The tinkerer’s disposition
We owe where we are to the habit — and the freedom — of tinkering. ~ Jason, on the libertarian disposition
I think there are two types of tinkering. There is the tinkering of the individual and the community, the organic tinkering that simply comes from trial and error, from innovation and exploration, from markets and experiments and new ideas. Call it bottom-up tinkering, or grass-roots or whatever you like.
Then there is top-down tinkering, also known as central-planning. This is also a part of the ‘liberal disposition’ though I would say it’s the most dangerous part. It can be useful and good at times and in some forms. Government has to run and function and somebody has to tinker with how to do that. Roads need to be paved, trade agreements reached, armies levied. But that same progressive impulse can lead people to believe they can build nations with bombs and remake totalitarian societies in our own Democratic image. It can lead to disastrous welfare projects, or it can lead to necessary policy overhauls.
Either way, these two modes of tinkering are certainly both here to stay. I prefer the former, but I know we can’t get away entirely from the latter, and sometimes I don’t think we should. The trick is to get the two to work together and I think that’s done by making the central planner more accountable and his planning more transparent, and then giving out more and more responsibility to the organic tinkerers on the front lines of society. Decentralization of power not only keeps power in check, it returns power to the people. It diffuses and becomes more real and less dangerous to society.
Matt notes that we should “give an account of why any particular change might be good or bad.” I think that applies to the top-down tinkerer, but not so much to the bottom-up tinkerer. Those tinkerers can do trial and error without (for the most part) too dire of consequences. For those doing things at the top, giving an account of their reasons and actions is important and necessary.
All things in balance. Even tinkering. Maybe especially tinkering.