This one is really pretty simple. It is a first principle of evolutionary biology – wherein it is expressed as “almost all mutations are lethal,” a fairly obvious truism when it comes to incredibly complex living organisms that manifest a truly spooky degree of thoughtful robust design. It has direct, immediate and palpable – i.e., painful – application in almost every domain of human activity. It goes like this: take something that is working pretty much, hobbling along from one day to the next without dying altogether, and then change it so as to make it work better according to your bright stupid idea; how likely is it that you are going to succeed in your project of reform?
Not likely, right? I mean, really: how likely is it that you will have thought of just what needs to be done with a procedure that has been cooking along for decades without your help? A procedure that has hobbled along from one day to the next for say 30 years is probably doing OK, mutatis mutandis. Mess with it, and you are likely to do no more than mess with it, at the very best.
So, in messing with it, you are almost certainly wasting your time.
So, hello, stop messing with things.
Anyone who has worked with his hands will instantly see that the likelihood of improvement on a process that is pretty much working OK is minuscule, whereas the likelihood that the process will be deeply messed up by any experimentation is extremely high. This is why software development proceeds in sandboxes completely insulated from the environments of the working applications it aims to improve. Ditto for the trades, for engineering, and indeed for philosophy in the broadest sense of that term (as denoting, i.e., all the sciences, including theology) – albeit, not so often for practical religion, arts, education, politics, and the other “softer” “disciplines,” alas; in which, the general attitude seems to be, “throw it out there and see what works.” In the softer disciplines, wherein perverse consequences are not so immediate, painful and direct as in, say, plumbing, innovation is the sine qua non, the main thing that garners attention, and money, and unfortunately the only reason to pay attention to their exponents. So is it that the perverse innovations of the softer “disciplines” enjoy a greater half-life, and so can do more damage before their perversity is generally acknowledged.
Thus the key question, that all reformers should ask is, this: what could possibly go wrong? The sandboxes of IT developers are a way to ask that question, and then answer it, without ruining everything irrecoverably.
Does any legislative body employ such sandboxes? Does any legislative body run simulations of proposed changes to policy algorithms? It is to laugh. No; those idiots just forge ahead, blithely ignorant of the consequences of their blind acts. God help us, all.
In practice, it is not really too difficult to figure out whether a proposed reform is likely to help. You don’t need a simulation program encoded in millions of instructions. For almost all proposals, all you need is the gedanken policy test. The results of the test are almost always immediately obvious, and rule out almost all proposed reforms – including the misguided reforms of earlier days.
Ergo, tradition. Mess with it at your peril. Because why? Because *it is the thing that has delivered you to your present moment.* It is *all you have to go on.* Ruin it, and in all likelihood you shall ruin yourself.