Ah, Scale

Splitting up big banks seems like a really good idea, although I don’t think we can give it good odds, since it involves massively rich companies and execs slicing up massively rich pies.

As I’ve leveled up on this early beta server code-named Terra, it hits me time and time again how scale is at the heart of so many things that go from good to bad and especially from bad to worse.  We mere mortals are simply not wired to handle complexity beyond a certain scale, and while machines that can will one day take over (in a good way, we hope), it’s just us biologics for the foreseeable future.

And boy do we suck at scale. A business that has a clear purpose with a dozen happy employees becomes a monster with 100 employees, unstable at 10,000 and an economic juggernaut at 100,000. A project with a handful of grokable deadlines becomes unmanageable at several dozen tasks and is abandoned or utterly foobar’d at a few hundred. A country with a few million citizens makes a radical system like democracy look easy compared to hundreds of millions. 

Without trying to sound too arrogant (now please don’t take it that way), I, like many of my peers in tech and gaming have the requisite high cognition profile — a higher degree of cognitive processing power, speed and memory — higher than the average bag of water and guts. But I can’t keep more than a handful of important things in my head at once, and the smartest people I’ve worked with — really, really smart people that make me feel very, very stupid — can’t either. If I’m supposed to be the guy with a better bio-rig, and the majority of h. sapiens have the “average” rig (presumably less), then how in the hell is it that we expect people on every moving sidewalk of life (from art to science to business to government and everything else) to be so incredibly responsible and accountable for levels of detail and complexity which they could not possibly grasp on a regular basis? If I can’t do it (wow that’s arrogant, sorry), why is it so common to expect just about anyone to do it?

It seems all to human to me that we repress our innate challenges with Big Scale. It’s not uncommon for many people, often the most popular, wealthy and/or responsible members of society, to claim mastery over dozens to hundreds of topics and policies. Political promises are a good example, as are the size of most unreadably dense bills, propositions and contracts. Business meetings are another — CEO’s present as if they have a tight grasp on a dozen or more complicated pieces of the company when all know deep down there is no way in or out of hell that they have more than the top line gist of it.

And we’re just as bad or worse, because we love to hold people accountable for anything and everything in their domain, as if we really expect them to have a handle on tons of daily shit than no human being could possibly have that handle on. Yet we, with the help of a profit-hungry press and plenty of our own non-checked facts and pseudo-humble, rhetorical opine, spam them with blame for the slightest slip up.