Good is Fragile

It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate
It takes guts to be gentle and kind
- The Smiths, "I Know It's Over"

When we're young, we tend to be healthier than later in life, and we're taken care of by our parents (or other caregivers) and by society as a whole (to the extent we live in a rich and caring society). As a result, we tend to think of the default state of things as good.

As we get older and we have to take on adult responsibilities, and later as our physical health starts to decline, we realize that for life to go well, a hundred different things have to work simultaneously. Far from being the default state of things, the good is rather like a miracle. Older people recognize that the good can vanish at any time. The good is fragile.

It's easier to make things worse than to make things better

There are more ways of disturbing a well-functioning system, than of improving it to the same extent. Thus, arbitrary interferences with well-functioning systems are much more likely to damage them than to improve them. Furthermore, their order or degree of organization tends to decrease in the course of time because most changes in them will damage them. This is a part of what is known as entropy. If we remove any of the countless conditions, which are necessary to maintain the functioning of an integrated system, we shall interrupt its function, but in order to improve its function, we have to discover a condition which fits in so well with all these conditions that the function is enhanced.

This is the main reason why it is in general easier to kill than to save life. There are innumerable conditions which are necessary for an organism to continue to be alive . Thus, we could kill it by finding out which of these conditions is easiest for us to remove, and remove it. As there are many ways of killing an organism, there is likely to be some within our reach. By contrast, to save its life we have no choice but to restore something like the particular condition removed, however difficult that may be.

- Persson and Savalescu, Unfit for the Future

Conservatives are more risk-averse than liberals

There is a criticism of liberals by conservatives that I think has some merit: we liberals are too optimistic about change. We don't recognize how it easy it is to fuck things up. I think this springs, at least in part, from two facts:

  • The good is hard, and the bad is easy.
  • We don't recognize that fact. Our intuition tells us the opposite.

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design. To the naive mind that can conceive of order only as the product of deliberate arrangement, it may seem absurd that in complex conditions order, and adaptation to the unknown, can be achieved more effectively by decentralizing decisions and that a division of authority will actually extend the possibility of overall order. Yet that decentralization actually leads to more information being taken into account.

- Hayek (sorry, no cite….could be spurious for all I know)

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