Virginia Postrel really does a sterling job of summing up my worldview, so why should I bother to try to explain it better than she does? Grok this:
It’s human nature to look for ways to improve the world around us, whether that’s coming up with a better computer program or trying a new way to get your kid to eat his vegetables. Progress comes from trial and error, when we’re free to try things and free to reject ideas that don’t work. That makes me optimistic about the future. The problem comes when people either try to stamp out experimentation or try to cram one possibly hare-brained scheme down everyone’s throat.
Everything that works in our lives, from technology to manners to writing techniques, was refined over a long period of time. We don’t know in advance how to do anything, and there’s always room for improvement. Progress is an infinite series. Henry Petroski uses the phrase “form follows failure” to capture this idea. We find improvements by looking at what doesn’t work, trying something we think will be better, and seeing whether in fact it is. Contact lenses took almost 100 years to get right—and they were a pretty crazy idea when they started out. And some things never work: flying cars, for instance, or Kleenex Avert Virucidal Tissues, which terrified customers with that deadly name. You don’t want to stop the process of improvement, and you don’t want to declare any idea a permanent winner.
…My problem is with the assumption that somebody can take a God’s eye view, know everything important, and work out grand plan for everyone. That’s what stasists want to do, with their idea of the “one best way.” There are two competing visions of knowledge. In the book, I talk about them as trees: Stasists see knowledge as a tall, spindly palm tree—one long trunk with a few fronds on top. Dynamists, by contrast, envision knowledge as a spreading elm tree—lots of dispersed knowledge, communicated through complex channels, often at a great distance. We benefit from things other people know that we don’t. And a lot of knowledge is hidden.
This is not an insenstive or reckless way to live:
[P]eople who want to stop change, by giving some decision making body the power to choose a single future for everyone, are in fact making society more brittle. The savings and loan crisis of the 1980s was a direct result of static policy making—trying to dictate exactly what financial institutions should look like and then protect them from change or innovation. That static vision failed, and it cost billions of dollars to recover from. Stasists are being reckless, by taking away the ability to adapt. So, for instance, you find that the U.S. economy is much more resilient than Europe. Yes, people lose their jobs here, but that’s rarely a permanent tragedy. New jobs are being created all the time, and companies are eager to find new workers. Whereas in Europe, it’s simply assumed that nobody is going to take a chance on hiring young people—sky-high unemployment among young workers is a huge problem. Making young people economically irrelevant seems terribly insensitive to me.
Then you have the stasists who absolutely hate the idea of progress, who are determined to keep the world’s peasants yoked behind their water buffalo for all eternity. That’s profoundly inhumane. They dress it up in pretty prose, but what the stasist ideal of “stability” offers is poverty, disease, ignorance, and death.
So stasis is something we should fear. But I also have a positive message—that the dynamist vision is one that celebrates our greatest human capacities, above all the capacity to learn. The world is a turbulent place, with or without human efforts. Dynamism teaches us that we have to be adaptable, innovative, and alert. But that’s what human beings were meant to be. That’s what makes us special.
All of my opinions on politics follow from these beliefs and the worldview they make up.