Take No Prisoners

Why The World is So Screwed Up

Why is the healthcare industry hemorrhaging money? Why is the military being used to fight ideas, when ideas can’t be killed by bullets? Why is the legislature unable to make laws that make sense? How can 12 years of basic education produce an unthinking populace? How can a man believe in his god, but not in himself? How can the “free” market enslave humanity to rational immorality?

In the immortal words of every cynical, sardonic, apathetic adolescent, the world is fucked up.

And it’s not because of stupidity, religion, avarice, sadism, immorality, hedonism, drugs, terrorism, global warming, the clash of cultures, imperialism, abuse of power, overuse of force, or the flying spaghetti monster. It’s not because people are born good or evil or gullible or jealous or greedy or reckless or lazy or irrational or too rational or emotional or idealistic or straight-jacket-crazy.

The true cause is subtle. Far. More. Subtle.

In every developed nation, human existence is regulated by laws. Each law is written by lawmakers, most of whom are ex-lawyers elected to political office, often for a short time. The system of laws has thus haphazardly grown, been trimmed back, grown some more, and eventually become inextricably intertwined in a self-contradictory, indecipherable, regulatory labyrinth. And every once in awhile some wannabe Theseus comes charging in to kill the minotaur at its center, only to find that there is no minotaur, just a bunch of people doing their best. The problem, you see, is not simply that laws are long and confusing and interconnected in ways no one understands.

The first part of the problem is that laws imply the design of the systems that enact them. The education acts imply the structure and makeup of schools, academic programs and school boards. The healthcare legislation implies the configuration of the hospitals, physicians, insurance companies, pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies that comprise the healthcare system. The economy, military, political process, police force, and even the neighborhoods in which we live are structured and organized according to legislation.

The second part of the problem is that lawmakers are primarily experts in lawmaking; NOT experts in education, healthcare, economics or any other domain for which they are designing the system! The rules pharmaceutical companies must abide by are predominantly written and voted on by people who don’t know anything about chemistry, biology, scientific research or medicine. The rules of the economy are written and voted on by people who don’t know anything about economics, labor markets, business ethics or financial markets. Doesn’t this explain why the copyright legislation is so screwed up?

The third part of the problem is that lawmakers have no expertise in the design of complex systems. Knowing lots about buildings doesn’t make you an architect – you have to know how to match the design of a building to a specific purpose. An expert in design knows how to make the form fit the environment. This is the same reason so much open-source software has poor interfaces. Being a great programmer does not imply knowing anything about designing interfaces. Similarly, being a great lawyer does not imply knowing anything about structuring a taxation system to empower, not oppress, a people.

We as the developed world asked lawyers, people who’ve spent their careers writing legal briefs and coming up with arguments, to design the socially-constructed, artificial reality we inhabit. It’s not their fault they’ve done a piss poor job. They were, and are, completely unqualified! Honestly, what the fuck were we thinking?

To drive the design of a social system through the legislative process, three kinds of knowledge are needed: knowledge of laws and lawmaking, knowledge of the social system in question, and knowledge of design. For example, if we want to write a bill about healthcare, we need: 1) someone who understands the system of laws (a lawyer), 2) someone who understands healthcare (a physician), and 3) someone who understands how to structure a complex system to meet certain goals (a designer).

To take a more complicated example, consider copyright legislation. Since copyright involves ethics, money, intellectual property, information technology, taxes, cryptography, marketing, engineering, the culture of young people, the parent/child legal relationship, criminal penalties… holy shitballs! Besides a lawyer and a designer, we’d need a whole panel of experts to design a sensible copyright system and embed it in legislation. But does the government bring in a panel of experts? No. The laws are written by lawyers and lobbyists.

Every major social system that constrains human existence is designed at the highest level by people who have no clue how to design anything, who aren’t experts in the things they’re designing.

And that’s why the world is so screwed up.