My Theory of Everything: Part I

Somewhere in the Clinton years I began to sour on official conservatism. Part of it was the odious carbuncle Newt Gingrich becoming the leader of the Right. If that loathsome human toothache was the Right, I was going to be something else. Part of it was the general incoherence of the official Right. How can you be in favor of small government, but in favor of an exotic tax code designed to alter behavior?

The other thing that bugged me was the hoard of B-school and J-school strivers taking up positions in the official Right. Naturally, they set about making culture into science! and loading up their language with meaningless jargon. Hearing a guy like Paul Ryan say, “proactively leverage other’s high standards in infrastructures” generates warm thoughts of Gavrilo Princip.

Anyway, I slowly concluded that the whole Right-Left dynamic was just a myth. One of things about working in Washington, even briefly, is you learn quickly that politics is nothing like you see on TV. Two people on a show ripping one another apart will be at the bar after the show laughing it up like old pals. That’s because they are old pals. The Right-Left narrative has simply become a convenient framework for the reality show called politics. This has been true since the 80’s.

Once you free your mind, if you will, of that framework through which you are expected to see your world, you have to make sense of what you see. If the Right-Left construct is just a version of good cop/bad cop where the people in the media hustle the rest of us so they can live above their utility, then what’s really going on in the world? How do things really work?

One way to understand the world is to think about the primary modes of thought that dominate the age. If you want to understand the Mongol Empire, for example, you have to learn something about the Mongol worldview, how they organized themselves and why they believed that was the correct way to do things. Just knowing what they did is not going to tell you why they did them.

In America, there are two dominant modes of thought that are not exactly in conflict, but they are incompatible. The primary mode of thought is best illustrated by an example from business. Every company in America of any size has some sort of quality initiative or business process improvement program. Big companies have whole departments to improve performance throughout the organization.

The basis for this is the belief that the human errors can be mitigated by arranging things in just the right way. For instance, you can stop Jose from putting the wrong stuff in a box by implementing software systems that physically prevent Jose from making that error. Jose’s machine supervisor stops him before he can sin against the firm by making a shipping error. Ideally, Jose gets eliminated completely and a robot does the job.

Everything and everyone in the company gets this treatment. If you read through the literature of the Six Sigma Cult that was popular at General Electric, it sounds like a pagan purification ritual. The financial incentives for reducing errors quickly give way to spiritual incentives. Being right 99% of the time is less fulfilling than being right 99.9% of the time. The last time I checked, salvation in Six Sigma comes at 99.999999% accuracy.

This scales up to social advocacy. Progressives, for example, are obsessed with the people they see as failures or victims, the human error rate. The former are people that, through poor choices, fail to have self-actualizing careers, achieving their full humanity. The latter are people who are prevented from fulfilling their potential due to structural impediments like racism, sexism, interstellar conspiracy, etc.

This is the crux of the dominant mode of thought and it even has a name, Positive Liberty. In politics, you see this with Obama’s health care plan. They fully believe that abundance can be had if they arrange the parts of the public health system a certain way. It’s also on display with the myriad of Conservative tax schemes. Arrange the incentives the right way and people will make the “correct” choices. The tax code becomes the enterprise software of the economy.

As an aside, what fuels the semi-sexual fantasies of the robot future types is the belief that the robots will remove human error and therefore human sin. Once the robots are in charge, there can be no more human error. The Christian conception of God and Heaven is perfection. You see how that works? Perfect the human condition, and you have created Eden. Alternatively, the robots slaughter everyone and the human stain is removed from creation.

There are few people in public life that reject this mode of thinking. Almost all of the so-called conservatives accept this as a premise. Progressives not only believe it, but they also view anyone who does not accept this world view as a mortal threat to civilization. The debate, therefore, in modern American politics is over how the central planners arrange things and whether or not to punish the refuseniks.

The revealing character trait of people who subscribe to this mode of thought is the refusal to ask why things are as they find them. If they talk about the “why” of anything, it is as a jumping off point to debate their preferred “solution” that they believe will solve some aspect of the human condition. “Why are the prisons full of blacks? Racism! Now, let’s talk about how we fix that.”

Thus, concludes Part I.

19 thoughts on “My Theory of Everything: Part I

  1. After having read your diatribe, I can see why you did not appreciate Newt Gingrich. You couldn’t, or did not, understand him. Newt Gingrich is one of the most brilliant man of our times, and liberals hate him, of which, your are one. Of the many issues addressed, you missed the point on all of them, especially on robotics in the workplace. You really need to get out more. The world is a wonderful place if you understand it. I would love to debate the issues with you, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to try to educate someone like you who does not have the depth of knowledge nor world experience to understand that liberalism/progressivism is an aberration of human thought.

      • I rest my case. Were you not a liberal you would have addressed my comments, but rather, you attacked me. Calling me insane is not an argument, it is simply an inane comment. No wonder you did not understand Gingrich, you didn’t bother to listen.

        • Technically, it was an observation. Your comment was a rambling mess with no point that concluded with, “I would love to debate the issues with you, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to try to educate someone like you…”

          Therefore, I made no attempt to read and respond to whatever point you were hoping to make.

          • Okay, let’s try this. You said, “Anyway, I slowly came to the conclusion that the whole Right-Left dynamic was just a myth. One of things about working in Washington, even briefly, is you learn quickly that politics is nothing like you see on TV. Two people on a show ripping one another apart will be at the bar after the show yukking it up like old pals. That’s because they are old pals. The Right-Left narrative has simply become a convenient framework for the reality show called politics. This has been true since the 80’s.”

            FYI, it is called “debate” and “showtime”. Having a debate does not dispel a myth even if there is one. You posited a myth and then shot it down with a false argument. Good friends can have an excellent debate and still be friends. What do you want them to do, shoot one another? Now, to Gingrich…nah, forget it.

          • You don’t seem to understand that the post is not about Gingrich or cable chat shows. You should read the whole post, not just the first paragraph.

  2. There is truth in this. I’m enjoying your blog and the thinking spells it causes in me.

  3. Zman

    Thank you for your essays; I agree with them way too often. This is a further comment on six sigma.

    By way of background, I spent half my professional life in the chemical division of a company which sold lots of chemical stuff. I have heard that industrial chemistry largely came to us from Germany, and further that German academic chemistry was modeled after the Prussian army. Whatever, it sure felt like it.

    In trying to solve product quality problems I learned Shewhart statistical process control, and subsequently total quality control as explained by Deming, Juran, and Ishikawa. It is interesting that this sequence moves from the production of “widgits” to the maintenance of organizations. But with my Prussian army background it was crystal clear how quality issues come into being when the various parts of an organization do not understand, or more likely are not allowed to play, their role in quality maintenance.

    Comes now six sigma, which might be the greatest thing in the world for auto transmissions, but is not a tool to manage things that cannot even be quantified, much less identified as stable to within some measurable variation.

    I had always wondered how Immelt managed to destroy a major corporation. You and the commenters have provided the explanation. The religious promotion of a quality principle that is largely irrelevant forces the entire organization to focus on quantifiable but still irrelevant issues while the less quantifiable but more important issues get left out of consideration. I can just see the promotions being granted for elegant charts and graphs, leading to every more studies, of things that have almost nothing to do with any business.

    Outside GE, we have the US military, which has had two major quality failures in the last few months: shipping a missile to Cuba, and loosing two boats to Iran. In both of these situations there had to be dozens of people all of whom knew something was wrong. Either they did not speak up, or they did not get heard. In the case of the military, it is the Commander-in-Chief who sets the moral tone for how dissension is handled. Left unchallenged, the current one will take down the US as surely as Immelt did GE.

    Thank you.

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  5. I long ago concluded that most people are either too lazy, too dumb, too fearful, too stubborn, or too dishonest to reason from first principles and come to non-partisan solutions. The Medicare “debate” during the Clinton years is what opened my eyes.

    What I have learned here in Z-land is that human beings have an unending need to hide from all of those flaws behind a cloak of religion. The Enlightenment was good thing: “Hey, maybe we should stop dividing humans into different castes (noble, commoner, serf, slave) and have a common set of legal standards for all.” But when that mutates into your Cult of Modern Liberalism with a priesthood and catechism, that is a very bad thing.

    Six Sigma also started out with a common sense idea (statistical process control… great when making light bulbs, not so great for running businesses) and then layered whole books of mystical nonsense on top. That’s the catechism. The high priests are the oily consultants who in some cases wrote the crappy books, but who in every instance profit from selling their mystic rubbish to credulous executives.

    I keep going back to the Crisis of the Third Century. Maybe if the Semites, Celts, Greeks, Latins, et al had just been allowed to keep their own kingdoms, the Dark Ages could have been avoided. But the idea — the literal cult since all of the provinces had temples of Roma — of Rome was too strong. The cult paralyzed and killed Hellenistic civilization.

    The cult (not the legitimate thought at the root of it) of the Enlightenment — now the Cult of Modern Liberalism — will destroy our civilization as well.

  6. The ages of Western Civ have always acquired a title, i e the Age of Faith, the Enlightenment, Empire and now ours has been clearly demarcated as the Age of Progressivism (ripening over the last 150 yrs.) but coming to a end having run its course and consumed all the money. Both political parties and the entirety of the culture comprise ripe progressivism. It cannot last much longer. The question is what comes next. Will it be positive (maybe a rebirth of individualism and free market) or negative (medieval tyranny of the 0.1% governing class) or worse, the islamic caliphate. Time will tell.

  7. The Mongol’s world-view: I’ve been screaming about this for years. I tell the Cult members in my family “You can’t bitch about Jefferson’s slaves, Serra’s Indians, or now Wilson’s eugenics without understanding how these people viewed the world around them at the time. You can’t ascribe 2015 moral standards to people who lived 100, 200, even a thousand years ago.” (see also: Obama and Crusades).

    Understand I have no special powers. I am unable to fully do so, of course. But at least I understand an attempt must be made.

    I am met with blank stares.

    As to Red Team-Blue Team……..Nothing illustrates this better than the intro of Chris Matthews show……the “place for politics”…..LOL LOL LOL. If you recall it’s a essentially a slideshow of leading political figures, and at the very end a shot of The White House. In the bottom foreground of this last shot, in silhouette, are crowds cheering wildly. Go, Blue Team! Hit ’em hard, Red Team! Yea! Yea! Sis-boom-bah!

    Sadly that’s all it is to these people.

    • JimmyDee, I’ve been saying it for years as well. ” You cannot judge the past by 2016 standards. It was kill or be killed. So people did what they did what they had to do to survive.” Condemnation of historical events frustrates me. The proximity of time is absolutely pertinent to condemnation.

  8. In America, there are two dominant modes of thought that are not exactly in conflict, but they are incompatible.

    I get that one of them is Positive Liberty, but I don’t quite see the other mode. Is that coming in Part II?

  9. I understand your concept of political ‘opponents’ actually being the best of friends. A story here in the UK was that Cameron wanted to be the boss of the Labour party but they already had Tony Blair, so he went with the Conservatives instead. If this is true, then it illustrates perfectly that being in politics (and preferably, with an important position at that) is all that matters. Indeed, you can see with our politics that it is a choice between a slightly harder-than-soft left and a slightly-softer version of socialism.

    Perhaps that’s why increasingly elections are so closely run: there is nothing much between the two sides, and however one votes the electorate gets lies, distortion and the self-aggrandisement of ugly people. The only difference is one side might argue their lies and distortions are marginally better from time to time.

    I also agree with your views on political speech. Not only does it become infused with the same meaningless buzzwords that burden business and industry, but it masks reality. They are just noises made because noises are expected but will remain meaningless no matter how much analysis duly follows, but again it will be an analysis that will not involve reality. I am reminded of the Dilbert cartoon where one of the lesser characters is asked what his contribution to a project is, and his answer sums it all up: “I am leveraging synergy across all platforms.”

    We are having synergy leveraged on us, and though no one is quite sure what it means we do know the leveraging will go on and on…

  10. Conservatives are progressives; just out of date ones. Note that Republicans place their hope for social salvation with the business class and with evangelical religion. These were the progressive positions of the 19th century.

  11. “Somewhere in the Clinton years I began to sour on official conservatism.”

    every read “Restoring the American Dream” by Robert J. Ringer (1979)? It was the first place I ever heard of Demopublicans or Republicrats.

    The 6 sigma cult is a cult and invariably leads to corruption in management. The actual idea of process improvement is necessary and should be benign.

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