Code switching and complexity

by Carl Dyke

There’s sort of a general theme here at the blog and in my own approach to teaching, life, the universe, and everything: that complexity is the rule; and that observant, resourceful flexibility, a disposition to learning and the ability to code switch, is therefore strategically desirable.

But we’ve also often discussed another strategy, which is to engineer systems that gear down complexity into mere complication, or even rigorously simple linearity. Under the right conditions this can work very well and get a lot done, although maintaining those conditions is generally very costly and ultimately unsustainable.

As I dig through our oral history project’s Trump rally interviews (I’m working on a longer post that will provide more framing information on this), one of the things that is gradually coming into focus is that the Trump rallyers we talked to were explicitly not at all comfortable with either code switching or complexity, and that they all had robust histories in systems engineered for linearity (the military, nursing, library science, factory work) with the dispositions to match.

Anecdotally, I don’t think there’s any automatic political valence to this sort of history or disposition. I know plenty of liberals and lefties who are also not at all comfortable with either code switching or complexity. Such folk tend to be in charge no matter what. I sometimes feel like I’m caught in a no man’s land between two armies of essentially similar people, fighting bitterly over the details of a narrow, rigid world that I would hate to live in either way.

2 Comments to “Code switching and complexity”

  1. Carl, allow me an admiring apology. I have just ripped off your opening paragraph and sent it to the students in my Business Anthropology class at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. It struck me as especially appropriate because several of them are rapidly approaching the job hunting stage of their careers.

    I am equally taken by your last paragraph, but at this point still saving it for private reflection.

  2. Thanks John, that’s great! Love to hear what you come up with. Also sorry for the delay responding – I attempted to exemplify the point over spring break by putting up fence and staring off into space, and then we had diggers out who cut one of our water feed lines and I had to learn how to troubleshoot and repair pvc pipe in a hurry, and stare off into space.

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