Social Snowflakes

Lynne Kiesling

Steve Horwitz’s musings on complexity and snowflakes is a great read that raises an important question: why are so many of us willing to accept and appreciate emergent order processes when they occur in non-human nature? Why do some think differently about snowflakes in the air and eggnog in the store?

People who are so willing to accept the existence and beauty (and benevolence!) of undesigned order in the natural world should be more willing to open themselves to the possibility that there are processes of undesigned order at work in the social world too.

Both snowflakes and eggnog are seasonal occurrences, and both are products of complex processes about which we can know almost nothing, yet still we can enjoy and appreciate the product of the process. But we also struggle with the desire to impose control over those social processes.

Emergent order in human processes is as beautiful as physical emergent order. This observation dovetails with Pete Boettke’s Mystery of the Mundane post, particularly Pete’s recommendations to students:

Allow yourself to be curious about the world, and to find the mystery in the mundane. Buying a cucumber at the local grocery shop, the shirt on your back, and the shoes on your feet are all fascinating subjects to explore using the economic way of thinking. Finding the hidden pattern in the buzz of daily life is what we will do in the first 6 weeks of class. If you allow yourself to be amazed by the world around you, then you will do well in studying economics.

Thanks to Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution for the link.


4 thoughts on “Social Snowflakes

  1. Well, I find it more entertaining that drilling for oil in a snow-covered wilderness generates all manner of hormone-laden commentary [even some assults, as I’ve noted previously] while the social-snowflakes topic produces absolutely NO COMMENT. And while I’m stepping out here as (perhaps) the first one to comment on this item in any way, I intend to vigorously counter suggestions that I might actually *be* a social snowflake. 😉

    What is also entertaining is academics wondering why more people don’t have lofty thoughts. As I often say in another persona, “Average intelligence is not particularly good, and half the population is dumber than that.” 😉 It’s a joke… but not.

    In the first sentence of your post, who is “us”? Is it all of humanity? Or is it people who read KnowledgeProblem.com? Or is it the academic community? If “us” is all of humanity, then forget it. On the scale of all humanity, academics are the very tip-top of education, in some cases, combined with the tip-top of intelligence. Regular people don’t think about snowflakes very much, and they certainly don’t think of them as exhibiting undesigned order. It’s there, but most people don’t think about it. Their minds accept all manner of magic, so things don’t have to be consistent. Most of all, they really don’t want to know.

    Only a small percentage of “us” is driven to understand things. Worse, because of technology, things in today’s world are far more complex than they used to be. I’ve often wondered… If a person in a technological society is not educated in physics, electronics, economics, etc., do they believe in magic? Are they cowered by a world that they barely understand? Or do their minds work at the tangible level, where technological devices are basic objects that simply behave as they do? They actually don’t need to know how things work, they just react to high-level stimuli and use technology without thinking about it, perhaps without even being curious.

    You may wonder about what kind of beauty people can appreciate, but I am more concerned that a population that easily accepts magic is easily manipulable, as history has shown time and again. As a species, we’re not really very smart, even though the intellectual fringe is probably advancing away from the average at an increasing rate. This, too, has probably occurred multiple times in history. I’ll bet there are lessons there, in that observable undesigned order in social systems…

  2. Economics = ID?

    James K. Galbraith attempts a smackdown on economics:Economists, on the other hand, have been Intelligent Designers since the beginning. Adam Smith was a deist; he believed in a world governed by a benevolent system of natural law. Consider this familiar

  3. Those with the desire for control, (I think of it as an obsession of European origin), are by nature blind to the emergent order of anything save their vision and passionate mandate to foce it upon the world.

    On a personal note, I want to express my gratitude and admiration for lynne and this site. I read it reagulasrly, more often then I do my local newspaper. It’s like water to a dying, thirsty man. The links are great too. Thanks.

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