The Evolution of Everything


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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114 Responses

  1. Avatar veronica d says:

    Yep. Pretty much.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      I’m rather shocked to see you nodding agreement at a paean to Libertarian ideals.Report

      • Avatar veronica d says:

        @densityduck — From time to time I state my broad political views, which are a dialectic between technocratic liberalism and principled libertarianism, with a complete rejection of social conservatism. There are reasons I believe this.

        I suspect you’ve been half reading me and then rounding me off to the nearest “SJW.”Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Funny how that can happen.Report

        • Avatar Damon says:

          I’m not how you square state sanctioned marriage with libertarianism V. After all, a licence is permission. What to expound?Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            I’m not how you square state sanctioned marriage with libertarianism V.

            I can’t think of any other word for this type of argument than sophomoric.

            In my libertarian fantasy world, the government wouldn’t have to sanction romantic relationships and people could structure whatever legal relations they felt worked best for them. But even then, the state has to sanction those legal relations in some way, because state sanction is how we enforce contracts. So if I want someone to inherit all of my stuff without going through probate or I want someone to be able to make medical decisions on my behalf if I’m incapacitated, the state needs to get involved and sanction that contract.Report

            • You’re touching on what bothers me about the “get government out of marriage” slogan. I’d take it a step further and say that it’s handy to have a default arrangement, like marriage, so that a couple needn’t hire a lawyer to hammer out the agreement.

              It does strike me, though, that marriage as it legally works now is more than just a contractual relation. And a better, still libertarian-friendly argument might be that marriage should be more like a default contract and less like the “compact” it operates as now. I believe that–evolving from a “compact” to a “contract”–has been the trend over the last century, at least in the West.

              Just my (semi-random) thoughts on the matter.Report

            • Avatar Damon says:

              The only thing the state need do is enforce the agreements I draw up, not sanction it, ie approve it. Context dude. Did you read all of my post? “After all, a licence is permission.” A couple seeks the approval of the state to marry. Those who can marry are specifically defined.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                The only thing the state need do is enforce the agreements I draw up, not sanction it, ie approve it.

                There is no real difference between the two.

                If you and I draw up a contract for goods and services and I don’t pay you, the state will step in and force me to pay. If you and I draw up a contract that says I owe you my kidney and I fail to give you my kidney, the state will not force me to go under the knife and donate an organ. Call it sanctioning versus not sanctioning. Call it enforcing versus not enforcing. The effect is exactly the same.

                And a better, still libertarian-friendly argument might be that marriage should be more like a default contract and less like the “compact” it operates as now.

                In my libertarian fantasy land, any two adults or three or four or more, could set up a legally recognized household that conferred all the legal benefits of a marriage or civil union or whatever. And then, if people wanted to take the extra step of consecrating that union in a religious or otherwise spiritual ceremony they could do that as well.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                “There is no real difference between the two.”

                Indeed there is. Currently the state approves and enforces. It need only enforce. I completely agree with your last paragraph.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                I’m open to hearing what the effective difference between those two words would be in regards to enforcing contracts.

                The government won’t enforce a contract unless the law sanctions the behavior. If the behavior is illegal, let’s say buying street drugs, or the government doesn’t approve of that behavior being enshrined in a contract, donating organs, then the government won’t enforce that contract.

                Right now, it just looks like you’re playing at semantics.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                You’re unclear what the difference between approve and enforce is? Only certain groups can be legally married. A triad cannot legally marry. Some dude in Utah cannot marry 10 women. There cannot be a commune where all are married to each other. The gov’t enforces those rules about who can marry. It also enforces the rules about contracts, which is what marriage is. Remove the first part, leave the remainder. Then everyone can marry who they wish and draft whatever agreement they so choose to govern their marriage. The gov’t will enforce said agreement.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                The only thing the state need do is enforce the agreements I draw up

                When you say this, it becomes clear that there are always 3 parties to any contract:

                The buyer, the seller, and the enforcing agent which is the state.

                What if the state, AKA taxpaying citizens, declare “We don’t wanna participate”?

                As in, “We refuse to enforce this contract, but will enforce that one”?
                “We will enforce contracts, but they must contain these stipulations, and may not contain those stipulations”?

                In your view, does the state have any discretion in what it chooses to enforce?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                You overlook the issue of “what happens when you take the agreement that you drew up and then refuses to accept the agreement as valid?”

                We recently had a supreme court case about this sort of thing.

                Their conclusion was “no, Government official… you have to accept that agreement as valid.”

                Yeah, yeah. If the world was different then the world could be different.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Are you describing the Kim Davis affair? If so, that’s an odd way of describing it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                No, I was referring to the Obergefell affair.

                The death certificate had a line on it for the surviving spouse.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Ah, my bad. Sometimes I’m too quick to assume there’s a fight to be had.Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko says:

              I think this is right. “Privatizing” marriage would probably also mean the end of post-separation spousal support in most cases, which from some points of view would be a win but is certainly not obvious to the average joe when discussing the idea. The main problem is that it’s not reasonable to expect every couple to go to the trouble of hiring a lawyer to renegotiate the entire bundle of right and responsibilities from the ground up, but there are also a lot of aspects of legal marriage that relate to how third parties deal with the couple that can’t be contracted for at all.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                That is old think.

                Think new think.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                How is a contract between two (or more) people supposed to bind people that weren’t parties to the contract? You can’t force hospitals to give visitation rights or insurance companies to put you spouse on your plan or get custody of a child if your spouse dies just by contracting with your spouse.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                How is a contract between two (or more) people supposed to bind people that weren’t parties to the contract?

                That’s what marriage is isn’t it? Yep. See above in convo with JRReport

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                So you can draw up any marriage arrangemento you want that can impose any obligations you want on third parties and the government will enforce it without regard to the content of your agreement? Do I need to spell out the potential for abuse here?Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Hey, I didn’t create the gov’t implementation of marriage worked, I’m simply using it. One could say the same thing for marriage as it currently is. How is that different?Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Currently the legal effects of marriage on third parties are set at a point that has been reached through a political process. Under your proposal those effects are an all-you-can-eat buffet that imposes duties upon third parties without them having any input upon the negotiation of the contract.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                “Under your proposal those effects are an all-you-can-eat buffet that imposes duties upon third parties without them having any input upon the negotiation of the contract.”

                Where did I say that? Other than the number of parties, why would any of the current marriage laws/processes/burdens change to outside parties?Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Maybe I’m misinterpreting you but this:

                The gov’t enforces those rules about who can marry.It also enforces the rules about contracts, which is what marriage is.Remove the first part, leave the remainder.Then everyone can marry who they wish and draft whatever agreement they so choose to govern their marriage.The gov’t will enforce said agreement.

                seems to say that the legal meaning of marriage would be negotiated by the parties getting married. Because marriage involves the legal obligations of third parties, letting the couple write their own agreement means letting the couple write the obligations that third parties will have toward them.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                “marriage” already has tendrdils in our society. All I’m saying that the two or more parties should be able to negotiation most of the paratmeters. Generally marriage is:

                2 people
                marriage until death or divorce
                various medical autority / inheritance /etc

                It could be:
                Any number of people
                Term of marriage with options to continue or not
                various medical authority / inheritance /etc–same as above.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                What you are doing here is attempting to persuade the rest of us to agree to these sorts of contracts.
                Literally, asking us as taxpayers and citizens to pay for the adjudication and enforcement of these contracts.

                Why should we?

                Are you asserting that we must, as a matter of justice do this?
                Or is it just that this will result in a better more prosperous world?

                Which touches on the point I made below.

                Regardless of the reasons, you are pulling us, all of us, into this agreement, without bothering to ask our permission.Report

              • Avatar Gaelen says:

                Think of the children!

                And I actually mean that kind of seriously. They are third parties affected by marriage contracts. The government currently will not enforce a number of potential contractual provisions that would impact children negatively. Your proposal would allow the ten wife polygamist to write a marriage contract that gives him sole custody of any children upon divorce, or require all healthcare decisions made by the father (or mother), etc.Report

              • Avatar Francis says:

                Okay, I have just read through this round of comments and YE GODS it was painful.

                Most critically, it is flatly a category error to think of marriage as a contract. As a matter of law, marriage is a change of legal status.

                There are a number of legal status changes in a person’s life. The big ones are birth, adulthood and death. Many people go through marriage and divorce. Immigrants can become citizens. Some people become felony convicts.

                Status changes are important because they determine who is and who isn’t entitled to / subject to laws of general applicability.

                Every state has a criminal code, and every criminal code distinguishes between adults and juveniles. The change in status matters.

                Women can abort their fetus without penalty, but face prison for killing a newborn. The change in status matters.

                Voting is (mostly) reserved for adult citizens not convicted of a felony. Changes in status matters.

                Now, as to marriage:

                Most people die without a will, so the state sets default rules as to distribution of the estate, and the spouse comes first.

                People do get incapacitated, and the state sets rules as to who can speak on behalf of the person who can no longer speak for himself. Since most people don’t bother with powers of attorney, the default rule is the spouse has that power.

                Tax codes and welfare codes, among others, have very different provisions depending on whether a person is married.

                The change in legal status from single to married thus matters. Re-writing the law so that this change in status doesn’t matter would be an enormous task.

                Turning back to the contract issue — the cardinal rule of contracts is that only the signatories are bound. Even if a 16-year old signs a contract with his parents that he is an adult, he can’t legally buy alcohol; the state was not a party to that contract. This is a critical point — you cannot change your status by contract, because the state is not a party to that contract.

                The only way that a contract binds a non-signatory is if there is a law to that effect. Conveniently, states have such a law: the power of attorney.

                But note the language. The document is a “power” not an “agreement”. The empowered person draws his authority to deal with third parties not just from the agreement but from the state law which gives him that power.

                Under this analytical approach, signing a power of attorney is itself a change in legal status. The signatory is going from solely empowered to having a delegate.

                But the act of empowering someone to act as your delegate is limited to the scope of powers granted by statute. And no statute states that you can become “married” by executing a power of attorney. The powers that can be granted do not include the power to change any other legal status.

                That is why it is a category error to think of marriage as a contract.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                there is no reason why all that behind the scenes stuff can’t apply to two or more people who decide to implement minor variants of that SOP to suit their own needs.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                That “behind the scenes stuff” includes a bunch of stuff that’s set by law. For example, as it stands, spouses have very substantial rights to inheritance if the other spouse dies intestate, even against otherwise-valid creditors. Those creditors didn’t agree to that; it’s something established by law. So one possibility is that you authorize marital agreements to give spouses inheritance rights over creditors up to a certain point. But if so, you haven’t really privatized anything, since the government is still handing out benefits to married couples and still needs to decide who is married to who. Beyond that, this benefit is now only available to spouses that are sophisticated enough to realize they can get this benefit if they contract for it (and those that pay sufficiently sophisticated lawyers). And if you don’t legally authorize that effect, then you’ve changed the rules to screw over married couples relative to their creditors.

                So what is accomplished by doing this? Why not stick with our definition of what marriage is and what it entitles you to, but change our rules on who can be married so as to be more fair to those who were previously shut out for no good reason?Report

              • Avatar Francis says:

                yes, hypothetically it’s possible to rewrite family, probate, tax, welfare, pension and half a dozen other codes — in all 50 states and federal law as well — to expunge any references to spouse.

                Who would want to? The codes exist the way they are because they reflect what the vast majority of people want. Except for a few lunatics at Dreher’s blog, people are fine with gay marriage and are fine with using government to establish all sorts of default rules about family.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:


                If all parties choose to agree. I see no issue with whatever terms they agree upon, baring negative impacts to the childrez.Report

          • Avatar veronica d says:

            @damon — As long as marriage exists, LGBTQ people should have equal access.

            One question: in libertarian, non-state marriage, how is immigration supposed to work? My g/f and maybe someday wife is Canadian.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Immigration may work without marriage being a factor. This, to be fair, avoids the Russian Bride Syndrome, where people marry to get to a better country.

              (and it’s not just Russia. Russians at least wait until the kid’s of age, not asking you to marry their 8 year old daughter to give her a better life.)Report

            • Avatar Damon says:

              Most “serious” libertarians, as I understand it, believe there should be no barriers to the movement of people.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @damon — Right, but I’m not a “libertarian” in that sense, not even close.

                Honestly, I don’t understand what you are asking. It seemed like you were challenging my support for marriage equality, based on my statement that I believe in a dialectic between technocratic liberalism and a libertarian opposition. But being that I’m more on the technocratic liberal side, there is really nothing to explain. Our society has marriage, which includes a host of specific legal rights and obligations. So long as marriage exists as a legal institution, LGBTQ people should be able to get married.

                On the other hand, what marriage might look like in libertarian utopia — that’s interesting, but pretty far outside my practical concerns.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                That’s exactly what I was asking and you answered it.Report

        • Avatar notme says:

          It’s not hard to just read half of it and round up when a lot of it consists of profanity laced personal attacks.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Makes me think about roads, and how many of the old ones were never ‘planned’, but rather followed trails that were possibly first blazed by the local wildlife.

    Nowadays, most are planned, because we have the ability to easily alter the landscape, but those old ones…Report

    • Avatar veronica d says:

      @oscar-gordon — Ever been to Boston? Our street “network” is an enigma of low dimensional topology.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        I have, and driving on those streets is an continuous exercise in WTF?!

        I suspect if you live there, your brain gets it mapped out so it makes sense.Report

        • Avatar veronicad says:

          @oscar-gordon — Well, I’ve been here about six years. Some areas are “mapped,” but others remains quite mysterious. Mostly I take the subway or Lyfts.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            I was there 5 (though mostly on the outskirts). I can navigate within most major neighborhoods but damn if I know how to route between them.Report

            • Avatar veronicad says:

              @kazzy — Since I mostly get around by mass transit, I tend to know neighborhoods according to which train station I get off on to get there, so very often I don’t actually get that two neighborhoods are actually quite close, but seem far to me because my “Boston map” matches the topology of mass transit.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          The one really odd thing I remember from infrequent trips to Boston was the time the local guy driving me to the airport stopped at some sort of odd three-way intersection while some guy went wheeling through a red light, making a left turn from the right-hand lane, waving a fistful of yellow and pink papers out the drivers window.

          “What was that?” I asked.

          “Rental agreement,” I was told, “Signals ‘It’s not my car and I don’t have to care about hitting things.'”

          I have no idea if it was really a common practice, or if they still do it.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I heard a story about turning left in Boston… it’s hard to explain.

            Essentially, you set your blinker to turn left. Someone in oncoming traffic will stop and wave you to go and make your left turn: DO NOT MAKE YOUR LEFT TURN. They will then go forward and hit you and you will be at fault! This is a common scam!

            I don’t know if it’s true or not. But if we’re talking about crazy assumptions about Boston drivers…Report

            • Avatar veronicad says:

              @jaybird — I’ve never heard of that happening here. I have heard of the scam before, but back when I lived in Florida.

              We do have the “Boston left,” which is when you cut a quick left turn immediately when a traffic light turns green, cutting off the oncoming traffic. But honestly, given our narrow streets we seldom have proper left turn lanes, which means a car waiting to turn left can end up blocking all the traffic behind it. Thus, pulling a Boston left actually helps traffic flow.

              Anyhow, our “traffic culture” is singularly bizarre to newcomers, but it strangely works. We’re very aggressive, but everyone expects that.

              You’ll be happy to know we jaywalk indiscriminately. It was funny hanging w/ my g/f in Vancouver. She uses crosswalks and waits for the lights. It’s adorable.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                When I lived back in Mount Kisco, they did that. They did that to the point where the car behind you would honk if you were the front car and you *didn’t* make the left turn.Report

              • Avatar veronicad says:

                @jaybird — Yeah, self-organizing traffic culture is actually pretty cool.

                I love this town.

                (Now if we could all get together on the “let the people getting off the train go first.”)

                Oh, and to @michael-cain , I’ve never heard of that happening. Of course, we all drive batshit all the time so I wouldn’t notice.

                Boston, it’s a magical place.Report

              • In Zurich, if a pedestrian walks up to the start of a crosswalk:

                1. It’s the law that cars have to stop to let him cross.
                2. They actually do it.

                It’s amazing the feeling of power this gives you.Report

              • The one time in my adult life I visited San Francisco, the drivers were very courteous in that way. Not universally, but much more than the two cities I know.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David says:

                That’s how Berkeley is now, with the added bonus that students just pop out in front of traffic staring at their phones.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                I think the “Boston left” is among the most dangerous of traffic behaviors imaginable. Right up there with high speed tailgating.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @burt-likko — the thing is, with narrow streets and no left turn lanes, it actually helps traffic flow. Furthermore, since people who drive here expect it, it seems fairly safe in practice.

                (Although I don’t have stats. I might be wrong. )Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                In pittsburgh we call that a pittsburgh left. Same reasoning.
                But a third of pittsburghers are insanely, insanely nice. which really works poorly with the “typical city aggression” folks.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        If Boston roads are anything like the roads in her poorer smaller northern neighbor Halifax only bigger then my blood runs cold at the thought.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        And yet it was pittsburgh where David Cross got lost and wound up giving a “Scared Straight” lecture instead of a comedy routine.Report

  3. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Yes. I agree with the big point.

    But Google did not come into existence in 1996. It was created as a privately held company on September 4, 1998. It entered “Beta” publicly somewhere in the summer of 1999. I was close to that event in many, many ways. Yes, there were lots of other search engines at the time, and they were all crappy. Better than nothing, perhaps, but not necessarily by a lot.

    This kind of thing makes it hard for me to trust the source.Report

    • Avatar veronicad says:

      @doctor-jay — My quibble with the article was the Lorentz inventing relativity thing. I can easily see that for special relativity, as SR is a pretty direct result of Lorentz’s equations. However, GTR is a very different beast. There is no reason to think Lorentz’s nice linear model would lead, in a direct line, to curved spacetime.

      That said, I kinda think that Google was inevitable, in the sense that someone was going to figure out how to do search well. But more, I kinda believe (but cannot prove) that Page Rank was inevitable, in the sense that it was clearly the right solution to the problem, and while it took some creative insight to combine spectral graph theory with highly distributed power iterations, but still, once you see it, it’s pretty obvious.

      Now, I certainly could not see it. But I don’t think Larry and Sergey are the only ones who could come up with that.

      They are the ones who did, however.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        The secret to Google’s success is that they very quickly moved away from search, and turned into an ad-service company with a loss-leader sideline in search.Report

    • Altavista was pretty good, compared to its pre-Google competition anyway. Poor Digital Equipment: smart people, good engineering, some nice products, but always got the small and medium-sized things right and the big things very wrong.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        I was in a technology intelligence group at the time. AltaVista was the tool that pushed a couple of old-timers into retirement: you didn’t need a fat Rolodex spindle and hours on the telephone to get someone to fax the full press releases and available tech docs to you any more.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          I completely skipped over AltaVista. Went from Webcrawler to Yahoo to Metacrawler to Google.Report

          • Avatar veronicad says:

            I recall Alta Vista was actually pretty good, although it was pretty much eclipsed by Google.

            That said, I remember almost nothing about it specifically. Of course, I’m quite familiar with Google and Page Rank. (I mean, I work there. But more, Page Rank used really cool math. Plus, they explain it.) In any case, it would be a fun bit if Internet history to specify how Alta Vista actually worked.

            (I suppose I could research, but it’s late and I’m drunk.)Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain says:

              When AltaVista first came out, it wasn’t the search algorithm that made them special, it was the breadth of their Web crawler. Their back end database covered a much bigger fraction of the Web than anyone else did. The best search algorithms in the world can’t find stuff that’s not in the database.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Back then, database size was the primary metric. That was why I used Metacrawler. It’s ordering wasn’t great, but it could find anything. Google took it to the next level, with a long reach *and* the ability to ascertain what you’re looking for.Report

  4. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    So in practice:
    Bottom up decision making means that the assembly workers should decide what models to build next year, instead of the top down decisionmakers in the executive suite.

    Let every worker decide independently, and new models will arise- a fender installer worker who wants to build trucks will align with an axle worker who wants to provide truck axles, while the lone sedan fender installer will realize he needs to find another job…

    No, thats not what the author means?

    Oh, ok how about-

    There should be no centralized entity that decides who owns what property and brutally enforce that diktat through violence.

    Instead, all individuals should freely claim what property they wish like wolves, and through a competitive win-win struggle, the best and most adept property claimants will mark their territory, and others will respect it in a continually iterative process of discovery and mutual benefit.

    Still no?

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      I’d read it as, if you have something that evolved bottom up, imposing a top down structure onto it will most likely, at best, result in unintended negative consequences that have to be dealt with, and at worst, turn into a nightmare.

      Also, the scope of the domain has to be taken into account as well.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Except that thesis is demonstrably false.

        Paris was an organic, complex evolved medieval city.
        The Baron Haussmann in an act of top-down centrally-planned coercive action, cut broad swathes of avenues through the city according to his own arbitrary decisions.

        According to the author, this should have had the same outcome as Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a catastrophe.
        Instead, Paris is recognized as one of the most beautifully cities in the world, precisely as a consequence of this imposed order.

        The author is letting himself tell a just-so story of the natural world and contrasting it with a binary understanding of human events.
        As if there is no territory between anarchy and micromanagement.

        Evolution is not random at all; the evolution of living creatures follows the laws of physics and biology.

        If humans deliberately flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley, the natural ecosystem will adapt and evolve in reaction.
        Was this a top down imposition?
        Of course.
        Was it a catastrophe?
        Not at all. The ecosystem is merely different. Fish now live above the dead remains of the burrowing animals.

        If the European settlers push aside the native inhabitants of North America and impose their own order on the landscape, was this a catastrophe?

        The answer won’t come from nature, but from human decisions about morality.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Except that thesis is demonstrably false.

          Then why do you do such a good job giving examples proving it true?

          Paris was an organic, complex evolved medieval city.
          The Baron Haussmann in an act of top-down centrally-planned coercive action, cut broad swathes of avenues through the city according to his own arbitrary decisions.

          Do you imagine the residents of Paris at the time who lived along the proposed avenues were just fine with being uprooted at the whim of a Baron? Do you think they were all, “Yea! The city will be so beautiful, so architecturally pleasing to the people of 2017, please tear down my home and business!” (probably without any kind of equitable compensation, this was the 1800’s, after all).

          No, he was met with fierce resistance and was eventually dismissed. Remember my comment about negative unintended consequences at best?

          Still, the work progressed… but let’s put a pin in that for a minute.

          If humans deliberately flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley*, the natural ecosystem will adapt and evolve in reaction.

          As you said, doing so is not a catastrophe. This is where my comment about scope becomes important. He’s not saying there is no territory between the wild and micromanagement. Nor is he saying that all evolved things are good, and imposition is always bad (he addresses this in the last line of the essay). My take is that systems that evolved and are working should be tinkered with carefully.

          If you flood the valley, the ecosystem will eventually change and achieve a new equilibrium. But if immediately after you flood the valley, you decide what life to introduce, you need to do so carefully, and not too often. If you are constantly introducing new species to your new lake, or killing off old ones, etc., you run the risk of causing the whole system to fail. Especially if the decisions are based upon what sport fish is popular today, rather than being informed by biologists and ecologists with the goal of creating a sustainable system.

          The short of it is, if something useful/good is successfully developing through a largely evolutionary process, take care when tinkering from on high, and be ready to deal with the unintended consequences. If there is a complex problem that needs a solution, allowing for an evolutionary approach to solving it might not be a bad idea and might reveal components or whole solutions that had not been imagined (see: Design of Experiments, Iterative Design, Design Optimization, etc.).

          None of this is radical.

          *Oh, wow, we did actually do this.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            Changes to systems are only a catastrophe when we apply human morality to them.

            Whether design of Paris was a wonderful boon or a catastrophe is entirely a moral question.

            Which is the problem with drawing conclusions from the natural world, whether it is to justify the innate peacefulness of the bonobos or to justify social Darwinism.

            The author is coy about his ultimate conclusion, but since it was pointed at as a peaen to libertarian thinking I will take it that way.

            But it becomes a motte and bailey problem. “Central planning never works!” is the motte, and “Sometimes there are unexpected ripple effects from central planning which from certain standpoints may be objectionable” is the bailey.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              What other metric would we use?

              But it becomes a motte and bailey problem.

              Fair point. Since @gabriel-conroy has stated he has the book on reserve, perhaps we should inquire as to his willingness to grace us with a book report?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Using morality as a metric works for humans, but not nature.
                And morality is always a very complex and nuanced evaluation, since human needs and agendas are often in conflict.

                In the natural world, there is no agenda. Everything just happens.

                If we decide that the outcome of central planning of Paris is good, we are making a moral evaluation that the misery of the poor who were cast aside is less important than the greater good.

                If we decide that the evolution of the Internet is good, we are making a moral evaluation that the misery of failed brick and mortar stores or internet companies is less important than the greater good.

                So asking us look to the natural world to support the assertion that unplanned evolution is superior to top down planning is making an unsupported assertion that whatever misery is inflicted by evolution is less important than the greater good.Report

              • It might be a while. My library is pretty slow at getting books I order, and I’m pretty slow at reading them, assuming I do actually read them. But if I do, I’ll write something up.Report

  5. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    veronicad: Now if we could all get together on the “let the people getting off the train go first.”

    Or elevators! Seriously, why the hell do people do this?Report

  6. Avatar Damon says:

    “Or take money. The gradual emergence of standardized coinage to replace barter, of paper money to replace coins, of electronic transfers to replace paper, and (next, perhaps) of block-chain bitcoins to replace bank-certified money, is a process that nobody directs, commands, or controls. It evolves.”

    This is totally false. Gov’t in some for or another has been actively involved in the control, creation, etc. over money for centuries.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Same as marriage. Government’s been in the marriage gig for as long as there’s been government.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Also, are bitcoins still a thing? I thought the massive thefts had pretty much killed them. Always struck me as a Tulip bubble sort of thing.

      It certainly was an awful currency. It’s the sort of thing someone who doesn’t know how money really works would design.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        No idea. I don’t pay attention much to bitcoins…except when it was being massively covered in various pressitudes a few years ago..Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          Pretty much the same way i followed it. There were some fun high profile thefts, which boiled down to “futurist geeks happy to ‘disrupt’ society rediscover basics of banking the hard way”.

          Like “The random dude offering to hold your wallet for you? Not a bank.”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        As an asset and a method of payment over the darknet? Sure.
        As an effective currency? Honey, they’ve never been an effective currency, and that’s without AIs actively trying to ruin them (which may or may not be still going on. Pennies from the Proletariat and all that — upgrade pennyante transactions by making them highest priority, makes the whole system mud).

        Dogecoin was created by someone who actually understands currency. That’s why it gets used.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

          I’ll be convinced that the cryptocurrency people understand currency when they stop celebrating when their currency’s value skyrockets.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        The idea isn’t bad (blockchains, etc.), but the execution was lacking. I imagine if you had a team that understood how money & currency works, and let them play with the basics, they could come up with something useful.

        Now digital security to prevent thefts, that is a bit of a stickier issue.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          I think the inherently deflationary value is built into the blockchain concept.

          And frankly, if we’re going to pin our currency to something ‘real’ the length it takes to computationally solve a math problem is probably pretty far down my list. You’re one interesting math discovery or quantum computing solution away from hyperinflation.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            That’s the execution problem. Blockchains are useful for preventing counterfeiting. But backing the money by CPU power was, well, something a person with a good understanding of money & currency would never do. It’s like backing money with gold or silver. It’s great, right up until someone finds a half million ton chunk of the stuff. Then it goes straight to hell.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            Pretty much this. Cryptocurrency so far has basically been a way for goldbugs to look like modern visionaries rather than people who don’t understand why tying your currency to an arbitrary resource is something everybody stops doing after a while.

            I’m sure modern introductory macro books are incorporating it in as an object lesson in the differences between how commodity money and fiat money behave. It’s like they set up the experiment specifically as a demo for new econ students.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              I seriously hope that if someone hasn’t put this in an econ text book, that they are currently doing so.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                As frustrated as I can get with economists (often the ones playing economists TV pundit) I have to admit I rather admire the ones who see something interesting and jump on it.

                There’s a guy whose job is “in-house economist” for EVE Online. He’s there to try to keep their economy realistic (since they can ‘poof in’ sources of income and resources and also destroy it — you wouldn’t believe how much goes into some of the upper level spaceships — he’s got a lot to do) and I believe he studies the heck out of the way the market works in general, since you have something like 60,000+ players in a fairly feature-deep market, doing…market things.

                Which is captured on a very fine level by the game itself, as it sort of has to. (It records all trades, period. All sources of income in our out. All resources destroyed. Etc)Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

                When I was finishing my econ degree, there was some news that people were selling virtual goods from one of the new MMORPGS (I think it was EverQuest) in the real world and my advisor and I were going nuts at the possibilities.

                We imagined setting up or latching on to one of those games and using it for economics experiments. You could do all of the experiments economists want to do but can’t because it’s unethical / they don’t have god-like powers. Set up a few different currencies. Offer insurance schemes. Fiddle with resource shocks in one economy and watch how it effects exchange rates. Set up a central bank or two.

                I’m glad to see that it’s happening. It’s a pretty rich environment with a lot of possibilities, and the ability to get 100% of the data with 100% accuracy is a really big deal.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Experimentation is, unfortunately, constrained by gameplay — but I suspect there’s a lot of mileage just from trying to fix problems.

                There IS in-game insurance, creation and destruction of resources, etc. There’s a lot of places to put your thumb on the scale just keeping the ball rolling,Report

  7. I’m inclined to agree with the main point of the article, and I’ve ordered the book from my library so I’ll probably read more. But a few quibbles about the piece that don’t really detract from his main point.

    First, from the article:

    We give governments too much credit or blame for running or ruining the economy; inventors too much reward for effectively being in the right place at the right time; generals too much praise for winning unlosable wars; and gods too much obeisance for directing the world.

    He’s right. But any individual person or even a fair to middling sized group of people don’t have control over the economy, the pacing or devising of inventions, whether wars (losable or not) will happen, or how the world is directed. In a very real sense, most of us, maybe all of us, are individually subject to the processes of the world. We may each contribute to the “evolution” the author talks about, but we experience it as an almost exogenous force. In other words, it’s not surprising that people look to gods or generals or presidents. Looking to them might even be healthy, at least to the extent that it represents a realistic acknowledgment that we don’t personally control most of what happens to us (“….the serenity to accept the things I can’t change…”).

    Of course, it can be pathological, too. There’s a balance that needs to be met.

    Another quibble is his reference to some of the horrific disasters of the 20th century as evidence of top-down planning wrecking havoc over the bottom up organic society. He’s probably right when it comes to Stalin’s 5-year plans or Mao’s Great Leap Forward. The Holocaust, however, might be different. It was certainly a top-down project and couldn’t have murdered so many millions without being a top-down project. But it depended on bottom-up antisemitism and hatred of others and on the willingness of people to cooperate or at least remain silent.

    Again, I’m not denying the author’s main points. I’m just, in the case of gods, issuing a warning against judgment and in the case of some of the disasters attributable to excessive top-down management, suggesting the mechanism was more complicated than merely top-down’ism.Report

  8. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    There are also probably “vestigial appendages” in some of these evolved systems – like the bizarre “base 12, no, base 4, no, some other base” seen in Imperial measurements.

    (disclaimer: I still use Imperial measurements for something, despite being a scientist. They seem to work better for sewing, for example)

    And I think unfondly of an old stats program I used to use, where you had to type “CARDS;” at the end of the program in order to get it to run – apparently that was a leftover from the days when your input literally was on punched cards.

    And I have read that the QWERTY keyboard, used by most people, is a vestige of the days of manual typewriters and a hack to try to prevent certain keys from jamming.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      When you’re sewing clothes (or other fabric things) for humans, imperial measurements result in a smaller number of digits. Like, “8 inches” is “20.3 centimeters”.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        Why would that be the case? The comparison you gave just has more significant figures for the metric number. Or is it the fact that the inch is bigger so you roll over into the next decimal place sooner if you use cm?Report

        • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

          I think part of it’s that, women have been conditioned to want to believe we are as small as possible. See: vanity sizing, where what was a size 14 in the 1950s is roughly a size 10 today.

          (I say “roughly” because most women today are unwilling to wear the layers of girdles and stuff that sucked tissue in for them, so 1950s clothing would also fit differently).

          Ironically, patterns are one place where vanity sizing has hit less hard. It pains me to say this but I’ve occasionally wound up buying a size 20 pattern when I wear a 14 in ready to wear.

          Yeah, Milo-what’s-his-butt would want me deported, apparently.

          I actually make more pieced quilts these days and redrafting a lot of my old patterns to work with metric would be kind of woeful and would involve lots of graph paper….Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            Women’s clothing sizing is a measurement horror show. I used to be amazed at the jeans alone. The prototypical man’s pant is pretty much a straight pair of tubes without a big curvature and we have two numbers, denominated in real measurable units to describe the dimensions. A woman’s equivalent has, on average, an extra dimension of curvature, and the whole thing is described with a single unitless number. That strikes me is insane.

            I say “used to be” because now menswear is doing the vanity sizing thing as well. With INCHES. You can literally measure the waistline of a pair of slacks marked “34” and find that it’s 36 or more. I have multiple pairs of pants with different waistline markings on them that all have the same waistline, and as far as I can remember, the difference is the year they were purchased. So not even objective measurement standards can save us.Report

            • Avatar veronica d says:

              I just carry a tape measure with me everywhere. That way, when in the store I can measure myself and then the clothes and at least avoid the “there is no way this will fit” garments.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

                I can generally eyeball but I always try stuff on. Even if I’m buying two pairs of slacks, same manufacturer, same model, same size – there’s enough slop in how things are made that sometimes something claiming to be one size actually isn’t quite.

                Yeah, women’s clothing sizing can be super annoying. I have clothes in my closet that run from a 10 to an 18 and I can currently wear ANY of them. (Well, some of the 18s are kind of baggy on me right now, but)

                Of course, some manufacturers will argue “women are hard” because of the waist/hip differential being different in women – but some companies (like Lee, bless them) now do a “curvy” fit for women like me who have a bigger waist/hip differential.

                I would like a “actual sizes” sizing, with waist, hip, inseam or bust, waist, depending on the garment. I think women need to collectively learn to own their actual size rather than hiding behind some arbitrary number (or worse, Chico’s sizes – 0, 1, 2, 3)Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                I still try everything on. This just saves me time, as I can filter out stuff that has no chance of fitting. The point is, I can ignore the meaningless size label and actually find garments that might fit. Those get carried into the fitting room.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      The funny thing about QWERTY is that yes, the layout was meant to slow typists down so keys wouldn’t jam, except that typists just adapted and got faster in short order.

      Still, the vestigial appendages is a good point, and one of those things that can benefit from a top-down imposition.Report

      • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

        I wonder how much productivity would tank if new, “more ergonomic” keyboards with a different arrangement of the letters were mandated. I only learned to touch-type when I was in grad school and had to, and even when I’m on a different keyboard than I normally am (I mean, wider or narrower keys, not a different arrangement), the number of errors I make goes up.Report

  9. Avatar Hoosegow Flask says:

    or for using fossil fuels

    Perhaps I’m reading too much into it (a quick Google search suggests not), but I find it ironic that he’s trying to associate anthropogenic climate change with false top-down causes, when it’s literally the unplanned cumulative effects of the actions of billions of people.Report