Monday, August 3, 2009

Design is the Future of Conservatism

Here's a scenario we can all relate to:

You're trying to learn how to use a new computer program. The box seemed cool, and promised all sorts of awesome features that you knew you couldn't live without. You install the thing, boot it up, and all of a sudden it dawns on you:

The program sucks. Nothing works like it is supposed to, it has buttons and levers all over the place, and you have no clue what any of them do. The whole thing is a big overwhelming mess. To make matters worse, you can't just walk away and use something else, you have no choice in the matter, you have to use this terrible program (for your job or something, I don't know, just go with it for the sake of the metaphor).

If you're like me (or any other human being) this provokes rage and frustration. The thing is just supposed to work. You want it to work and get out of the way.

Funnily enough, I have the same feelings about the DMV. But I don't think it's just a coincidence. I think it's a fundamental truth that we've lost touch with.

No, I don't think Windows Vista and the DMV both sucking are fundamental truths - I think the principles of good design are fundamental truths, and I think good design can make government better just like it could have made Windows Vista better.

I won't explain why this is conservative yet. I think you'll see what I'm talking about as I flesh this idea out. Just remember - less is more.

  • Unity refers to a sense that everything in the artwork belongs there, and makes a whole piece. In the context of a nation, this means so many different things at once. Examples include: some common political culture and beliefs, common units of currency, common structural elements of programs (you want it to be flexible and the different parts of government to be able to work with each other, if everyone is using different standards then a lot gets lost in translation), and much more.
  • Variety refers to the use of dissimilar elements, which creates interest. Think capitalist division of labor. Think democratic separation of powers. Think diversity - multiple perspectives that help us figure out what ultimately works for everyone.
  • Balance refers to a sense that dominant focal points are balanced and don't give a feeling of being pulled too much to any part of the artwork. If you've read the Federalist papers, you already understand what this means for government. Wisdom means finding balance.
  • Harmony is achieved through the sensitive balance of variety and unity. Harmony is what emerges from the system when it works right. Harmony is interesting because it's not a concrete thing. Think about it in terms of music - you have multiple notes that are different but are similar enough to work together to make something beautiful. The harmony is somewhere in between. Harmony is the real goal of society.

Those are the crucial principles of design - the absolute basics. Here's the wikipedia page that lists those, and many others that you might enjoy pondering over.

Admittedly, liberalism also takes much inspiration from the principles of design. But I believe in fundamentally sticking to the principles, which is a conservative attitude to have. If you want more examples of conservative design principles, consider these concepts, and reflect on how they apply to government: worse is better, feature creep, mission creep, second-system effect, code bloat, over-engineering, KISS principle, accidental complexity, Pareto principle, Occam's razor, etc

Notice how all those things kind of said the same thing? I think they're all getting at something important. It's better to just keep it simple. But we also should remember Thoreau's advice:
It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?


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