Monday, 4 January 2016

If You Don't Understand This Yet, It's High Time You Do - It Will Greatly Enhance Your Enjoyment Of Future Blog Posts!

In a world in which nonsense is pretty uniformly frowned upon (everyone adheres to this principle, they just disagree on what actually constitutes nonsense), the biggest lot of nonsense believed by large groups of people always has at least one fundamental flaw of logic underpinning it at the start, which I'll explain.

For example, if you take the beliefs of repeat offenders such as young earth creationists, socialists and climate change alarmists, you'll find one key underlying fundamental flaw that feeds into all the other misinformation. With young earth creationists that fundamental flaw is the mistaken base assumption that evolution by natural selection is in conflict with theism. With socialists that fundamental flaw is the mistaken base assumption that human beings can arrange an economy from on high better than the natural price signals that result from the intersection of supply and demand curves. And with climate change alarmists that fundamental flaw is the mistaken base assumption that you can have your economic growth cake while eating it too.

If you're observant you'll probably be able to spot a common fault running through all three mistaken belief systems - they all involve the failure to get to grips with complex systems theory and the extent to which self-organising structures amount to each individual contributing to a successful whole while looking after its own interests locally.

Although they differ slightly in the physical mechanisms that underwrite their drive forward, biological evolution, the global economy, and the state of living things in terms of the planet are all bound up in nature's thermodynamic principle of the law of parsimony - that is, nature's principle of least effort. Whether we are talking about Newton's laws of motion, the biological mechanism of natural selection, electromagnetic radiation, the second law of thermodynamics, or running a successful clothing business, installing machinery in a new factory premises, trying to get from London to Brighton, or setting up a remote controlled railway system for your children at Christmas time, these are all underpinned by the law of parsimony - that what works most efficiently is the path that takes least effort and uses the least energy.

It is this understanding, and pretty much this understanding alone that informs us that complex biological organisms do not have to be designed by a Deity in one fait accompli swoop (as used to be thought quite commonly), that billions of individual acts of trade in an economy serve the interests of the whole far more efficiently than any government control, and that in order for humans to continually increase their efficiency in terms of the environment the energy we've expended and the resources we've used thus far have been an important stage in that process.

Perhaps the main barrier to realising all these things is that people like to feel a sense of control and they like simple explanations. Because of this, the idea that things can be managed neatly from on high and cannot be left to run on their own steam is a seductive one. Consequently, too many people are beset by a hubris that convinces them they are better at controlling systems than the natural process of trial and error - what Hayek referred to as “selection by imitation of successful institutions and habits.”

The best way of correcting this misunderstanding is developing an understanding of how those self-organising structures look after themselves locally and at the same time contribute to a large, complex and efficient whole that runs best by its own componential processes. That will constitute the real death of young earth creationism, the erosion of the economic hard left, and the diminution of climate change alarmism. In the latter case it should bring about a greater realisation that for now the fossil fuel reliant industries of developing and emerging countries are going to have to go through their own version of the kind of progression-explosion of economic growth we went through during and after the Industrial Revolution if they want to pull themselves out of hardship, and that the climate change lobbyists are often retarding their progress when they pile on pressure to cut down their carbon emissions - something that, unlike more developed countries, they are much less well equipped to do.

If you'd like to see the quintessence of this blog post in action, you should check out this awesome video, based on Leonard E. Read's classic essay I, Pencil, in which he illustrates how many people it takes to make a pencil, once you factor in the loggers, transporters, ore and graphite miners, steel manufacturers, lacquer appliers, and countless others in the production process.