Killing Sparrows

By Leo Gura - December 13, 2022

In Maoist China, as part of the communist effort to rapidly modernize and develop the country, the state ordered a mass campaign to hunt down every sparrow — because they would sometimes eat a few crops. But the sparrows actually ate many harmful insects, so after their extermination, insect epidemics ravaged crops and lead to famine.

An example of being too eager to make changes to a system the depth of which you do not comprehend. Systems thinking teaches us to be conservative when trying to change or upgrade complex systems. Socialists, radicals, anarchists, and libertarians often don’t comprehend the foundations of the systems they call to eliminate or change. You can’t just get rid of capitalism in the way socialists dream because it exists for good reasons. Be careful thinking that you are more intelligent than these systems. Actually, capitalism is way more intelligent than any socialist revolutionary.

Radicals and revolutionaries are rarely good systems thinkers because they are blinded by a strong agenda and ideology, whereas system thinking requires an empirical approach. When politics gets disconnected from empiricism it becomes moronic and dangerous, similar to philosophy and religion. Politics must be science-like to be effective. It’s not about what you think will work, it’s about what actually works — which are two very different things. You need to have an open mind about whether a policy will work or not, not just assume or insist that it will. But radicals and revolutionaries never have such a mind because they are too embroiled in fighting a political battle from a position of powerlessness. And so many blunders are made.

Insights from my study of communist history. I’m really fascinated by what made communism fail. There are so many interesting and important lessons to learn about human nature, psychology, and self-deception from studying communist regimes.

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