Better is Enough

The world will probably never be perfect, but it can always be better.


There is a certain attitude pervasive in social discourse, which seems counter to the concept of optimizing the world. In social discourse, politics, and the media, any new proposal or solution must meet a standard no lower than perfection. There doesn’t seem to be an official name for this attitude; system justification doesn’t seem to encompass the issue.

Many are understandably reluctant to update what seems to be a perfectly good system, but the problem is that people easily become complacent with flawed but familiar systems. Any flaw in a new system is pointed out as evidence that the new system does not work, and that it was hubris to mess with the old. The problem is that, even if there are flaws with the new system, it may be more effective overall than the old.

It may not be worth it, in the long run, to implement a new system whose benefits are so small that the time and expense it costs to put it in place is not worth the gains. However, politicians, pundits, and the newspapers hardly seem interested in sitting down and running a cost-benefit analysis. The public, I’m sure, is even less interested in reading a cost-benefit analysis. Newspaper sales rise when two sides are pitted against each other, and policy disputes are great for ratings. Politicians gain office by making the other side look bad. Sales of old technology is protected when new technology is attacked.

Take, for example, automobile technology. No matter how safe a Tesla might be overall, problems with the new technology can linger in public discourse.

In such cases, it’s important to remember that better is ok. In fact, better is great. Any lives saved by implementing new systems still carry great moral weight. It’s still good to scrutinize new technology. It’s important to roll out new systems slowly and carefully, to rule out unforeseen consequences in a complex system. We must not, however, hold back significant improvement in the name of impossible standards of perfection.

As long as it’s possible, let’s try to do better.


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