Innovation from a Classical Perspective
Why are the “innovators” in so many systems merely the tinkerers, the introduces of crappy ideas that are doomed to fail? What is the point of a sensor, such as a FitBit that measures heart rate, that transmits reams of useless data to a remote site, pretending that it is relevant?
A FitBit can record a patient’s heart rate, but absolutely nothing about what they are doing that makes the heart rate the optimal physiological balance – therefore, it is useless. The perfect FitBit would seem to be one worn by a patient with an ancient pacemaker that only runs at 70 BPM. The answer is always the same.
Societies seem to go extinct, not from their inability to generate new ideas, but their inability to generate ideas which have not already failed reliably. Telehealth – the ability to exchange data rapidly between locations – has been developing smoothly since the days of Samuel F.B. Morse and telegraph. Radio, television, digital television – they are all media which allows for the rapid exchange of information. They do not guarantee meaning. Thoreau pointed this out a century or two ago.
The Novelty of Stupid Ideas
Since every stupid idea has a human attached to it, stupid ideas are an inseparable part of our history. Every year, our little entourage of legislators convene in the State’s Capitol Building to crank out reams of poorly-considered mush. they chat within their little fishbowl about how we are In Desperate Need Of New Ideas! and then trawl in a load of bad ideas, proven rubbish that has failed consistently time and time again.
Dead ideas are eagerly retrieved time and time again by the clueless, as they have no means of recognizing them, no sense of history or reason. Someone will hurl forth a non-starter from decades ago, and other legislators will pounce on that stillbirth, not looking to how it has failed in the past, but ornamenting it proudly with the decorations of modern government, and chucking it before the people – with a huge price tag for operations, of course.
Limit all controlled substance prescriptions to 72 hours. That was a howler that birthed from the minds of the Legislature. That’s going to stop narcotic abuse! Yes, it would.
I would like to see a splendid new innovation in Government – a Library of Congress, but one stocked with well-read cynics, knowledgeable about history and philosophy and all manner of subject. They could make a journal – a Wiki of Stupid Ideas, of sorts – that show the family tree of Great Ideas That Turn Out To Suck.
The Philosopher King
The daddy of all is the philosopher king. Plato advocated a Republic lead by a meritocracy of the greatest and wisest, and at the top, a King selected not for ruthless ability but for genius.
But aside from the problem of measuring genius, such things wind up being a veritable bug-trap for the shifty, snaky and sleazy of a population, who have far more ambition than ability. The Truly Wise, of course, or those arrogant enough to believe that they are Wise, they’re not necessarily dirty players – they might just rise on their own ability. Systems that are designed to compete for power are lead by those who are good at that skill, not ones who are noble.
When Trotsky took an ice-pick to the head in Mexico, that went through his mind, literally. Trotsky was brilliant, capable and ruthless. He constructed the USSR’s Red Army out of scratch, and made it a decent fighting machine overnight. He palled around with Lenin, was brilliant and insufferably so, to most of his associates, some of whom he destroyed.
But Stalin was better. At the time, the General Secretary of the Party was a gofer-boy, a fetch-me-coffee-Joe office boy for the Leadership. Uncle Joe understood that power comes from information, and he had all the personal stuff on ALL the leaders, running HR. Joe Stalin CREATED HR, he perfected HR. Line ’em up, pick ’em off.
The US culture is in its twilight, because it cannot tell stupid ideas from Shinola. Like the corvids, we are attracted to the bright and shiny, over and over again. We are the culture that is defeated by aluminum foil rubbish in the parking lot – we can’t take our minds off of it. The rooks are smart enough not to eat it. Us, though?