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Sometimes Things Just Are Complex

When you encounter a complex system it’s very tempting to point at all its flaws and imagine you could rebuild it from the ground up in a much more simple way. I’ve entertained that thought very often myself. I’ve often been wrong, as this article by Venkatesh Rao points out.

The Authoritarian High-Modernist Recipe for Failure:

  • Look at a complex and confusing reality, such as the social dynamics of an old city
  • Fail to understand all the subtleties of how the complex reality works
  • Attribute that failure to the irrationality of what you are looking at, rather than your own limitations
  • Come up with an idealized blank-slate vision of what that reality ought to look like
  • Argue that the relative simplicity and platonic orderliness of the vision represents rationality
  • Use authoritarian power to impose that vision, by demolishing the old reality if necessary -Watch your rational Utopia fail horribly

The big mistake in this pattern of failure is projecting your subjective lack of comprehension onto the object you are looking at, as “irrationality.” We make this mistake because we are tempted by a desire for legibility.

Via Sentiers by Patrick Tanguay