Learning on the job
Posted by aogMonday, 13 December 2004 at 20:45 TrackBack Ping URL

Both readers may have noticed that my posting rate has gone way down. This is primarily because of personal issues involving my job. I am currently employed at a local site of a big high tech corporation. However, the local site is now being closed with the employees given the option of moving to Texas or being terminated. My work on this weblog has been driven to a large extent by my inability to apply my creative energies to my job, so I have opted for termination (which is very generous - effectively six months pay as the severance package). As the bogus job fades, however, I find my energies for my true calling, system design and coding, coming back, leaving less for my writing.

I’ve decided to start my own consulting company, using some ideas that my corporate masters wouldn’t even look at, much less fund or let me work on. Of course, these final months are an endless series of conversations like this:

Boss: “Thing X has gone wrong with the product”.

Me: “Yes. I expected that.”

Boss: “Why was nothing done?”

Me: “You know that Project TW that I was working on until it was canceled by your boss? One of the design goals was precisely to prevent X. No one would read the spec but everyone was still willing to say the project was useless. I guess you’re kind of screwed now. But think of all the time saved by doing the easy thing instead of the right thing! Bummer.”

So now I know what it’s like to be a conservative.

But the experience has given me a bit more sympathy for liberals. The short sighted rule based approach that leads them in to such political disasters isn’t particular to politics or that ideology. I’ve learned a bit as well.

I used to think it was just laziness or lack of intellectual capability that lead people to do the easy / simple thing instead of the right thing. The right thing is usually much harder to do and the payoff is further down the road. But there also seems to be a difference in tactical vs. strategic thinking. What I notice from the short-time horizon types is that the reaction to any problem is to sling some code that handles exactly that problem. No more, no less. There is no consideration of any potential problem that is similar because that problem does not yet exist. When it shows up, then a highly specific solution will be coded for that problem. The solution is always more rules and more specialized rules. It just reminds me so much of the current liberal approach to any sort of problem — just slam out another 1200 page law without regard to whether existing laws might already address the problem or whether the law is comprehensible to the target or how this slab of law might interact with other existing laws. I used to think it was an inability to think at a more abstract level. I’m now of the opinion that, at least from some in this camp, it’s a matter of principle, that a more abstract, generic approach is viewed not as incomprehensible but flat out wrong.

You can see this in the recent EU Constitution vs. the US Constitution. I think like the Founders. They wrote a document that specifies very little in the way of policy. Actual government policy is an emergent property of the set of rules they layed down. This allows solutions to a whole host of problems that any polity must deal with on an ongoing basis. It does not, however, directly address of those problems. In contrast the EU Constitution is a marvel of the tactical approach. It directly specifies policy at an almost micro level. Every political problem that could be anticipated is addressed directly. What if there is a conflict between the rules, or there is some unanticipated problem? Well, bummer.

I think this has strong implications for the Democratic Party’s time in the wilderness. The conservatives were to large extent right about the way the world works, so their time in the wilderness enabled them to reformulate their tactics while preserving the fundamentals of their ideology. The Progressives’ problem is that to a large extent their ideology doesn’t work, because it’s about doing the easy / simple thing in response to highly specific problems. Any fixes will involve not just retooling the practical politics of the movement but deep fundamentals as well. Given my experience with people whose minds work tactically like that, I just don’t see that happening. Moreover, even if it did, would they still be Progressives?

I think that we may well be seeing a major shift in politics in the USA, comparable to the decline of the Whigs and the rise of the Republican party. I expect that the Republican party will split after a short period of dominance as the Democratic Party fades out of existence.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Bruce Cleaver Tuesday, 14 December 2004 at 15:08

Nice essay, AOG.

I cannot help but add the underclass often have fantastically short time horizons: the future is this afternoon, the far future is tonight. I.E., don’t get that tattoo; it’ll look cool for 2 years then lable you as a loser forever after.

Now, if we are not to ascribe lack of intellect or energy, just why is the “… more abstract, generic approach” viewed as wrong by Progressives?

David Cohen Saturday, 18 December 2004 at 11:14

AOG: Good luck with the consulting and congratulations.

End of Discussion