Thursday, October 13, 2005

Amazed and maybe admire

Earlier in the year I tried to read Thomas Schelling's "Choices and Consequences." It seemed too much "well, we can identify the following costs and benefits to an issue, and if we equate them at the margin, then..." which is true, but is rather uninteresting, unless you've already thought about the issue and realize that you've missed a cost or benefit that he picks out. So I gave up. Plus, I generally dislike disjointed collections of articles for the same reason that I dislike collections of short stories: once I'm into an argument, I want to revel in the pay-off, rather than having to continuously restart. Now individual articles I like, but...

"Micromotives and Macrobehavior," however, is both a coherent book, and seems to be heading in the direction of a somewhat interesting argument. In the meantime, Schelling writes
What I asked you to be amazed at, and not necessarily to admire, is simply the enormous complexity of the entire collective system of behavior, a system that the individuals who comprise the system needn't know anything about or even be aware of. If we see pattern and order and regularity, we should withhold judgment about whether it is the pattern and order of a jungle, a slave system, or a community infested by parisitic diseases, and inquire first of all what it is that the individuals who comprise the system seem to be doing and how it is that their actions, in the large, produce the patterns we see. Then we can try to evaluate whether, at least according to what the individuals are trying to do, the resulting pattern is in some way responsive to their intentions.
--Thomas Schelling. Micromotives and Macrobehavior, pg 22.


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