Alas, the pull of “simple, elegant, and wrong” explanations for reality exerts a powerful pull on humans. It might be tempting to ascribe “wokeness”, third wave misandry “feminism”, and the like to naked Nietzschean ‘will to power’. You might even be largely right about that — and Mencken, a lifelong admirer of Nietzsche, would surely smile from the great beyond — but this cannot by itself account for the great appeal these misbegotten theories have to many people who ought to know better. The hunger for a “neat and plausible” explanation goes a long way towards that.
Reality is complex. The human mind, as a coping mechanism, tries to find order in the chaos, to systematize.
Up to a point, this is a highly adaptive reflex, with the human venture which we call science being perhaps its most successful expression.
But as with most if not all good things, every good thing can be taken to excess.[*] H. L. Mencken famously quipped, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem: neat, plausible, and wrong.” [“The Divine Afflatus,” New York Evening Mail, Nov. 16 , 1917] This is often paraphrased to
The idea is of course not original: it is just a pithy formulation of what Francis Bacon, the father of what we now call the philosophy of science, called the first idol of the mind, the “Idol of the Tribe”
“Idols of the Tribe are rooted in human nature itself and in the very tribe or race of men. For people falsely claim that human sense is the measure of things, whereas in fact all perceptions of sense and mind are built to the scale of man and not the universe.” – Novum Organum (London, 1620), Aphorism 41.
Bacon includes in this “idol” the predilection of the human imagination to assume a greater degree of order to reality than there really is. (A contemporary example would have been the supposition that planets move in perfect circles, which had just then been challenged by Johannes Kepler’s three laws of motion.)
Bacon’s remedy was a science rooted firmly in experiment, in empirical observation, in what we call the inductive approach rather than the deductive one. (Pure mathematics is the ultimate deductive science, and one without which the more empirical sciences would not have the most powerful tool to do their jobs. But the mindset of the pure mathematician, of trying to reduce everything to logical conclusions from a few axioms, becomes less and less adaptive as sciences move further and further from neat physical models into messy chemical and then biological reality. (How much more so when we go still further up the complexity scale, to human society.)