The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Controlling a Complex World

Richard Fernandez comments on the failure of elite, often progressive, leadership across the Western world, the chaos that slowly envelopes their best efforts, and the growing backlash against a leadership model that advocates centralized control and one set of political rules that govern us all:
A hundred years ago the liberal project seemed easily attainable. "I have seen the future and it works," wrote Lincoln Steffens, yet it's proved surprisingly hard to close the sale. The reason why the masses should reject such a brilliant vision were hard to explain. Despite Leftist fears their foes were never more than a coalition of amateurs with no particular ideology. The alt-right didn't even know it was alt-right until they were properly analyzed and labeled.

So why can't such a stupid, ignorant and incompetent bunch be seen off? That must be what troubles the Resistance. The scariest possibility is they are up against complexity itself, fighting a reality that refuses subordination to a narrative. The world is hard to control, even when you dominate all the media outlets. Jurassic Park was Michael Crichton's parable warning against trying to linearly control complex systems. In history Marx may be fictions's equilvalent of John Hammond. “God creates dinosaurs, God kills dinosaurs, God creates man, man kills God, man brings back dinosaurs,” might explain the banging on globalism's door when there should be nobody there.

The liberal project wanted the global world. Maybe they didn't understand what came with it.

The problem may be not with liberal compassion but its eschatology: the Great State at the End of History was their paradise on earth. Progressives built a great state at huge expense and sacrifice, yet now as they approach the Throne in final triumph they are dismayed to see it occupied by Trump! "Tis' witchcraft," said some. "Tis' Russian hacking," said still others. But the words 'any government big enough to give you everything you want can take everything you have' never came to mind. Perhaps the real reason for the surprise is our old friend complexity. The liberal project really thought they could control the complex world when it's all you can do to control parts of it.

What globalism forgot is that system complexity doesn't just expand linearly; potential interactions can increase exponentially. As they tore down borders and plugged stuff into whatsis and whosis things not only got more complicated than the Masters anticipated they got more complex than they could imagine. The late Michael Crichton knew this would happen. He wrote an essay that should be required reading in any graduate school of public policy describing the Park Services failed attempt to manage Yellowstone.

As the story unfolds, it becomes impossible to overlook the cold truth that when it comes to managing 2.2 million acres of wilderness, nobody since the Indians has had the faintest idea how to do it. And nobody asked the Indians, because the Indians managed the land very intrusively. The Indians started fires, burned trees and grasses, hunted the large animals, elk and moose, to the edge of extinction. White men refused to follow that practice, and made things worse.
They couldn't even manage a park. How could they control the world?
There are only two practical answers to that question: (1) incompetently, with very poor results that only benefit the elites and screw over everyone else, or (2) ideologically, applying a totalitarian approach that controls thought, business, and culture. The former is what we're seeing right now. The latter is what we've seen in Cuba or more recently, in Venezuela, and to some extent, what is being advocated by some of the 'bright lights' in the Democratic party. Regardless of the answer, it's not a pretty picture.