The System Gets What it Selects For

The system doesn’t usually select for what we think it does.  We tend to understand the interaction of critical variables on only the shallowest of levels.  We nearly always believe that a system will produce what we intend it to produce…because that’s what we intended.

When we look at the system’s output, we usually arrive at the wrong explanations.  Usually we try to justify the results within the frame of our initial intentions and assumptions.  We delude ourselves and then compound our errors.

‘Human error’…’Takes only a few bad apples’…’men aren’t angels’

If the people who utter such excuses just stopped to really think about what they were saying, they’d realize they already know why the system doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.

The system ignores the nature and interests of the people within it.

Yet they persist,

If only:

-The politicians weren’t corrupt.”

-The electorate weren’t apathetic.”

-We had traditional values.”

-We had better teachers”

-People saved money and avoided debt.”

-A benevolent person became dictator.”

The underlying error of thought here is that most people see undesirable results as unfortunate anomalies rather than the natural, predictable results of the system—even if the same problem has recurred way too many times for it to be anomalous.

The common approach is to blame the people in the system for causing it to malfunction.

Yet it is the other way around.  The system is worthless and will always be worthless if it can’t take real people and their calculations of self-interest into account.  A system based on what people should be is a sand castle built upon fantasy.

Instead of saying ‘If only,’

People must ask “Why?”

Why are the politicians crooked?

Is it because the system itself strongly selects for people willing to engage in corruption?  What type of people are these and why does their sort of personality profile make for a successful politician?

There are very few positions open for politicians and each post combines both social prestige and power.  This combination is sure to attract the most ambitious people in the entire society.  Only the most ambitious members of this group of aspirants will succeed in becoming politicians.  Of those who successfully become politicians, only those who are still more ruthless will continue to move up.  Finally, only those willing to do anything to get to the top are amongst the influential few who show up regularly in the newspapers.

At the end, is it surprising that someone who was willing to do anything for power and prestige has become corrupt in order to reach the top?  Anyone who hadn’t would have been outcompeted by the people who did.

Wouldn’t someone who has lusted after power and fame all along exploit the prizes of their labor to the utmost?  How could one expect restraint under such circumstances?  Indeed it seems we should be taken aback when a politician isn’t corrupt…

Voters want super honest, trustworthy candidates with a sparkling clean record.  They want someone of higher virtue than themselves to occupy public office.  The more clean a candidate is, the more likely they are to get elected.  No one is really that clean.  Anyone who was actually honest about having personal flaws would lose to opponents who don’t hesitate to put on a skillful act.

Because voters intend to elect the most virtuous politician, they will usually actually vote for the most capable deceiver. The system selects for the person most capable of deceit yet voters invariably react with surprise when they discover their error.  This sort of disconnect between ideological, emotional intention and calculated, rational pragmatism is one of the basic shortcomings of Loud thought.

Counter-intuitive results are easy to find in systems.  Especially for large systems in the long term.


-A conservative anti-gay society increases the likelihood of homo-sexuality by forcing gays to stay in the closet, marry, and have children.

-A society that accepts gay people allows them to eschew heterosexual relations, thereby reducing the likelihood of homosexuality in the next generation.

-A society based on order and prudish sexual morality results in promiscuous rulebreakers bearing more offspring than the straightlaces who obediently restrain themselves.

-A society that worships chaos and promiscuity favors those who can exhibit restraint and form alliances that make their offspring more likely to reach adulthood.


2 responses to “The System Gets What it Selects For

  1. If rule followers are obediently waiting for social permission to reproduce, surely those who procreate impulsively are going to leave the greater genetic legacy.
    There are no virgins amongst our ancestors.

    Historically, perhaps, those who reproduced too impulsively were less likely to have surviving offspring. However, affluent societies with public assistance have assured that any children produced are likely to survive to adulthood. Under such circumstances: the Darwinian incentives are with promiscuity.

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