“Perfect” Human Systems are Never Perfect
by Andy Joppa
“It is always easier to destroy a complex system than to selectively alter it.”
― Roby James, Commitment
It is almost inevitable, when someone is offering positive comments about America, they feel the obligation to “apologize” by saying, “No, of course, America isn’t perfect.” Former President Trump suffers under this same burden. I presume they are compelled to do this to demonstrate how honest and fair are the laudatory thoughts they’ve just offered about our great nation…or former president.
But can we just stop this nonsense? No human system, or person, is perfect. Human systems attain “perfection”, not in some absolute sense, but by the degree they have created the “perfection of possibility” within a human system. America, measured by this appropriate standard, has been “perfect” for most of its history, far more perfect than any nation in history. That is …till now, in 2022. I will try to impress on you the incredible importance of this discussion for it should, in fact, enable explanation of almost all government failures.
It is a well-grounded academic principle that the attempt to move systems from their “possible perfection” to “absolute perfection” is the cause of many, if not most, human problems. Our “friends” on the Left, ignore the “possibility of perfection” achieved by America, and try to attain “absolute perfection”, perfection, of course, by their standard. They are best defined as “Utopians.” (Read Mark Levin’s book, Ameritopia; The Unmaking of America) This inherently destructive approach will, most likely, be the death knell for our country. That is why I added the “till now” disclaimer above, as it regards America’s perfection.
I few explanatory comments are obviously in order.
I just finished rereading James Clavell’s epic story of 17th century Japan, Shogun. The protagonist, Englishman John Blackthorne, is lost at sea and awakens in a place few Europeans knew of and even fewer had seen — Nippon…Japan. I will only extract the limited detail needed to make my point.
Blackthorne, as a displaced Londoner, is amazed at how neat and clean is the society of the new culture in which he finds himself. London, even by 17th century standards, was grimy by any measurement. Rather than the constant brutishness of his homeland, he finds that the Japanese are extremely polite and courteous. His immediate impression is that 17th century Japan is “perfect”, certainly far more perfect than was England.
As the story unfolds, he learns how this Japanese “perfection” is achieved. Simply, any infraction, any lack of cleanliness, any lack of courtesy, any action outside of required decorum, would result in the immediate death of the offending party by the swift, merciless action, without constraint, of a samurai. Blackthorne begins to see that Japan has achieved its perfection by the existence of constant terror. He begins to long for the greater real “perfection” of England.
History is replete with the creation of superficial perfection being enabled by similar means.
The incredibly low crime rate in the Soviet Union was “achieved” by dispatching anyone to the gulags who, it was thought, might possibly be a criminal…or danger to their society. Whether or not an actual crime had been committed was of little concern.
Mao Zedong created his “perfection” in 20th century China by killing more people than did Stalin and Hitler combined. Mao, founder of the People’s Republic of China, qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history. From 1958 to 1962, at least 45 million people were worked, starved, or beaten to death in China… over these four years alone. It ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three most horrific events of the 20th century. It was like Pol Pot’s genocide multiplied 20 times over.
I would note that Pol Pot also falls within the same analysis of “perfection by terror.” The societies I’ve alluded to, created the appearance of perfection by means that were incredibly imperfect and completely offset any apparent benefits that were realized.
But, let me move from the larger governmental systems into some of the systems that are subsets in those environments.
First, no system functions at 100% of its potential…no system offers absolute perfection. There will always be some “drag.” This is similar to, “no machine can function at 100% of its potential” because there will always be friction. Without friction, a perpetual motion machine would be possible. A system, therefore, cannot necessarily be eliminated, or even faulted, for its lack of absolute perfection, nor can it be “massaged” trying to get that last 10% out of it. It may have reached its “possibility of perfection.”
A baseball hitter is “maxing out,” is perfect, with a batting average of .400. This means he’s theoretically “imperfect” 60% of the time. In baseball, however, we recognize that .400 is just about “perfect” when we consider the “drag.” You really don’t want to try to adjust a .400 hitter…trust me on this if you don’t know baseball. America, using only the numbers provided by this example, is “perfect.” America is a + .400 hitter.
In a similar manner, no complex human system can function at absolute zero. There will always be some benefit, regardless of how minimal, to be achieved. A system cannot be praised anecdotally for its few positives. These positives may be extremely limited and represent a complete anomaly. Since limited success is inevitable, praise is never due a system that produces it. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot cannot be praised for the limited benefits their horror achieved, nor can our Leftist government.
Between the hypothetical of 100% success, or 100% failure, lies the actual performance. The real “perfection” of that system, “the possible perfection,” exists at (let’s say) 90% of the absolute potential at the top and 10% above zero at the bottom. The “drag” eliminates absolute perfection and the inevitability of large numbers produces some success.
To illustrate this further, let me move into the contrast of public education and the health care systems. I am hopeful this comparison will clarify any lingering confusions and, in themselves make valuable points about the systems being referenced. This is rather complicated, but it is critical to our understanding of the appropriate…or inappropriate …actions of government.
First, let’s look at the public schools. If 90% represents the school’s best possible outcome (absolute perfection minus drag…the possible perfection) I would suggest that the public schools are functioning somewhere near 25% (with 10% being as bad as they could possibly be.) If we try to reform this system you can gain 65% (25% TO 90%) improvement while you can only lose 15% (25% to 10%). In this type of model, you can hardly do any damage in your attempt to reform the system and you have a lot to gain. You go into the reform of this system with a heavy hand. You can only do minimal harm, but you have a lot to gain. Unfortunately, we’ve approached this system with kid gloves. We’ve approached reform cautiously and with no real commitment to change. This was exactly the wrong way to go with the public schools.
On the other hand, let’s examine the American health care system. If 90% represents this system as good as it can be, then I would suggest that the health care system, pre-2010, was functioning at 80%. As we approached reforming this system then we could only gain 10% (80% to 90%) whereas its bottom base may be at 10%, so we have 70% that we might lose (80% to 10%) from its current value. With this type of system, you go very gently…very, very, very gently. You are in far greater likelihood of damaging the system than helping the system. This doesn’t mean you don’t try to make it better…it means you do it very carefully (very, very, very carefully); you have too much to lose and little to gain. In this area, therefore, we approached reform in absolutely the wrong way, and we continue to be in imminent danger of doing far more damage than achieving any good. (It was far more likely, and then fulfilled, that ACA changes would have done far more harm to the original system than good)
We cannot approach everything mechanistically. Yet, there are many areas where we must be guided by the wisdom we’ve achieved through years of analysis and monitoring systems outcomes.
What I have offered, as it pertains to the public schools and the health care system, is an absolute (presuming my statistics are even close to being correct.) It is possible, that the pre-2010 health care system was as close to perfection as we ever could have hoped to achieve. It was only disrupted because of its inherent drag. In so doing, we may have permanently corrupted the best health care system in the world. While a gentle nudging would have been appropriate… we used a wrecking ball. With the damage done by that wrecking ball, repair may now be impossible.
Our health care system was a .390 hitter. The public schools were batting a woeful .135.
What is not emphasized enough is that government has absolutely no chance to meaningfully resolve large system issues…they never have. The mere fact that enormous amounts of funds are “dumped” on emerging system solutions, that seems to produce a modicum of success is not, in itself, a validation of the government’s ability to handle these issues. This is the major reason that only a free market resolution has the chance of providing meaningful answers…for education…health care…or anything else.
Returning to my basic premise. America for most of its history has functioned remarkably close to its “possibility of perfection.” No apologetic comments need to be offered that we have not achieved absolute perfection where that is not possible within any human system. No other nation, in the entire history of our species, has even approximated reaching the level of the “possibility of perfection” as has America.
The Left ignores the grandeur of that accomplishment and focuses only on America’s inability to attain the unattainable…absolute perfection. By so doing, America has lost much of its success in accomplishing the possible. It is the inevitability of “tinkering” with the perfection that is actually achievable. This is why the end result of the “Utopians” is always destructive.
“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”
― John Gall