Getting There from Here

You can't always get what you want
No way, Jose.
James Burke tells a story about a time when he and his team were lost in some place in Ireland. This was before Google maps and mobile phones. They asked a local for directions to some place who replied in all seriousness, “To get there, I wouldn’t start from here.”

The humor in that statement arises from the fact that to get anywhere at all you have to start from where you are, and not some ideal place that you are not at. You have to make do with what you have, and not what you should ideally have to get the job done but in fact you don’t.

Among the many reasons that socialism — or any form of collectivism — fails is the important fact that people are individuals and that individuality consists of unique aspirations, fears, hopes, talents, abilities, endowments, goals, and dreams. If you have seen a cow, you’ve seen them all. But if you have seen a person, you have seen only one person.

Notwithstanding that uniqueness of individuals, the general truth about people is that they are self-interested and not self-effacing, self-sacrificing saints. That is not to say that people are never altruistic but that if you construct your theory of human behavior on the assumption of universal altruism you will certainly fail. Socialism is guaranteed to fail because it does not admit that people are fallible, myopic, and selfish. We humans are boundedly rational, boundedly altruistic and boundedly other oriented. You don’t get to construct a society that depends on people being different from what they actually are.

You have to start from here to get wherever you wish to go.

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