One of the things I loved about biology was the concept of feedback. If you get too much inventivium in your blood system, your science fictioning gland shuts down so you don’t get too far from reality. (What, you don’t have those? Really?)
Anyway I don’t love feedback in electronics. In the bad old days (yes, kids, pre-history) when we had a house phone (landline) with a mobile receiver, and Dan and I were one on each receiver, if we got too close it started to whine. You know, you’re discussing a party invitation and you want to see the other’s face to find out if he’s saying “We’ll try but” because he doesn’t want to go, or whether “we’ll try, but” and suddenly the phone is screaming in your ear.
I suppose it had a useful side, because I suspect you got other interference when too close, but it was annoying.
Well, now I think about it, most feedback is annoying.
Economics is full of it — as are other economic systems — and humans find it so annoying they have devised various means of shutting it down, and then become puzzled and do crazy stuff when the system goes out of control.
Take price controls. They deliberately shut down feedback. The idea is “people need to eat and the essentials should be cheap.” We went tons of rounds on this in the seventies in Portugal. It was FUN — not — and responsible for empty grocery shelves and problems getting the essentials. Because when cooking oil was dirty cheap by price control, everyone who had ridden this pony before (with bread, with toilet paper, with…) would buy everything in the grocery shelves. Meanwhile, because it was impossible for merchants to make a profit on the thing, they didn’t stock it. Which was okay, because the factories that made it couldn’t afford to at that price, so they stopped. And all the way down the line.
This is because what the idiot politicians were shutting down was the feedback. Prices are many things — and sometimes annoying when you really want a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones but your bank account is crying, to use a totally random example — but MOSTLY? They’re information. They’re feedback.
Because, yes, people work for profit, and profit — things that Warren and Sanders will never get — is not dirty, it’s what people live on, when prices go up — meaning there’s more demand than supply — people go “hey, you can make a profit in this” and start making more, until the supply and demand match, and you can’t make as much money, so people wander off to do other stuff.
You shut down the signal, and things go insane. You keep it shut down long enough while handing down lists of things that the government wants you to make, and vast famines sweep the land but you have a surplus of size 35 shoes for the left foot only. Because the directive handed the factory made that the easiest thing to do.
But it is not just in economics (though eh, everything is a branch of economics, as my reading in my 30s informed me. Which means that’s probably when I started going insane) that humans love shutting down feedback.
The truth is we don’t like reality very much, and are more or less perpetually at war with it.
We have this image of how things should be, and because we imagine it so clearly we think it’s a moral imperative.
Which brings us to how we got into a fine mess, in publishing, in universities, in… everything affected by the long march.
The long march looks cunning, and it was. And for some people it was a conscious plan. But here’s the thing, it’s also a process that goes automatically when a large enough group of humans in a nation or a field share an image of what’s “ideal”. In other words, in theocracies, the shut down of feedback from reality, and the ramping up of bringing in other true believers is standard, and intensifies as it goes.
This is not a thing of the left, btw. Every human institution, given the power to do it, shuts off feedback they don’t like.
This is why large corporations who can do so buy monopolistic status from governments (in various ways) and then stop heeding reality and go insane. Which is why large and powerful enough corporations become indistinguishable from totalitarian states. And also why, no matter how much influence they have on government, they eventually crumble and fall apart.
It’s also why publishing came up with “ordering by computer” and “ordering to the net” which allowed the houses to determine who stayed in and who got kicked out, all the while claiming they were being responsible and following the “numbers” — except that the numbers were vitiated by factors in their control — like the original laydown. Or how much push a book got. Or how willing they were to reprint. And none of this was taken in account in the “ordering to the net” thing, which ultimately reinforced the publishers’ ideas of what should sell. IOW it was a lie, but it was a lie that accorded with their idea of the perfect reality. Which is why it didn’t work. None of this worked.
And the problem is that as gatekeepers they were inclined to pick things that reinforced their biases — not even just political, their lifestyle biases, and age biases. One of the biggest arguments I had with a publisher was for having Dyce not follow her crazy parents’ dreams, because the boomer publisher identified with her parents, so… — and disliked feedback that told them this stuff didn’t sell. So they came up with a way to make the stuff they disliked (and they bought some, though not a ton, and yes, usually tried to pick not so good stuff) sell even worse. That way they could “prove” that the stuff they liked was the stuff the “few smart people who still read” liked. And most people were “too dumb to read” thereby explaining the cratering print runs.
They’re still doing this, btw. In their circles, the fact that indie exposed their lies and that genres they declared dead, like the cozy or mil sf or clean romances are doing amazingly well is obscured by “games with statistics.” They routinely say “ebooks don’t sell” meaning their own (well, duh, priced not to sell) and therefore trad pub is in control again.
It’s as big a fantasy as the USSR leading the world in steel production and it ends the same way: in massive destruction of wealth, lives, and good will.
But the market will go on, and find a path.
The thing is that once you shut off feed back, the insanity is self-feeding. And if you’re invested in it, you can’t admit it.
Also that once you shut off feed back pushing your favorite view becomes THE thing. Hence not just publishing going hard left, but the universities following, and the utter crazy of corporations (I’m looking at you Gillette) rolling left to die is all part of “there are no other standards, everyone agrees with us. We must preach the truth(y) word from on high, because we’re doing good in the world, and it shows how good we are” missionary effort of a religion without an afterlife and with no concept of forgiveness. Oh, and no contact with reality.
Sooner or later, feedback wins.
You see, it’s there to give you signals that things are going to be in serious trouble and soon. If you shut it off, it doesn’t stop happening. You just can’t hear it.
If you shut off the feedback signaling that the pressure is too high, all you’re doing is ensuring things blow up.
Build under, build around. Because sure as the sun rises in the morning, there she blows.
Our job is to ensure when the lefty dream society goes sky high, it doesn’t take Western Civ with it.