Innovation for Its Own Sake is Noisome

Innovation per se is not stupid. Pushing the envelope can be socially salutary; but not when it is done only for its own sake, or for the sake of notoriety, of fashion, or of fame. There is a difference between Evel Knievel and Planck, e.g.; or, between the insane, inane and therefore utterly stupid useless absurd extravagances of the fashion industry on the one hand, and the experiments at the bleeding edges of the changing limits of practically useful and therefore generally appealing clothing design (whether for purposes of mere fabulous sexual allure at one end of the spectrum, or of survival in harsh environments at the other) as fabrics and materials – and preferences – all evolve.

Excursus: It is interesting to me to note as an outdoorsman – as, indeed, for a few years one of only a few hundred world class professional outdoorsmen operating in the most extreme environments on the planet, and so quite familiar with the territory in all her dimensions, economic and geographic, and above all practical – that while fabrics and technology in outdoor gear and clothing have improved massively over the past 40 years, fashion among outdoorsmen has changed not at all. Our packs, tents, sleeping bags, clothing and equipment work better than what I started with, by an order of magnitude. But they still look pretty much the same. Nobody in that world appears to be the least bit interested in looking different than anyone did in 1970. They only want their gear to work properly.

It’s an SWPL thing. No other sort of person is even interested in that world. So racist.

*All* of the improvements in gear over the last 70 years rely on petrochemicals (starting with Dacron). None of the outdoor equipment manufacturers who rail online about CO2 and climate change want to notice the uncomfortable fact that almost all their products are almost entirely petrochemical (the zipper pulls are still metal). Sad! But one cannot blame them, after all. Their market – outdoorsmen – are passionately devoted to the preservation of wilderness; and while no competent outdoorsman can be ignorant of natural history, and so live, many are indeed ignorant of theoretical science, engineering, and manufacturing. The outdoor equipment manufacturers are stuck between a rock and a hard place: the rock of materials science, and the hard place of their market.

God bless them, all. I know that they are working hard on a way to manufacture polyester (or something like it, that works and also biodegrades) from hemp (or something like it). They may save us, yet. To hell with plastic. In that I am at one with their better angels.

There is an historical analogy, for what it is worth. There is a symbiosis between the military and the outdoorsmen. For almost a century, the latter have informed the former. In terms of equipment rather than of weaponry, the 10th Mountain Division is mostly a New England winter camping thing, with input from Finland and Mountain Hardwear. Radical innovations in outdoor gear pioneered by such firms as North Face and Patagonia now totally permeate the military equipment of all Western nations. Lo, it turns out that as a Grand Canyon whitewater boatman all those years ago, I was an R&D salient of the military industrial complex. Tant pis! But, this has been, emphatically, *not wrong.* It is just the way things *should* work, in any proper society. The only problem – for the outdoorsmen, and for their vendors, who are all likewise chthonic libertarians – Montani semper liberi! – is that the libertarian outdoorsmen see the military as their adversaries.

They are wrong so to think.

The men of the 10th Mountain Division are of all people the most reliable support of the values of such firms as Patagonia. And vice versa. Hell, despite their PC PR, Patagonia probably knows this full well, from their long and fruitful relations with the 10th Mountain. The 10th Mountain Division is *entirely staffed* by men convenient to the wilderness mission of Patagonia. Those men must love the woods. I cannot conceive of two demographics more completely inclined to agree on this or that topic relevant to the wilderness I so love.

Other than with respect to war. Patagonia wishes there were no such thing. The 10th Mountain knows it shall ever be so.

OK, enough said re that.

Anybody here reading from the 10th Mountain, please correct my errors.

Societies do need, always, to push at the envelope, if only because the shape of the envelope – the shape of the environing context of decisions – constantly changes. But societies need to push the envelope only *when and where they really do need to push the envelope.*

Pushing the envelope of development in the absence of a compelling need to adapt to new circumstances is almost always eo ipso at least a bit disastrous, whether in large part or in small.

Both the development of doctrine in Christianity under the oversight of the episcopal Magisterium and the development of the Standard Model of Physics (and so of all the sciences supervenient thereto) as schooled by experiment are basically salutary. They are healthy for society, mostly because they are so careful and judicious. Crucial to both those procedures is the presumption that most new ideas are probably wrong. As most such must in logic be: I can throw new notions like the phlogiston or Arianism at the wall all day long, and almost all of them are going to turn out stupid, if not actively evil (is there a difference?). So both those cultural procedures of commensal epistemology put new ideas to the test. Almost all fail, and then fall by the wayside, mostly forgotten – so that, eventually, they show up again in new clothes, and must be batted down again.

With its emphasis on the unrolling implications of previous judicial decisions, and of the due care and caution instantiated in the doctrine of stare decisis, the development of positive civil law in the common law tradition is another example – at least, in common law jurisdictions – of such fundamentally disciplined and so salutary approaches to innovation.

Innovation is the devil’s playground. We cannot but go there, if we are to live – for, life is just new things happening; so that the devil’s playground is whatever happens to us. But, so, we must go there with eyes open.

Be careful, then. Caveat, lector.

And remember: wu wei; first, do no harm; ergo, first consider doing nothing. Wait. Measure thrice, cut once. Then, onward, and be of good cheer.

10 thoughts on “Innovation for Its Own Sake is Noisome

  1. This is a good corollary to chestertons fence: dont tear down the old fence until you know why its there, dont build a “better” fence until you know why the old fence has lasted so long.

  2. I once knew a guy at work totally open to–nay, positively enthusiastic about–any and every social experiment.

    Also, he was a homosexual.

  3. The most effective and dangerous pushers of change for its own sake are surely that largest and most rapidly growing of all classes: managers within bureaucracies.

    *Managers change things* – that is what managers do; and in a world dominated by bureaucracy, this means that change is a constant.

    They change the name of the company; the logo, website and letterhead; the mission statement and employment contract; they set up new subdivisions; ‘re-organize’; they hire consultants to suggest more ways that things can/ ought-to change.

    When I was a doctor, managers were telling doctors how to diagnose and treat patients – what worked and what didn’t; when I was a university professor they were telling us how to teach classes, and do scientific research – what ‘counts’ as research, what kind of research we should do, where we should publish – and who we should work with. And all the time they are subordinating everybody else to the managerial diktats.

    By the time I retired; managers had taken over all the major activities of everything – and everybody else was reduced to following (ever more detailed) managerially-approved procedures, and spending *most* of their time complying with managerial monitoring of their compliance.

    Managers have rendered all workplaces almost identical in form – medicine, teaching and science became generic bureaucracies – so that managers could manage anything ‘equally well’.

    Yet of course managers – on average – know nothing of the substantive work of the organization; and care less for these activities; so not only was there a problem of change usually being harmful – but the managers were not even motivated that change should be good; nor motivated to reverse changes that had bad consequences – all bad consequences of change were addressed by *more* changes…

    The managerial revolution has long since encompassed the major Christian churches – which goes a long way to explaining their most obvious deficiencies and corruptions; and their continual change…

  4. When I first became aware that I was conservative, and after I had recovered from the initial shock of shame and horror, I began reading Russel Kirk. I remember that he wrote about neoterism, which I understood to mean a bigoted attachment to the new. The neoteric was therefore an inversion of the intransigent, reactionary stick-in-the-mud. Looking around me, I saw that intransigent, reactionary stick-in-the-muds were chimerical and neoterics were everywhere. It was instantly clear to me that what Americans needed was to have their “sales resistance” built up, not broken down.

    I’ve forgotten which apostle of modernism said it, but the slogan was “make it new.” It might have been Clement Greenberg. In any case, a century of modernism has taught us that the motto “make it new” is in practice the motto “make it bizarre.” A culture (or religion) that prizes novelty for its own sake will quickly become a freak show. I think the reason is that true creativity is very rare, so increased demand calls to market a spurious supply.

    My outdoor adventures are nowadays too tame to require extreme gear, but I’ve also taken on a somewhat anti-gear philosophy. Gear is properly a means and the outdoor adventure is the end, but gear has a way of inverting the proper relation. The kevlar kayak is not satisfied with being a means of exploring the river, so before you know it the river is a means to make use of the kevlar kayak.

    • I’m not much of a gearhead – I use stuff until it falls apart (which generally happens deep in the back country), and I use as little of it as I can. But I admire good gear. When I visit REI, I’m routinely shocked at how much better the new stuff is than the stuff I’m still using. The rigors of outdoor life force gear to be intensely practical; they force good, ingenious design. It always amuses me when I return to the city and see the absurd gewgaws and useless buckles that clutter urban packs and pants.

      Even the old stuff is terrific. I’m still using the daypack my daughter used in high school, and I admire it every time I do.

  5. I always wore a jacket and tie when teaching, where most males wore jeans and a T-shirt. But I bought my jackets, most of them double-breasted, at the local thrift store. I figured that it worked this way: Someone who started lawyering in Oswego a long time ago — and in the early 2000s, that might have meant in the 1950s — died and his family gave his wardrobe to the charity. The charity put the double-breasted fashion items on sale for three dollars a piece because they suspected that no one would buy them. I did. I still refer to it as my “dead lawyer” collection.

    • When I was on the cross country team at SUNY Geneseo, the state paid for a meals after away meets. In order to be a credit to Geneseo, the SUNY system, and the State of New York, we were required to dine in jackets. In order to satisfy this requirement, the cross country team, impecunious to a man, relied on the village thrift store. In many cases I suppose we wore the second-best jacket of the former owner, which is to say the one he was not buried in.

  6. Pingback: Innovation should be functional. – Dark Brightness

  7. Pingback: All the gear and no idea – Adam Piggott

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