The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Reductionism in the Industrial Complexes

The strength of the idea of private enterprise lies in its terrifying simplicity. It suggests that the totality of life can be reduced to one aspect—profits. [...]

Everything becomes crystal clear after you have reduced reality to one—one only—of its thousand aspects. You know what to do—whatever produces profits; you know what to avoid—whatever reduces them or makes a loss. And there is at the same time a perfect measuring rod for the degree of success or failure. Let no one befog the issue by asking whether a particular action is conducive to the wealth and well-being of society, whether it leads to moral, aesthetic, or cultural enrichment. Simply find out whether it pays; simply investigate whether there is an alternative that pays better. If there is, choose the alternative.

It is no accident that successful businessmen are often astonishingly primitive; they live in a world made primitive by this process of reduction. They fit into this simplified version of the world and are satisfied with it. And when the real world occasionally makes its existence known and attempts to force upon their attention a different one of its facets, one not provided for in their philosophy, they tend to become quite helpless and confused. They feel exposed to incalculable dangers and "unsound” forces and freely predict general disaster. As a result, their judgements on actions dictated by a more comprehensive outlook on the meaning and purpose of life are generally quite worthless. It is a foregone conclusion for them that a different scheme of things, a business, for instance, that is not based on private ownership, cannot possibly succeed. If it succeeds all the same, there must be a sinister explanation— “exploitation of the consumer,” “hidden subsidies,” “forced labour," “monopoly," “dumping," or some dark and dreadful accumulation of a debit account which the future will suddenly present.

But this is a digression. The point is that the real strength of the theory of private enterprise lies in this ruthless simplification, which fits so admirably also into the mental patterns created by the phenomenal successes of science. The strength of science, too, derives from a "reduction" of reality to one or the other of its many aspects, primarily the reduction of quality to quantity.

small-is-beautifulp. 215–6

(link added)

seeing-like-a-state: state simplifications are highly effective... until the states are no more

Basically the thesis of hypernormalisation.


seeing-like-a-state Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press. ↩︎ 1

hypernormalisation Curtis, Adam. 2016. “Hypernormalisation”. BBC. ↩︎ 1

small-is-beautiful Schumacher, Ernst Friedrich. 2001. Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as If People Mattered. Random House. ↩︎ 1