glyph 535: F. A. Hayek, J. R. R. Tolkien ... dangers of the one ring that commands all, Pat Wagner ... politics, economics, philosophy ... slow vs. quick course corrections, continuous learning . error correction: fine grained suprises better than massive single surprise ... birthday message, May 8, 2014


One Ring to Rule All? Caution Advised

thank you F. A. Hayek, by Pat Wagner, May 8, 2014

Today is the birthday of F.A. Hayek, the Austrian economist. Almost all of the people I know who hate him base their opinions on reading other people's descriptions of his writings, but have never read his work themselves. Not an uncommon way to treat someone you already made up your mind about. Happens too often with people who want to remove books from libraries.

One cool thing about Hayek is that he described so well why trying to control all aspects of complex systems is not necessarily a good thing. Some call it "Smart Person Syndrome," (or One Ring To Rule Them All) where smart people (and I am not being sarcastic) see the problem clearly, and believe it will be most beneficial if the obvious (to them) solution is implemented everywhere for everyone at all times - from the top down. Exceptions can be implemented, but then an appeal process to the central Ministry of Everything must be made, which requires money, status, political clout, time, and a certain level of expertise in surviving encounters with bureaucracies. (Notice I did not mention the relative merit of the appeal.)

With the One Ring solution, we lose a huge amount of the fine-grained detail and flexibility, the million individual visions, the quick response time to feedback, the chance for differing opinions to duke it out, new knowledge that tells us what we thought we knew yesterday is wrong and we better change, and the power of grassroots, personalized solutions to fix problems in a customized, localized manner. Our allies in the "science of networking" world get this, among others.

We also forget how much good comes into the world by accident. Folks messing around in a laboratory. Kids inventing stuff in a garage. People noticing something for the first time. One Ring solutions tend to discount the wiggle room needed to keep systems viable. They make it difficult, because wiggle room becomes limited, official, and expensive. If it ain't in the plan, it can't exist. So, it won't.

Let's keep our mistakes small and recoverable, so we can make more of them. It is not trial and error, it is trial and learn something new. One problem I have with the One Ring theory is that when (not if) we make a mistake, it can be a whopper, because everyone was required or coerced into using the one bad solution.

I am definitely in the camp that thinks the One Ring approach should be the exception, not the rule. Federal solutions to local problems usually make me antsy, even if the problem is big enough to cross international borders. If the One Ring solution is the best, it better have a billion ears and eyes on the ground to help it course-correct quickly. All it takes is one new instrumentation to see something we never knew existed before and which invalidate the Big Solution. And One Ring solutions are notorious for taking years to change direction. Big, lumbering, mindless systems, crushing everything in their paths, destroying initiative and opportunity. And maybe a thousand potential smaller, cheaper, faster, decent solutions that could have made life better.

Happy birthday, Professor Hayek.
May 9, 2014

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