Belmont Club

How Systems Get Tired

One of the arguments for the impossibility of an event is lack of previous failure. “It never failed before and thus can never fail ever”.  The Washington Post’s editorial board invokes a variant of this logic to refute Donald Trump’s border policy, arguing there are so many illegal immigrants it is too expensive to deport them all, leaving no alternative but to accept more.  Besides, America is still standing so what can be the harm in admitting more? The same argument is used to justify other policies.  For example the Fed can continue to print trillions because it always has.

The contrary view is embodied in Stein’s Law, named after the economist Herbert Stein, who said “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop”.  Following Stein’s Law, neither unbridled illegal immigration nor money printing can continue indefinitely.  Each of these projects has used up a margin and will eventually  reach a point where something unprecedented — something which has never happened before —  occurs.

Social engineers are members of the first school of thought and are typically surprised by unprecedented events viewing them as perverse.  For example the Washington Post notes the shock of rising and virulent xenophobia in Germany, something heretofore thought to be extinct since the end of the Second World War.  “Germany unnerved by scores of xenophobic attacks against refugees.”  The past should continue indefinitely.  Failure can be due only to wreckers.

By contrast, physical engineers — unlike their social counterparts — are not the slightest bit surprised when structures which have stood for a long time suddenly collapse. The phenomenon is known as materials fatigue.  Precedent is not only not a defense against failure, but is often its cause. When the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapsed in 2007 some members of the public asked, “how can a bridge which has been standing since 1967 suddenly collapse?”  The answer of course, is the bridge failed because it has been standing since 1967 and the cumulative damage caused by repetitive stress finally did it in.

However, social engineers have no concept of fatigue. They do not understand that “damage is cumulative. Materials do not recover when rested.” Instead they believe in the principle of “acceptance” or legitimization where not only does material recover when rested, it recovers even when it is not rested.  For example, president Obama, fresh from his campaign to legitimize gay marriage announced the appointment of the first openly transgender White House staff member.

Load should follow load to build “momentum”. The fact that a structure has survived a hit it was never designed for only proves to social engineers that it can survive even more impositions.  There is no concept in social engineering of an endurance limit.  On the contrary, social engineering is based on the belief that human beings are almost infinitely malleable.

Social engineering is a discipline in social science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale, whether by governments, media or private groups. Social Engineering can also be understood philosophically as a deterministic phenomenon. As Dr. R. D. Ingthorsson alluded to, a human being is a biological creature from birth but is from then on shaped as a person through social influences (upbringing/socialisation) and is in that sense a social construction.

A social engineer is one who tries to influence popular attitudes, social behaviors, and resource management on a large scale.

From this point of view, illegal immigration rather than being a stress is actually a process of establishing itself. It is viewed as a kind of self-legitimizing process where each successive wave of border jumpers increases the receptivity of America to even more entrants.  The idea isn’t to throttle it to below the endurance limit, but to rather increase it to the maximum flow in order to fundamentally transform the country.

However, it may not work.

One of the first exponents of social engineering were the 20th century Socialist totalitarianisms. The USSR attempted to entirely remake the Jews of Central Asia. “We’ll change henceforth the old tradition,” they declared.  They also tried the forced collectivization program from 1928 to 1940.  China in turn tried the Great Leap Forward, to name a few such experiments.

The results were rather disappointing.  Instead of behaving as social engineers predicted, these experiments behaved like the I-35W, collapsing in a ruin which consumed the lives of untold millions.  Nothing daunted, the intellectual heirs of the USSR have moved to the West, convinced that its greater resources will guarantee success this time.

If you believe in fatigue it is fortunately possible to see it coming.  What was formerly homogeneous material begins to form micro-cracks and break up along planes of movement.  To extend the physical metaphor the signs of cumulative stress may be emerging in the American social fabric. The fragmented state of the Democratic and Republican presidential fields and the absence of a national consensus on almost anything is suggestive of the cracking and splintering which precedes disaster.

Structural engineers would take the cracks as a warning that danger was nigh and recommend reinforcing the points of stress or lessening the load. But social engineers would draw the opposite conclusion.  The pulverization of polity are not warnings but proofs that all is proceeding as planned. Instead of regarding a candidate like Trump as a sign of stress, they would see him as a signal to double down.  There would be no thought to reducing the load.  On the contrary they would interpret it as time to put pedal to the metal.

This may explain the serene carelessness of the Hillary campaign to any and all obstacles and her lack of concern over the email server controversy.  The fact that she’s skated before is proof she can skate again.  It never enters into her mind to think that the I beams have rusted through in the meantime. FA Hayek believed that social engineers were ignoramuses meddling with forces they were neither equipped nor able to understand. Leaving them free to tinker with society was to submit oneself to ignorant but pretentious fools.

In his 1974 Nobel Memorial Lecture, titled “The Pretence of Knowledge,” Hayek expressed a different view of how society developed:

The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson in humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society—a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

But what did Hayek know? At any rate the social engineers would never agree and are as busy as ever.  One of the most interesting things about fatigue is that the actual failure can happen very quickly.  One minute you can be printing all the money in the world and opening the floodgates to illegals without any adverse result.  It’s like sailing under a blue sky. The next moment, disaster strikes, oh so unexpectedly.

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