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Nothing is Simple, Even This Garbled Post

Rusty - August 23, 2006

I think Mies was wrong when he said “less is more.” Though that famous aphorism sounds nice and is highly repeatable I think my thesis advisor, Milton Glaser, was closer when he said, “just right is more.” He uses the example of a Persian rug, suggesting that if you eliminate the complex patterns, color shifts and textural progressions the rug loses its identity and true beauty.

It is the job of a designer (and a writer and a teacher and a parent and a you-name-it) to communicate a specific message (or messages). Oversimplifying the message just for the sake of eliminating complexity serves to shortchange the recipient of that message of what could be an otherwise enriching experience. (Of course, Mies originally said “less is more” as a reaction to the over-stylized, over-decorated and over-designed excessiveness of the time and he did a pretty good job of “lessening” it to be “just right.”)

How often do we fall into this trap when discussing everything from the gospel to politics to how we should raise our children? I just finished reading a book called Everything Bad Is Good For You that makes the incredibly convincing argument that our modern video games and television shows are not only not bad for us but in many ways they increase our intelligence and social skills. I liked what this book offered, not because it made me feel okay for having an Xbox 360 but rather because it made much more sense than the simplistic (and false) “video games are destroying our youth.” It suggested (to me) that there is nuance and complexity everywhere if you take a serious and closer look.

I like that.

If there’s anything the bloggernacle has shown me, it is that the gospel is a vast, complex system that can’t easily be broken down and perfectly understood in simplistic terms. So often we discuss what are seemingly simple principles such as authority, “keep the commandments and you will prosper”, obedience, WoW, Law of Chastity, the pre- and post-mortal existence, etc, yet none of those are truly simple. Even the impossibly simple law of tithing isn’t simple (just a discussion of “what’s an increase?” will keep people occupied for hours). Just because something is true doesn’t mean it’s simple.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for aphorisms, examples, metaphors and parables (hey, if it’s good enough for Christ I guess it’s good enough for me, right?). They are all excellent tools for understanding principles enough to help us make decisions, but they are never complete and can even be damaging if taken literally. For example, It would be easy to be able compartmentalize the world with the simple phrase “if you’re not with us you’re against us.” but I’d hate for it to be true (which it only is in sports…sometimes).

As I’ve been thinking about this issue I’ve struggled to come up with anything, any principle that is truly simple and I’ve failed. But I’m okay with that.


  1. I believe that video games have some merit, of course, but that does not mean that for very many they are the greatest waste of time ever devised. I am acquainted with too many young men who would play video games sixteen hours a day if they were given the opportunity.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 23, 2006 @ 11:00 am

  2. Came close to doing that last Saturday Mark. Alas, I only managed a mere 6 hours.

    But I’d been abstaining for a while, so the laws of balance and nature demanded a binge.

    Anyway, it was a far cry from my glory days in high school when I marathoned Final Fantasy VII for about 13 hours one Saturday.

    That’s one thing you lose with age: that laserlike focus.

    Comment by Seth R. — August 23, 2006 @ 11:21 am

  3. Rusty, I need to show this post to your mother. Then the next time she is explaining what she did in minute detail to you, she can justify it using your own words.

    I guess “Even the simple is complex” would sum up your thoughts?

    Comment by Don Clifton — August 23, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

  4. This is a post that has been in my thoughts for a good couple of years now. You could almost say this is a post on moderation as well as un-simplicity.

    I very much agree with what you’re saying, but with a caveat. The gospel IS simple in that ANYone can follow it and its principles.(Not that you said otherwise, of course, but for clarity’s sake) Doing and understanding things perfectly? Of course not. Anyone from anywhere can qualify themselves for exaltation though.

    Comment by Bret — August 23, 2006 @ 9:28 pm

  5. So, I guess I can prescribe some time in the bloggernacle for the next person in my ward who tells me “the gospel is really simple” or “tithing is one law we can all be perfect in”? I’ll send them to 9moons and you can straighten them out.

    Comment by Jacob — August 23, 2006 @ 11:45 pm

  6. Jacob,
    Your point is well-taken. I think what I’m trying to say is that on the surface so many things seem very simple, and that’s good because it helps us make decisions. But the reality is that none of those things are truly simple if you make a real effort to understand them. Tithing for instance. You can say that you’re living it pefectly, but it’s only perfect according to that person’s definition of increase. There are a number of posts in the nacle showing many different understandings of what increase means.

    And I’m not saying that we should make an effort to take out the simplicity of the gospel, I’m just saying that it’s not as simple as we sometimes would like to think.

    Comment by Rusty — August 24, 2006 @ 7:52 am

  7. I think the simplicity of the gospel is that anyone can qualify for the Celestial Kingdom…accept Jesus as our saviour and strive to keep the commandments. We don’t have to keep them perfectly or even understand them, we just have to do OUR best. We are judged on our efforts, not on a comparison chart.

    However, the doctrines are not simple as you point out. Even what appears to be simple doctrines, tithing, WoW are open to a lot of discussion and interpretation and that’s good. Think how dull the church and living the gospel would be if everything was completely clear cut and letter of the law.

    Comment by Don Clifton — August 24, 2006 @ 10:04 am

  8. I suspect the word ‘simple’ isn’t as simple as we are using it. I like the word and tend to think it means ‘with clarity’ and not simple-minded. ‘Simple-minded’ to me means that we are refusing to see some essential elements of an idea. That of course should be avoided.
    When I was in school one of my professors challenged us to use simple language in our writing. He said, if we could explain a concept using language and sentence structure that any normal adult could understand, then that was evidence that we truly understood that concept ourselves. I always liked that idea. (I sometimes read things that make me wish the writer had learned this idea.)
    If having clarity is what people mean when they say the gospel is simple, then I’m all for it.

    Comment by Hal H. — August 24, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

  9. Good points Hal.

    Now if you can give me a simple understanding of the word “forthright” (as in speaking forthrightly) I’ll understand my patriarchal blessing better:)

    Comment by Bret — August 24, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  10. I just finished reading a book called Everything Good Is Bad For You…

    Wait, isn’t it called Everything Bad Is Good For You? Because if everything good is really bad for me, I need to start making even more changes in my life.

    Comment by Chris Williams — August 25, 2006 @ 5:54 am

  11. Oops, good catch Chris. I just changed it.

    Comment by Rusty — August 25, 2006 @ 8:15 am

  12. Buon luogo, congratulazioni, il mio amico!

    Comment by Azzurra — November 4, 2006 @ 7:06 pm

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