THE ANNA KARENINA PRINCIPLE

Posted in Rants on December 12th, 2016 by Ed

Life isn't fair. To prove it, compare the amount of time it takes to build something with the time required to destroy it. Spend a few hours on a sand castle and someone can knock it down in about ten seconds.

Pick any kind of organization – a family, a corporation, a sports team, a social circle, a volunteer group – and the amount of time and effort required to make it functional and successful is vastly disproportional to the ease with which everything falls apart. One person or one bad decision is all that it takes in some cases to ruin something that was the product of thousands of people and an equal number of good decisions.

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy states that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." It emphasizes that in order to make something successful it's often necessary to avoid dozens of potential mistakes but any one of a large number of potential mistakes will result in failure. This is why, for better or worse, most organizations succeed or fail based on decisions made at the top. Leadership is important – overly so, in many cases – because it alone has the power to make the kinds of mistakes that can be fatal.

This is important to remember as we watch the painfully long roll-out of an impending Trump administration that all but promises to set the country back a few decades in a matter of months. Governing for people of these ideological stripes is easy in the same way that dynamiting a skyscraper is easier than building one. Liberals and centrists are at the constant disadvantage of trying to create things that require a dozen different things to be executed nearly flawlessly, while anti-government conservatives can dismantle it or render it useless in no time at all.

The really troubling part of this clown car of losers getting to sit at the controls is not that they will do damage to the economy, national security, civil rights, and the environment. What is alarming is the years it will take to undo. We could suck it up and live with a couple of bad years, but the consequences of those bad years will linger long after the people responsible for it have returned to obscurity where they belong.

Progress is incremental. Regression is precipitous. This is going to be bad.