed massive boulevards and a horrifying geometric circular grid on what had been leveled, centered on the ludicrous Arc de Triomphe. Everything had to be made mathematically “clear” and “rational,” like the prose of les encyclopedistes. Baudelaire mourned the passing of an older, richer, more intricate Paris.

In the case of businessmen this impulse is part and parcel of their lust for profit. A one-size-fits-all paradigm is encoded into the mindset of capitalism, which hates anything that might compel it to take into account differences in taste or variation in market demand. Differences and variation cost money. Any time a businessman can squelch them, he’ll do so without hesitation.

Communists and left-liberals (two varietals of the same flower) dislike historical complexity because it is an obstacle to their profound desire for uniformity, lockstep thinking, and general submission to regulatory power. The Left sometimes supports cultural separatism for temporary tactical advantage (as they did once in Ireland and Sicily, and are now doing in Scotland and Catalonia), but when push comes to shove such tactics are always subordinated to their overarching goal of totalitarian hegemony. (As I myself heard Barbara Ehrenreich once say, “Sure, we leftists are all for multiculturalism. But remember that in the ultimate analysis the Left isn’t multi-anything.”)

The desire to streamline, to rationalize, to coordinate, and to regulate metastasized like a cancer with the triumph of the nation-state in the seventeenth century. Standardized language, standardized laws, standardized education, and standardized ideology were all fruits of this new absolutism. With the coming now of globalist tyranny, as nation-states slowly give up their power to a world-encircling elite of unelected bureaucrats and mega-corporate leeches, this situation will only worsen. Snotty Belgian scum at E.U. headquarters in Brussels already dictate to Sardinian shepherds how much cheese they can make, and how to do it. This is nothing compared to what is on the agenda. When that Hitler-aping bitch, Angela Merkel, tried to dictate policy to Poland and other eastern European states, you knew that the E.U. was just the Third Reich with a smiley-face button.

All of this suggests an often-overlooked point. While businessmen love simplification for the
mundane reason that it eliminates cost and avoidable extra effort, the Left wants simplification solely as a first step towards the future consolidation of power. Once they have that power in their hands, they don’t mind complicating things, as long as they’re the ones calling the shots. But let’s put politics aside for the moment.

This rage to simplify, and to dissolve anything that requires an atom more of thought than one is willing to expend, also exists in the world of writing. I knew a dimwitted female at the C.U.N.Y. Graduate Center who was in a state of constant fury because her dissertation advisor insisted that she make proper use of the subjunctive tense in her prose. She’d bitch and moan that “Nobody uses the subjunctive anymore! It’s dead in English!” When I pointed out to her that modern speakers of French no longer used the passé simple, but that it was still important in poetry and scholarly French prose, she went into a hissy fit about “elitist Gallic grammarians.” I then mentioned that four varieties of the subjunctive were still essential in both spoken and written Spanish. She stormed out of the room, probably to lick her wounds with her support group.

And of course there are the buffoons in poetry workshops who make a huge fuss if a poet employs any word that isn’t in the common vocabulary of the ordinary American. I recall one jerk from New England who objected to the preposition upon, since according to him no one ever said it now. There was another ass from California who insisted that no self-respecting contemporary poet could make use of a grammatically subordinate clause. Only simple declarative sentences with a subject/verb/object structure were allowed.

A lot of this silliness goes back to Ezra Pound, whose maniacal command Simplify! Simplify! became a mantra for the less intelligent camp followers of modernism. To be fair, not everyone writing today is in the grip of these absurdities. But the damage has been done. Poets who wish to make fuller use of the inherited (if not current) resources of our language are reflexively on the defensive. They feel compelled to explain, if not apologize for, their use of an obscure word or a strange idiom or a syntactical inversion. When I hear a competent and intelligent poet in an on-line workshop address polite excuses for his non-colloquial language to some officious critic, I see red… why doesn’t he just tell the little scumbag to bugger off?

He doesn’t do it because he has been conditioned to be afraid and defensive. It’s been bred into his bones, going back to Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, that only the common and ordinary speech of the common and ordinary man is allowable in serious poetry. And even though scores of excellent poets since then have ignored that stupid stricture, it still hovers in the air like an unhouseled ghost, haunting poets with the threat of disapproval. Omigod, I might sound old-fashioned and out of touch! I’ve got to be less fancy!

But complexity, intricacy, and the use of arcane or obsolete diction have always been an integral part of the poetic endeavor. No one ever spoke the artificial Greek of the Iliad; it was a carefully preserved construct used to fulfill genre expectations. Some people made fun of Spenser’s conscious archaisms and inkhorn terms, but Shakespeare himself also wrote a language that no one heard in Elizabethan London. Ben Jonson’s English is as mannered as Cicero’s Latin.

In fact, archaism and non-colloquial diction are the rule in great poetry; Wordsworthian plain language and modernist simplification are the exceptions and deviations.

There are other related prejudices that go along with the simplifying tendency: no ideas but in things; lard a metrical line with substitutions; if you rhyme do it slant. These little rules make up a Gestalt of compositional orthodoxy that is unconsciously imposed on contemporary writers. The little rules are a backdrop of preference and expectation, all the more constricting for the fact that they aren’t questioned or discussed. Only by a sheer effort of the will does a modern poet break free from them.

Let’s ask ourselves the question that needs to be asked about every trend or orthodoxy: Cui bono? Who benefits from programmatic simplification? What economic or sociopolitical purpose does such simplification of the written language serve?

We can pick up the obvious and usual subjects quite easily. Mediocre writers support the trend because it ratifies them in their mediocrity. Grade school teachers favor it because it makes their work easier. Advertisers and mass-media types like it because they are impatient with anything that hinders direct and immediate access to an audience. These persons are merely self-interested, like vultures on carrion.

But such folks are not the primary driving force behind simplification. The real impetus comes from deeper and more malignant forces. One is the Low-Church Puritan mentality, with its hatred of all ornament and stylistic polish. This Puritanism is like a dormant but virulent bacterial infection in the American mind, and it bursts forth in florid form periodically as a churlish rage against whatever is intricate, complex, figurative, and sophisticated. Related to it is the atheistic-agnostic hatred of mystery and awe, or anything that might suggest the inexplicable, the ineffable, or the divine. The urge to reduce every phenomenon to its basest elements, and thereby deprive the world of teleology and design, is at the heart of this hate. And lastly, to return to politics, there are the cultural Marxists who have attained a near-total supremacy among our cultural elites. For them, ruthless simplification is a means of leveling discourse in such a way as to limit debate, or confine it to certain acceptable parameters. Theirs is the fiercest anger of all, for the homogenization and denaturing of language is an indispensable step in their program to make heterodox thought both unthinkable and unspeakable. Silence your enemies by rendering them inarticulate is the fixed policy of cultural Marxists.

Arthur Mortensen and I have often discussed the general modern trend towards “de-skilling” the population as a means of both social control and reduction of costs. Such de-skilling is happening throughout the West, as school systems degenerate into babysitting services and places for propagandizing. A de-skilled citizenry has to follow orders blindly, since it cannot think for itself; and it need not be paid the higher salaries that skilled workers demand. Automation, computerization, and the outsourcing of jobs to Third-World shitholes have already devastated millions of American workers. De-skilling merely adds the cherry to the top of the cake—we need not feel any compunction about impoverishing persons who have no marketable skills; all we have to do is give them orders. There is a deeply rooted connection between the simplification of our language, and the “rationalization” of the workforce by corporate planners.

Big Business and the left-liberal cultural elites have a plan. It’s working out perfectly for them right now. It remains to be seen if a serious resistance to these powerful forces will coalesce.



Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine TRINACRIA and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

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37 Responses

  1. Margaret Coats

    Thanks, Joe. It’s good to have the sinister sources of simplicity exposed openly.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I’m glad you find the essay effective.

      The snares of “simplicity” that I describe are indeed sinister, but the problem today seems to be that when the word “simplicity” is used it conjures up positive images of sweetness, childlike innocence, earnestness, ease, and freedom from constriction. I only wish people would remember that for the political Left, nothing is simpler than putting a bullet in the brain of recalcitrants, which is always a part of their playbook.

  2. Paul Erlandson

    Dear Mr. Salemi,

    I think that this is the most important essay I’ve yet read by you. It is so clearly and resoundingly true. One of my favorite sections was this:

    “The real impetus comes from deeper and more malignant forces. One is the Low-Church Puritan mentality, with its hatred of all ornament and stylistic polish. This Puritanism is like a dormant but virulent bacterial infection in the American mind, and it bursts forth in florid form periodically as a churlish rage against whatever is intricate, complex, figurative, and sophisticated. Related to it is the atheistic-agnostic hatred of mystery and awe, or anything that might suggest the inexplicable, the ineffable, or the divine.”

    That’s exactly correct. No room for that Chestertonian “silent swerving from accuracy by an inch.” Sadly, it infects all segments of the Christian church. In Anglicanism, Prayer Book revision has taken all these simplifying rules to ridiculous lengths. The kinds of prayer books being published these days can only be accounted for by a belief on the part of the editors that those who use these books will be stupid.

    And, then, a Roman Catholic example: I read a book called “Simplicity” (1989) by John Michael Talbot. It was chock full of the things you talk about hear. Immediately upon reading it, I took a Vow of Complexity, and I’ve never looked back.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Thank you for your kind comments, Mr. Erlandson. I’m glad that the essay has touched you.

      Although I am a Catholic, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is a prized possession of mine. Many of the prayers and sequences are translated from medieval texts, probably taken from the English Rite of Sarum. I have a copy dating from the 1890s, and I turn to it frequently for its piety and devotion, as well as for the limpidly pure English that sometimes brings tears to my eyes. I cannot bear to think how it has been mauled and gutted by modernist revisions.

      All Christian denominations today have been poisoned in prayers and liturgical usages by a false primitivism, which pretends to go back to the earliest possible usages as a way to “recapture the true evangelical spirit” of the apostolic age. This is really just a disguised form of the “simplicity” that I discussed, but which is in fact merely a way to keep the entire congregation from thinking much at all.

  3. Mia

    Dear Mr Salemi,
    What I admire most about your writing is that it is both complex and sincere. As someone who struggles with the complexities of writing I believe that there is writing that is much too simple but in some cases there is writing that is complex in order to confuse.
    So ‘silence your enemies by rendering them inarticulate,’
    is pertinent in every sense. I do not think I can ever forget this sentence.

    As someone, who albeit many years ago, found themselves in a classroom unable to speak or understand a word of what was being said , was bullied and unable to explain to the teachers what was happening, this resonates so much.
    Now I wonder why we are put in certain situations when many years later we find the same theme cropping up albeit in a different sense. It really is unbearable to think how much is being done by design.
    The kind of simplicity you write about, for some reason brings to mind autism. Many autistic children have to have simple routines in order to function. Severely autistic children often resort to violence.
    Well I hope I haven’t gone off tangent because I know there is so much more to your essay than I could ever touch upon.
    Thank you. Your sincerity, ability and knowledge always shine throughout your writing.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Mia, many thanks for your comments and observations. It is quite true that language can be deliberately made confusing and overly complex, for the purpose of avoiding the truth, or for keeping the uninitiated at arm’s length. This a very real problem today in academia with so-called “scholarly” prose, which is now a mishmash of mindless jargon, French critical theory, and pseudo-scientific babble.

      We can all see the degradation of language that has occurred in politics and advertising, but it also crops up even in ordinary conversation. As a result, almost everyone is constantly on guard when speaking lest they say something that doesn’t fit in with the current pieties and orthodoxies. Another result is that people who speak the truth clearly and forcefully are now considered dangerously antisocial.

  4. Evan Mantyk

    Thank you, Joe, for this extraordinarily insightful analysis, which I read as the communist urge to simplify. I have never seen it put so clearly before. I am reminded of two facts about communist China, which I have found strange. First, the CCP simplified the Chinese language, so there are now two Chinese scripts today, the traditional used by Taiwan and the simplified used by the Mainland. Further, some decades ago the CCP was actually thinking about simplifying the Chinese language further by throwing out Chinese characters altogether and using Romanized letters (what’s called pinyin) in order to adapt to the widespread use of computers. Someone invented a program that allowed typing in Chinese, but you can see the impulse for a communist culture to destroy itself through simplification.

    Second, I recently found out that the CCP was trying to change the name of China’s biggest holiday, the Chinese New Year, to the Lunar New Year to be in accord with the general term used in other countries, Japan, Korea, Vietnam etc. The CCP often conflates the CCP with China and plays on Chinese patriotism so I found this confusing at first; it seems that the CCP fears China’s own traditional culture that much and prefers so much more to sneakily try and creep into those other countries through cultural diluting. That is my reading of it, anyway.

    As for “Low-Church Puritan mentality,” my knowledge is somewhat limited. I know Milton was a Puritan and there was very little that was simple about his work. I wonder if the deeper culprit is not humanism, which was mostly but not all positive during the Renaissance in the 1500s and 1600s and then evolved into the Enlightenment in the 1700s, which had an even more pronounced negative side, leading to the Reign of Terror, which was very much like the communist specter, first described by Marx, rearing its head before Marx even named it.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Interesting on Chinese characters vs. Roman alphabet. While the CCP insists on Sinifying the Roman Catholic Church, it was ready to turn to the Roman alphabet. Probably officials were relieved when the script program was developed: the problem of claiming the Roman alphabet was actually a Chinese invention was averted.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Thank you for your remarks, Evan. It was predictable that the CCP, the last surviving Stalinist institution, would be ferociously dedicated to the “simplification” of everything in its grasp. There was no reason to simplify the traditional Chinese characters, which had been used for millennia by Chinese administrators, bureaucrats, scholars, and poets. Even pinyin, which might be convenient in some cases, was not necessary.

      But that’s the core of the issue. Communism (and all forms of left-liberalism) utterly HATE historically developed and established cultures, and will take any steps at all to crush them or dump them down the Orwellian memory-hole. And Orwell specifically described how language was deliberately debased by means of gross simplification in his fictional totalitarian society.

      Changing the names of months, or beginning a new count of years, or destroying monuments from the past, are regular procedures whenever a revolutionary force gains power. Mussolini (from a hard-left background) insisted that Italy start counting its years from 1922, when he and his party came to power, and he did all he could to destroy the rich dialectal literatures of Italy.

      Milton was a fierce Puritan, but he also was a deeply educated man with a wide range of knowledge. He might have hated the monarchy and High-Church Anglicanism, but he was committed to his inherited culture through his intense humanistic education. Humanism, in my view, was a profound blossoming of European learning and sophistication, and what I call “Low-Church Puritanism” was in many ways suspicious of humanism and wary of its influence. Radicalized Protestants were not interested in Renaissance fine art, music, learning, and poetry — they tended to think of these things as “traps of the Devil,” as Anthony Comstock termed them.

      It’s not humanism, but ideology that is the source of our troubles. And ideology is due to politics and philosophy — particularly the kind of philosophical brain-rot that came out of German Idealism.

  5. Daniel Kemper

    Comprehending your essays, Joe, always masterfully written is always quick–because of that mastery. Meditating on the application and meaning in the broadest context and turning it all over in my mind takes time. Pleasant time.

    I’m going to come at this a little obliquely. Well, maybe a lot obliquely regarding the oversimplification danger. Hopefully this will add some HE ammo to your thesis.

    It seems to me something changed in the last nine months or so– probably pretty close in time to the public deployment of AI in their browsers and search engines. (Remember, everyone your software is only and ever on lease: you do not own it. You are a digital serf.) The results of search engines seem very dumbed down. They over emphasize the most prevalent word in a chain and no longer take all words into significant consideration. And the pages to which one is taken are the shallowest of analyses. (And of course on any verboten topics they only go to the same propaganda sites ad nauseum.)

    And AI is currently stupid and crooked. I “AI-ed” myself a little bit ago–remember the age of “googling yourself”? It mentioned me as a poet, gave a link to my work (here at SCP) and quoted a quatrain out of a sonnet that it referred me to.

    Only problem was the quatrain wasn’t mine. It didn’t even match the site to which it referred me.

    Interestingly, by persistent questioning I was able to get AI to confess…

    that it had made up the quatrain!

    Y’know, I was going to conclude by typing, “Danger, Will Robinson!” but it was a robot (AI) that said that.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      AI is one of those predictably annoying things that was designed with an ulterior (even if unconscious) motive: to tell human beings that they are not needed, superfluous, and inferior. And because like all machines and machine processes it is created and programmed by a specific set of humans, is parrots the prejudices and stupidities of that particular group.

      The problem is this: when something like AI comes along, a huge chunk of the left-liberal ruling class and its journalistic whores get wet in the crotch and start orgasming at the thought of new controls, new regulations, and new horizons for the enslavement of the population. They have the same reaction to anything robotic.

      • Daniel Kemper

        Not sure how to make the leap from AI to FV, but I’ve been mulling multiple of your posts. It’s really staggering how much modernism++ (i.e. free verse) owes to crazy uncle Ezra. Good ole’ Benito Pound…

        Same theme of absolutism, maybe. Just seemed like worth posting somehow.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        It wasn’t just Ezra Pound. There was Amy Lowell, T.E. Hulme, Ford Madox Ford, and slew of their disciples. The problem really was floating in the Zeitgeist of 1900 to 1920, when an entire raft of revolutionary imbecilities sprouted up, in all fields.

  6. Roy Eugene Peterson

    There is so much to inhale and decipher in this highly important essay, not just for poets, but for mankind (a word I use unapologetically). There are so many tangents that come to my mind. A couple will do.

    1.) Christian simplicity: So many Christian congregations are anesthetically hypnotized by simple soporific preaching that emphasizes “just pray” or leave it to God, not analyzing and realizing that we are the instruments for change and revival that must be activated. Many of these preachers and congregations fail to read the Old Testament, or if they do, they think it has been superseded by the New Testament, thus failing to take into account the full word of God in their lives that commands them to do something about the situation.

    2.) Standardized words: There is a place for simplicity of language and that is when trying to reach those who have already fallen victim to the plague of simplicity, but then the message must come through as a direct arrow at the heart of the readers. Homogenization of language makes it a bankrupt liturgy. The beauty of the euphonistic words from the past and the creative manufacture of words in the present are enhancing and entrancing that may even require a retreat to a dictionary, or a mental juggling of the meaning that enriches the mind and stimulates the brain cells.

    Simplification of language and thought processes go hand in hand. The leftist-liberal political cabal, as with corporations seeking to standardize and bastardize is certainly at work striving for conformity in which the recipient simply follows like a sheep (in this case a lamb to the slaughter). This certainly is one of the goals of totalitarian regimes that includes the future of the world being ruled as one (my greatest nightmare). You are so right about the EU, Merkel, and those who follow the dictates of Marx.

    As I said, there is so much of value in your great essay. We are blessed as SCP readers and recipients not just for your great writing, but also for your great incisive and analytic message.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Roy, thanks for your comments and your praise. I’m glad the essay seems to have spoken effectively to readers.

      The shell-game of “Christian simplicity” gets under my skin too. Too many people seem to think that all the religion means is “to love everybody,” and have a beatific smile on your face at all times. Traditional Christianity is a highly complex religion, with a theology and dogmatics that can take a lifetime to understand fully. The cultural accretion of customs, saints’ lives, devotional forms, liturgical traditions, monastic orders, and a massive patristic literature supplemented by reams of learned commentary — this is the polar opposite of “simplicity.” It was natural that religious revolutionaries would want to eliminate all of that heritage as a first step in gelding and denaturing Christianity.

  7. Julian D. Woodruff

    There are so many angles to this topic–it’s definitely not simple. Language (e.g., highly inflected Latin–classical and Church vs. less inflected Romance languages that nonetheless distinguish themselves through the nature and level of their inflection as well through idiomatic complexities), aesthetics (music, the visual arts, rhetoric and literature, architecture–e.g., churches imitating drab, purely functional government structures, a model that itself didn’t exist before the 20th century) etc.
    I hope others will explore the topic from one of these perspectives or from yet another.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Yes, the phenomenon is visible in all fields. Your mention of architecture is painful, for it brings to mind the horrid, brutalist, in-your-face drab functionalism that has disfigured our cities. Why does everything have to be so damned ugly? And modern churches are the worst.

  8. Brian A. Yapko

    Thank you for this eye-opening essay, Joe, which offers so much perceptive observation about the state of our society and how it got here. There are a bunch of things at work here which I think are worth addressing: there is, of course, simplicity for simplicity’s sake which is not necessarily a bad thing depending on the context. Then there is oversimplification which is always a bad thing because it steamrolls over nuance and complexity. And then there is standardization which may be a form of simplification but may just as easily be an instrument of tyranny.

    The first thing I thought about when I read your essay was language — the simple fact that languages are and have been dying for quite some time. There used to be dozens of Romance languages. Now there are basically five. Why is this? In part, it seems to be connected to simplification. As people become more connected (by train, then horseless carriage, then plane, by radio, then t.v., then internet) it makes sense for their ability to communicate to be streamlined. Native languages become used more infrequently or not at all. We may see this as an innocent explanation and it’s certainly a logical one, but… then where in heck does a language like Esperanto come from? Superficially it looks like a form of simplification but it’s not organic and it’s very purpose is to wipe out differences between people. It’s an early baby step in the formation of world culture and world government. And I have yet to read a poem written in Esperanto.

    Simplification may simply be a product of entropy, but what of oversimplification, which seems to be a standard gaslighting technique — everything is divided into black and white, good or bad, you’re either with us or against us. Simplification may be difficult to resist, but oversimplification demands push-back.

    Standardization seems to be a critical point here — we can be very glad from an airline flight scheduling standpoint that time zones were standardized in the 19th Century. But what do we do with dictionary definitions that now purport to give us “standard” definitions of “woman” or “man” to include wildly unsettled and unscientific meanings?

    I realize that the focus of your essay is largely on how simplification has affected literature — poetry in particular — but I think you’ve seized upon something that has great applicatioon across the board — in theology and religious denominations, in architecture where all ornateness and beauty are banished in favor of stalinist “clean” lines… And in poetry where all that is not simple is now condemned. (In some ways, music seems to be moving in the opposite direction where complexity for its own sake kills of any possibility of beautiful melody and harmony.)

    In the end, I attribute the pursuit of simplicity to a) a desire to standardize and thereby control; and b) laziness, because people don’t want to put the extra effort in to learn how to rhyme poetry or figure out the difference between a doric and an ionian column, or learn the rules of perspective before they are blithely broken. These two basic attitudes can then be expanded upon by a myriad of economic and cultural rationalizations and justifications which, in the end, cause people to believe their dislike of nuance and skilled complexity is actually a virtue. Mediocrity and standardized world government win. We eat only at McDonalds. And we speak only Esperanto.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Brian, the disappearance of small languages and dialects was being pushed long before modern transportation and communication came into being. The French Directorate during the Revolution ordered the imposition of standard Parisian French in every province of the land, and the destruction of all dialectical forms, whether Latin-based like Gascon and Occitan or Celtic-based like Breton. The British government tried to do the same with Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, Scottish Lallans, and Scots Gaelic, through the imposition of London-based English. They failed, but came very close to driving all those linguistic variants into extinction. Thank God that all of those languages are now being resuscitated, and some of them are thriving.

      Mussolini tried the same thing in Italy, and even today his actions have had a bad effect on the Italian middle class, which is snobbishly and contemptuously anti-dialect, even though many of the dialects have a rich corpus of literature behind them.

      Let me bring up something unpleasant. When I was a youngster in Woodside, across the street from us lived a man who was a fanatical left-liberal and revolutionary. But he was very well read, and often invited me to come over and browse his library, and have talks. One day we were talking about languages, and I happened to mention that Ireland had single-handedly brought back Irish Gaelic as the official language of their country, just. as the Jews had done with Hebrew in Israel.

      He exploded in rage! I remember his exact words: “What the hell is wrong with those stupid micks and kikes! The LAST THING WE NEED is to bring back dead languages! We need a single, universal language that will let everybody speak freely to each other!”

      That’s the real voice of left-liberalism. By the way, about two decades after this incident, this same man became a rapist-murderer, who killed himself when he had trouble disposing of a victim’s corpse.

      As for Esperanto, it was deliberately created by a dreamy leftist-socialist type whose interests weren’t linguistic, but political. And for decades the one governmentally supported Esperanto radio station was run by Red China.

  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    What an enticer of a title. What an intriguing subject. This thought-provoking essay is engaging, educational and exciting – a heady mix of linguistic wonder.

    Simple is one of my favorite words. As soon as things begin to get complicated there is usually a dose of skullduggery rippling beneath the calm surface, making waves that often swell into a tsunami of chaos. For me, complication spells disaster. When one begins complicating immutable facts, trouble ensues. Today we have an education system that complicates everything – science, history, biology, math, etc. etc. I have recently read a ream of educational material for a friend. Her daughter is studying the significance of gender in medieval England… or something of that nature. The daughter couldn’t get her head around what was expected of her in her assignment, and neither could I. This isn’t because we’re stupid. It’s because we’re not. The study material was complete bollocks. In order to address it, one would have to spout the same bollocks with conviction. I refused to go along with it. The daughter did and is now about to graduate with a PhD in The Big Lie.

    When it comes to the Big Lie, those telling it need to dumb down language… the code that unlocks all things meaningful. Ignorance must be celebrated, which is where this essay shines a light on the pitfalls (the snares) of simplicity. Literacy is racist, patriarchal, sexist etc. Words matter. The truth matters. Beauty matters. Debate is dangerous in a mad, myopic world where only money and power count for those governing with an iron fist. Celebration of ignorance starts in the schools, and we are now a few generations in. It really is time all those who had a good education stood up and started using it to the good. Just as Isaac Asimov said, “True literacy is becoming an arcane art” – and true literacy means understanding the complexities and marvels of the ornate, the honest, and the sublime. which is why I am so grateful for this site and for your essay, Joe. Thank you very much indeed!

    Just to add, when it comes to education, this quote from Albert Einstein makes a lot of sense to me: “Everything should be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.”

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Susan, I agree with you. There is an explosion of NEEDLESS complication today. Just this week I went to my bank to carry out a small transaction, which in the past would have been handled by a simple written form slip handed to a teller. I was told that now I have to make a series of pointless screen clicks on a computer, and then sign my full name with an electronic pen on the screen, and then click through another three steps to complete the entire task.

      I am not a patient man, and my temper was on edge. After several false starts and mistakes, I spat out this to the bank employee who was serving me: “What is the bloody POINT of all this chickenshit? To make some electronics company rich?” She smiled and said “Yes! It’s what all of us here are thinking! But we can’t say anything!”

      Part of it is just elitist people getting wet in the crotch for technology, and insisting that every single task of life be handled by a computer rather than by a human being. But what you experienced with that absurd garbage about “the significance of gender in medieval England” is pure evil. It is a deliberate poisoning of the well of learning and culture and history to satisfy a malignant ideological obsession. It is a complication that is made as a way to direct young students away from pride in their own culture and history, and to send them in false directions that will humiliate and discourage them.

  10. Gigi Ryan

    Joseph, your essay is an alarm and a call to fan the flames of beauty, truth and goodness. Thank you.
    Your comments about the church, in particular, resonate with me. Even complex music is being done away with. Church are getting rid of their organs to make way for the drum sets! I suppose the organ is too sophisticated an instrument and there are few that are willing to learn to play it. Drums have their place in music, but never at the expense of the organ.
    I am reminded of Adam Selia’s poem about architecture.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Getting rid of an organ to make room for drums? It’s almost impossible to conceive of such idiocy and cultural barbarism. But I’m no longer surprised at what the pastors of many churches (of all denominations) are doing as a way to make their skeletalized Christianity palatable to half-empty pews.

  11. Michael Vanyukov

    “Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.” G. Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Yes, Orwell was a very prescient man. Today, forms of Newspeak are so prominent that many people take them for proper and legitimate language.

      • Michael Vanyukov

        Right on. The director of NIDA writes, “addiction and overdose crisis… emerging data highlight its startling impact on pregnant people.” You don’t need “men” and “women” anymore: “people” suffices.

  12. Paul A. Freeman

    Isn’t it just human nature to want to simplify everything, partly for the sake of a quiet life (which I guess I won’t get now), so that we don’t have to think too deeply on subjects we’ve been indoctrinated into thinking are cut and dried, or are just palatable to us?

    For some people, if something is said in the Bible (or appears to be said), then it must be so. Women are men’s helpers, apparently, so according to some evangelicals, they should not have career, but should stay at home having babies and ‘help’ their man. How does that fly with the female contingent of the SCP, may of whom have had and continue to have successful careers without being the subordinate partner in a relationship?

    Bugs? Yuck! And yet a crab or a lobster are fine. Both are arthropods, close cousins to insects no matter how much you sugarcoat it.

    Despite the batterings and cynicism I occasionally / often receive here, I always attempt to look at both sides of an argument, and won’t cave in to peer pressure if I disagree.

    I’ve read your essay, Joseph, and agree with the premise. I do think, however, that left or right, man or woman, most folk are looking to simplify the world around us to suit what we believe or want to believe. The trick is to stand back and try to be objective.

    Of course, the knee-jerk reaction is to self-righteously cast verbal stones at me for not agreeing wholesale with every conservative opinion voiced here.

    Wouldn’t that be simplicity itself?

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      To Paul —

      You always say that you are reasonable and objective and want to look at both sides of issues. But here you are trying — quite deliberately — to start a fight among SCP members.

      I suppose I’ve been here at the SCP for about seven years or so. In all that time I can’t recall that anyone argued about the place of women in society, or quoted Biblical texts about their subordination, or made speeches about feminist liberation or male domination. I would guess that all of our members and readers have a wide spectrum of views on the matter. The matter simply hasn’t come up in conversation.

      And yet here you are fomenting a fight — first by throwing forward a sundering division between extreme Biblical fundamentalists who think that the place of women is at home, and second by contrasting that straw man with career women here who don’t fit that paradigm. What do you hope to accomplish by this? Do you want the women here to rise up in anger against the males, and start some kind of argument over sex roles?

      That is a disgusting thing to do. But it does seem to be typical of the garden-variety left-liberal, who is always looking for an opportunity to stir up confrontation based on allegiance to ideology and categorical imperatives.

      As for bugs, the same thing goes. We don’t want to eat bugs because that is contrary to our cultural norms, which for us are paramount Got that? Simple enough? We don’t really care if lobsters and crabs are arthropods, or what some stupid nutritionist claims about insect protein. Using them as part of an argument for bug consumption is pure misdirection on your part — another typical left-liberal ploy. Bring up a scientific judgment, and then throw it in the faces of people’s cultural habits.

      This is not a knee-jerk reaction on my part, nor am I casting verbal stones. I’m just clearing the air and showing readers what you are trying to do.

      Your comments don’t address a single point in my essay.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        I’m not going to get into this argument, as it is completely futile. However, I did want to set the record straight by saying that he’s probably referring to some of the poems on the subject published here (some of which I’ve written), and that they received favorable comments about content from both sexes.

  13. Mia

    One of the reasons I focused on language in my earlier comment is because of the relationship between higher- order language and higher- order thinking skills.
    Children with higher level language disorders have difficulties in verbal sequencing, determining cause and effect, making inferences and understanding and using figurative language.
    So skills such as critical thinking and problem solving in the world we live in today are very much dependent on sophisticated language skills.
    So simplifying language doesn’t just have an impact on speech
    And literacy but on the ability to think
    Apparently, one language learned in depth is better than two languages that are both half learned, which may happen in some bilingual homes. If on the other hand care is taken for both languages to progress well then the children are at a distinct advantage.
    Hope this makes better sense than my earlier rambling comment.
    This essay really does have such a wealth of possibilities as to which theme to comment upon.

  14. James Sale

    Wonderful – and deserved – vituperation, Joe, more venomous than usual, I think. To comment on all of it would take another essay, but your sentence: “The urge to reduce every phenomenon to its basest elements, and thereby deprive the world of teleology and design, is at the heart of this hate.” is spot on. But why? Why do they hate teleology and design so much? And here is how an atheist from the inside put it: “”Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless” – Aldous Huxley. Underpinning all that you are talking about is the promiscuous desire to do away with morality: to make man the measure of everything – it ‘suits our books this way’. The world we are in is not reflected in any meaningful way by the drivel that is James Joyce’s Ulysses (oh it’s so real! Really?) No, we are in the script of Lord of the Rings, and Sauron is gaining the upper hand. How in the West, did it come to this?

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      James, thank you. I’m sure no one will believe me, but I don’t wish to be venomous or vituperative — it’s only that sometimes the sheer density of the opposition is so impenetrable that it just erupts out of me.

      There is an old Sicilian saying: “If you have a recalcitrant donkey who won’t move, pick up a heavy stick and hit him squarely between the eyes. This will get his attention, and you can then once more politely ask him to move.”

  15. Sally Cook

    Joe, your excellent essay has answered a long-standing question for me — that is to say why people so often misinterpret the detail in my paintings as a form of primitive or childish approach to art, when in fact the patterns I use are highly sophisticated. and often used as directional flags?
    I have become so used to the “little Sally Cook” syndrome I hardly notice it any more and treat it as just one more minor annoyance, much like fleas in a garden !
    But why does it persist? Is it a deliberate misunderstanding, or just plain malice? These are questions I’ve asked myself over the years.
    You have answered so many others over the years. What’s your take on this ? what can be done about it? Is it just part of the general malaise or something more?

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Sally, I’m not an art critic so I can’t give a definitive answer to your question. But I can speculate on what I do know of the art world, and on the details of your life history that you have given me.

      When you began your art studies and training, the art world was still heavily male-dominated. This included not just the artists, but also the critics, curators, and gallery owners. The small ateliers were usually groups of male painters, and as you know from bitter experience in the Greenwich Village of the 1950s and 60s, those males could be selfish, self-absorbed, and unpleasant. Remember those scenes in the Cedar Tavern!

      Naturally, they often didn’t take the artwork of women seriously, no matter how good the woman was. Women artists were considered just hangers-on, or at best disciples and trainees. So if a woman artist did something not in accord with the dominant styles being practiced at that time, or experimented with her approach or stylistic techniques, she would be dismissed or laughed at as an amateur, or as someone who wasn’t ready for competition with “the big boys.”

      That may explain the “little Sally Cook” attitude that has persisted over the years; and when you no longer did Abstract Expressionism and turned to figurative and highly symbolic depictions, that may have given them the added excuse to call your work “primitive” or “folk art.”

      This happens to many creative people, both male and female, in the world of art, poetry, sculpture, design, or whatever else you have. Dominant personalities who work in well-known styles and who have a large public audience and who make money are considered the REAL artists. Everyone else is just an amateur, a dabbler, a loser.

      Sally, you have had the last laugh on all these obnoxious people. Your work sells for high prices, your paintings hang in museums, you have gallery exhibits, you have avid collectors, and you have been written about. Nobody can say “little Sally Cook” any longer. If they do, they are just ignorant.

  16. Sally Cook

    Joe, — my unflagging respect for your powers of reasoning tell me you must be right, but underground buzz says otherwise. I may never know why, and perhaps in the long run it doesn’t matter.
    Nevertheless it galls to see inferior “artists” seriously honored while faint praise flutters my way. Perhaps I am only an old grump, but I still think my use of detail – which no one else seems to be doing — has something to do with it, and I thank you for turning in that direction.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Sally, if you want to be seriously honored today in the art world, you have to be an inferior artist. You have to produce mindless, trendy crap that is praised by stupid academic theorists. You have to be a Basquiat, or a Banksy, or a Keith Haring. Really good artists are routinely ignored.

      • Sally Cook

        Yes, you are right. Perhaps it is my problem…I simply do not want to accept such a crazy concept ! Can this really be the case>Eek !
        If so, it would not be the first insanity you have pointed out to me.
        Once again, many thanks … I guess.

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