20140412n

And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.

(Plutarch, Parallel Lives).

Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts, because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act.

(A.E. Housman, The Name and Nature of Poetry).

For if ten pounds of food is a lot for someone to eat, and two pounds a little, the trainer will not necessarily prescribe six; for this may be a lot or a little for the person about to eat it – for Milo, a little, for a beginner at gymnastics, a lot. The same goes for running and wrestling. In this way every expert in a science avoids excess and deficiency, and aims for the mean and chooses it – the mean, that is, not in the thing itself but relative to us.

(Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics).

‘Dave, mate,’ he’d reply with a shrug of the shoulders. ‘It’s easy. Athletes are all the same—cyclists, walkers—whatever. They’re all insecure. You just gotta make ’em feel good; tell ’em to train when they need to train, and make ’em rest when they need to rest.’

(David Millar, Racing Through the Dark).

Indeed, to say the truth, his books on metaphysics are written in a style which makes them useless for ordinary teaching, and instructive only, in the way of memoranda, for those who have been already conversant in that sort of learning.

(Plutarch, Parallel Lives).

[O]nly in principles… communicated orally for the sake of instruction and graven in the soul, which is the true way of writing, is there clearness and perfection and seriousness.

(Plato, Phaedrus).

[Alexander] would have chosen rather to succeed to a kingdom involved in troubles and wars, which would have afforded him frequent exercise of his courage, and a large field of honour, than to one already flourishing and settled where his inheritance would be an inactive life, and the mere enjoyment of wealth and luxury.

(Plutarch, Parallel Lives).

I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of.

(Thoreau, Walden).

He wrote to him, using very plain language to him in behalf of philosophy, the following letter. ‘Alexander to Aristotle, greeting. You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all? For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell.’

(Plutarch, Parallel Lives).

But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.

(Thoreau, Walden).

‘Professionals are rated by the presumed complexity of what they know and do. So to retain or raise an occupation’s status, tasks are made more mysterious, usually by taking what’s really simple and adding obfuscating layers.’

(Andrew Hacker, How He Got it Right, via Richard Posner, Reflections on Judging).

While he stayed here, many public ministers and philosophers came from all parts to visit him and congratulated him on his election, but contrary to his expectation, Diogenes of Sinope, who then was living at Corinth, thought so little of him, that instead of coming to compliment him, he never so much as stirred out of the suburb called the Cranium, where Alexander found him lying along in the sun. When he saw so much company near him, he raised himself a little, and vouchsafed to look upon Alexander; and when he kindly asked him whether he wanted anything, “Yes,” said he, “I would have you stand from between me and the sun.” Alexander was so struck at this answer, and surprised at the greatness of the man, who had taken so little notice of him, that as he went away he told his followers, who were laughing at the moroseness of the philosopher, that if he were not Alexander, he would choose to be Diogenes.

(Plutarch, Parallel Lives).

Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy and tremble too much for that.

(Thoreau, Walden).

A state that cannot attain its ultimate goal usually swells to an unnaturally large size. The world-wide empire of the Romans is nothing sublime compared to Athens. The strength that really should go into the flower here remains in the leaves and stem, which flourish.

(Nietzsche, note from 1870).

The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.

(Thoreau, Walden).

To him who has turned out well, who does my heart good, carved from wood that is hard, gentle, and fragrant–in whom even the nose takes pleasure–this book is dedicated.

He enjoys the taste of what is wholesome for him;

his pleasure in anything ceases when the bounds of the wholesome are crossed;

he divines the remedies for partial injuries; he has illnesses as great stimulants of his life;

he knows how to exploit ill chances;

he grows stronger through the accidents that threaten to destroy him;

he instinctively gathers from all that he sees, hears, experiences, what advances his main concern–he follows a principle of selection–he allows much to fall through;

he reacts with the slowness bred by a long caution and a deliberate pride–he tests a stimulus for its origin and its intentions, he does not submit;

he is always in his own company, whether he deals with books, men, or landscapes;

he honors by choosing, by admitting, by trusting.

(Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 1003).

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20140405n

2003

200303, Naples, Italy. I was on spring break from my sophomore year of high school. While I was in Italy, the invasion of Iraq started. This photograph is from the port of Naples; there are several NATO facilities in the region.

2004

200403, Paris, France. Spring break of my junior year. This photograph is from the section of the Paris Catacombs open to the public. The inscription is from the Distichs of Cato. It reads: “He fears not death who has learned to despise life.”

2005

200503, Paris, France. Spring break of my senior year. Sunrise from Montmartre. My third visit to the city; I was travelling with MST.

2006

200603, Bologna, Italy. Spring break, freshman year of college. Piazza Maggiore. I spent my junior year abroad in Bologna, and lived a few hundred meters away from this square.

2007

200703, New York City. Spring break, sophomore year. A view from Roosevelt Island, looking south. Perhaps symbolizing a growing passion for photography– this was the eighth photograph taken from my first SLR.

2008

200803, New York, NY, USA. Spring break, junior year. I returned to New York City from Bologna, where I had been since late summer of 2007. KJB visited the city with me. The photograph is from the entrance hall of the Museum of Natural History.

2009

200903, Middletown, CT, USA. Housemates from German Haus (JL and ES) make ice-cream.

2010

201003, Camp Geiger, NC, USA. Back from a mud run at the School of Infantry. Photograph taken by MF.

2011

201103, Fort Dix, NJ, USA. Marines from Anti-Armor platoon practice magazine reload drills.

2012

201203, Fort Dix, NJ, USA. Friend and mentor, HM3. The platoon ran a dynamic breaching and demolitions range on this day. A few days later, I was back in the classroom and struggling to complete my first year of law school.

2013

201303, D&R Canal Trail, NJ, USA. Spring break, spring semester, second year of law school. Heading to Trenton, then Frenchtown, on the D&R Canal Trail. Cycling has helped ease my transition to the IRR.

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20140329n

dwrz_20120529_27

‘Earth is a goddess,’ wrote Xenophon in the fourth century before Christ, ‘and teaches justice to those who can learn.’ Justice and compassion and prudence and appropriateness and harmony—all of what were later called the cardinal virtues: ‘The better she is served,’ Xenophon taught, ‘the more good things she gives in return.’

(Kirkpatrick Sale, Mother of All: An Introduction to Bioregionalism).

Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.

(Henry David Thoreau, Journal).

During the research for this book, I was encouraged to find that many people now of college age—those who belong to the first generation to grow up in a largely de-natured environment—have tasted just enough nature to intuitively understand what they have missed. This yearning is a source of power. These young people resist the rapid slide from the real to the virtual, from the mountains to the Matrix. They do not intend to be the last children in the woods.

(Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder).

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20140328n

resources-bison
(Wikipedia, American Bison).

And a Man sat alone, drenched deep in sadness. And all the animals drew near to him and said, ‘We do not like to see you so sad. Ask us for whatever you wish and you shall have it.’ The Man said, ‘I want to have good sight.’ The vulture replied, ‘You shall have mine.’ The Man said, ‘I want to be strong.’ The jaguar said, ‘You shall be strong like me.’ Then the Man said, ‘I long to know the secrets of the earth.’ The serpent replied, ‘I will show them to you.’ And so it went with all the animals. And when the Man had all the gifts that they could give, he left. Then the owl said to the other animals, ‘Now the Man knows much, he’ll be able to do many things. Suddenly I am afraid.’ The deer said, ‘The Man has all that he needs. Now his sadness will stop.’ But the owl replied, ‘No. I saw a hole in the Man, deep like a hunger he will never fill. It is what makes him sad and what makes him want. He will go on taking and taking, until one day the World will say, “I am no more and I have nothing left to give.”‘

(Apocalypto).

Is this all we are? A diminutive monster that can leave no door closed, no hiding place intact, that is now doing to the great beasts of the sea what we did so long ago to the great beasts of the land? Or can we stop? Can we use our ingenuity, which for two million years has turned so inventively to destruction, to defy our evolutionary history?

(George Monbiot, Destroyer of Worlds).

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20140323n


Building 420, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, Kilo Company.
20100113, Parris Island, SC, USA.

Platoon 3100 was made on the first deck.

Being a Marine is a state of mind. It is an experience some have likened more to a calling than a profession. Being a Marine is not a job – not a pay check; it is not an occupational specialty. It is not male or female, majority or minority, nor is it a rank insignia. Stars, bars, and chevrons are only indicators of the responsibility or authority we hold at a given time. Rather, being a Marine comes from the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor that is tattooed on the soul of every one of us who wears the Marine Corps uniform. It is a searing mark in our innermost being, which comes after the rite of passage through boot camp or OCS when a young man or woman is allowed for the first time to say, ‘I am a United States Marine.’ And unlike physical or psychological scars, which, over time, tend to heal and fade in intensity, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor only grow more defined – more intense – the longer you are a Marine.

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20140318n

Tribunals usually call for such discretion when they are being asked to resolve important issues under legal criteria that make little or no policy sense. The normal response of most tribunals to such a task is to decide the case as best they can by making a seat-of-the-pants judgment about whether the defendant government is behaving correctly or incorrectly — a process of judgment known in some circles as the “smell test.” Once the tribunal comes to a conclusion about who should win, it fashions an analysis, in terms of the meaningless criteria it has been asked to apply, that makes the case comes out that way. Given the likelihood that decisions written in this manner will have a high degree of inconsistency, the tribunals naturally seek to give such decisions as much armor-plating as possible by claiming the widest possible range of discretion. This pattern of decision-making actually works a good deal better than one might think. So long as the tribunal gets it right most of the time — that is, decides its cases according to the larger community’s perception of right and wrong behavior — the decisions tend to be accepted, and in an opaque sort of way they even succeed in guiding conduct toward the proper goals.

(Robert E. Hudec, GATT/WTO CONSTRAINTS ON NATIONAL REGULATION: REQUIEM FOR AN “AIM AND EFFECTS” TEST).


(Photographer: George Scott/Factory Media, Inside the Team Sky Bus).

1. Do the simple things excellently.
2. Optimise talent with a dynamic, fun and challenging culture.
3. Behavioural change only comes when either the suffering or reward is great enough.
4. Give ownership and appeal to the mature side of the team.
5. Success can be corrosive and failure hugely motivational.
6. People like clarity.
7. Help people to believe that they are the best.
8. There is a direct correlation between salary spend and performance.
9. The greatest marginal gain is a simple smile.
10. If you want people to perform, make them feel valued.
11. Make sure you hire the very best.
12. To be a great leader, you need to know yourself first.
13. Understand how to win and then work back.
14. Find the optimal way to make the team perform at the optimum level.
15. Be compassionately ruthless.
16. Build the right culture to get 30% more.
17. Be massively driven to improve.
18. Winning is contagious.
19. The team should create the rules.
20. Vision leads to understanding.

(Tony Babb, Sir David Brailsford’s 20 Lessons in Leadership)

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20131119n

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason–
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all–my only swerving–,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

(William Stafford, Travelling Through the Dark).

This afternoon I took a nap, about an hour and a half– deep sleep, vivid dreams– the types which linger into the rest of your waking hours, tugging at you.

I am still trying to understand why architecture plays such a strong role in my dreams.

Often the eyes are on staircases, arches, bridges, flowing rivers, columns, materials and ornamentation.

I am not sure if there is a hidden metaphorical connection to those images, or if it is simply the mind using a sort of mnemonic to remember places.

The mnemonic itself does not make sense, only when it is unwrapped and extrapolated towards a given context. “ROYGBIV” in letters is senseless, the colors of light it signifies are not. In the dreams it is like looking at the mnemonic directly, without the extrapolation, without the unwrapping.

Another aspect is that often things are re-organized and re-assembled, but not in the exact order. For example, in my dreams the layout of my high school is very different, but certain elements are there: the stone wall of Tilinghast Hall, the glass connection between Pforzheimer Hall and Fisher Hall.

I wonder if there is any connection to a sort of “architectural” catalog in the mind– when I visualize fiction the imagination of architectural description is filled in by this catalog.

Another intuition is that the architectural re-organization of places that goes on in the dreams is a sort of idealization: how the world would look if I had designed it. Often there is a sort of surreal and mysterious beauty that would be impossible in real life– mixing details of Venice with those of Bologna and Stockholm and Xi’an….

The other feeling of the vivid dreams is memories of darkness; the mood reminds me of shutters down (blinds and the exterior Italian types), quietly exploring in the early afternoon, the adults sleeping, the heat outside, the coolness of the tiles inside. Or days of fog and rain and staying warm inside, maybe sick, maybe reading, steam rising up from tea.

The last scenes of the dream were related to December and January of 2007 and 2008; something inspired by KJB’s home in Rome, a masked party, but wood walls that looked like the planks of the Vasa ship, then back to my room in New York, again modified– larger, older furniture, darker, an old rowboat stored inside. The apartment was in Rome, now, somewhere near the Aventine, looking on Google Maps it was not far from where her home was (but I knew, in the dream, that she was no longer there). A brief scene of water flowing under a bridge (again, a mix of Venice and Bologna of sorts)– then I woke up.

No sense and no time to make sense of it– but I think that there is probably a part of those memories that are repressed; as if it has been necessary to bury the part of my personality attracted to intimacy and warmth, to mystery and exploration, wonder and playfulness. Those are things belong to youth and to the irrational, and are obstacles or distractions from what is needed today. I think this burying is fine– but it is helpful and insightful to understand the dynamic.

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20131118n

First draft, still in progress:

Getting Things Done, a time management methodology, encourages the application of “horizons of focus” in which an individual both manages present tasks and projects and envisions future goals and milestones. The methodology goes beyond the more common daily to-do lists or yearly resolutions, suggesting instead that users look at a wider range of time spans, ranging from current activities and projects, to 1-2 year and 3-5 year outlooks, and finally life purpose, goals, and visions. These horizons of focus enable a user to act responsibly towards immediate tasks and short term projects, but simultaneously encourage thinking about how those activities fit within longer time frames. The inclusion of a lifelong perspective, by reminding the user of the finality of life, intentionally inspires thinking about the harder questions of finding meaning and satisfaction in and over the course of life. Answering these questions can help an individual determine values and priorities, and can clarify how medium and longer term plans should be formed towards the realization of a long term vision.

By comparison, an individual focusing primarily on day-to-day responsibilities and occasionally on yearly resolutions risks dedicating energy towards work or goals which will fail to correspond to values and life goals. For an individual, failure to consider more distant horizons of focus can result in wasted time, resources, and opportunities. In the worst case, an individual could find themselves looking back on a life which has been more about reaction to stress rather than a proactive and strategic search for fulfillment.

These risks exist for organizations and societies as much, if not more, than they they do for the individual. Several factors increase the difficulty of engaging in the deeper “horizons of focus” in group settings. First, the life of a society or an organization is much longer than that of an individual’s, and thus the correspondingly increased time span to be considered is also correspondingly more uncertain. Second, the multiple and conflicting views that make up social groups increase the difficulty of finding a common vision. Third, the complexity of modern society, which often challenges the very limits of human rationality solely in the administration of day-to-day and short term operational activities, makes it difficult to dedicate the additional focus and time necessary to plan for more distant futures.

Because of these difficulties it is understandably frequent that energy is dedicated mainly in considering only the nearer horizons of focus, delaying or ignoring the more stressful, complex, and anxiety inducing preoccupations of the future.”Tomorrow” is an excuse always available for organizational or social procrastination, and the typical result is that future problems are left to be answered on their arrival.

The risks of this approach, or rather, the failure to approach the more distant future is, however, starting to become apparent. The growing and frequently irreversible impacts of human activity have started to highlight the costs of failing to engage future horizons of focus. The fear of a future of regret has lead calls to respond to this failure.

Awareness of these failures and cultural change in approaching planning will, to a certain degree, foster engagement with the uncertain future. However, other options may be available to help overcome some of the obstacles to the development and implementation of a group vision. One of these options is the creation of an institution whose primary task is implementation of a long term horizon of focus. This institution would mirror what an individual does when planning for the long term future. It would determine a group’s shared aspirations and common values, extrapolate milestones and goals from those values, study trends and consider future scenarios, and finally suggest how current activities or operations can be developed to fit in planning for the realization of the common vision.

This institution could function effectively and produce meaningful results in a variety of contexts. This paper, however, argues in favor for establishing such an institution in the government of New York State, and considers varying options for its implementation.

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20131116n

Specificity of instructions– from a conversation regarding the difference between high-level and low-level programming languages.

Compare the following categories of instructions:
1. Go to the grocer and bring back some bread.
2. Open the door, close the door, head downstairs, walk north-east for 50 meters, walk south for 100 meters, enter the grocer, find the bread section, pick up a loaf, go to the counter, pay, walk north 100 meters, walk south-west for 50 meters, head upstairs, open the door, close the door.
3. Raise hand, push forward, grip doorknob, turn right, pull, pick up left foot, step forward, let go of doorknob, pick up right foot….
4. Increasing detail (breath control, heartbeat, fire neuron).

Right Shoulder Arms
(Movement summarized by the commands of “Right Shoulder, Arms”).

I think the origin of the conversation was my interest in the basic hardware level of the computer– the simplest functions, how calculation occurs (is it also, like arithmetic calculation in the digit system, by a trick?), bits and bytes, how things build upon that.

When MV gave the example of shopping for bread, the “second thoughts” were about language. I think the surprise is exactly how much is summarized or symbolic in day-to-day communication. It reminds me of a phrase: “The heuristics language developed by Dr. Everett allows me to convey the highest and most succinct tier of any pyramidal construct of knowledge.” This brings to mind recent thoughts about extrapolation, poetry, the digit system; layers of meaning in words and their combination in sentences, also how much is assumed, given, taken for granted, not mentioned, not specified. Trust in the interpretative ability, autonomy, and judgment of the listener. In daily life, most instructions resemble the first category.

Third thoughts. The conversation was in May (20130523) and I started this note that month. Reviewing it now, the thoughts are about law: contracts, legislation, regulations. Specificity, detail, mistrust of the interpretative ability of “the listeners”, the level to which things are assumed less, stated, described. Most instructions in the second category, some in the third. Obviously there is considerable risk of error in the first category: when is this to be done, which grocer, what bread, how much of it, paid with whose money, should I know what the bread will be used for? Etcetera. This increased specificity probably also applies in other professional contexts– research, engineering, production.

Other intuitions– the relationship between trust and specificity.

I think one of the purposes– or at least one of the effects– of a legal education (professional indoctrination) is to reduce assumptions of trustworthiness. This is primarily done through reading cases– criminal, contract, corporations, environmental– the list goes on. Done on a regular basis this changes one’s picture of the world. That picture may not be wholly accurate; cases represent a fraction of the transactions in a society. To be fair, the students are told this. Still, the rhythm of great and petty tragedies continues almost daily, until eventually one concludes that optimism and hope are luxuries for the reckless and imprudent. “Thinking like a lawyer” 101.

Besides the psychological backdrop of the legal education there are plenty of other experiences and lessons which instruct the amount of trust to be placed in human beings generally– or what cues or signals one should respond to that tend to indicate the trustworthiness or untrustworthiness of a particular individual. Everything from the social dynamics of a playground (experienced first hand as children) to biology or psychology courses– to waiting in line, reading history, commuting to work, or seeing how people act when they are deprived food.

Maus(Art Spieglman, Maus).

The understanding, the generalization that a society has of human nature and its “trustworthiness” directly translates into its laws, contracts, and the specificity of its instructions. This is visible at various levels– from a society’s decision to have “separation of powers” in government– to a liquidated damages clause in private contract– to the quantity and type of rules one gives to a group of children (again, probably varying with the age of the children).

Where the concern is with the untrustworthiness of human nature– because of its incompetence, selfishness, or tendency to press for every advantage– increased specificity ensures understanding (avoiding confusion or mistakes) and enforcement (through voluntary compliance or by removing room to argue alternative interpretations as excuses). But this lack of trust also results in increased complexity and rigidity– more time is wasted in covering all the details (imagine a category 4 regulation), more resources are expended in creating and enforcing specificity.

In “go buy bread” terms– it takes more time to create and explain instructions for a lazy, alcoholic, gambling-addicted roommate short on money than for a professional sous-chef.

It wasn’t the first time, and won’t be the last, but Sunday’s cyclocross racing at the Gateway Cross Cup was marred by controversy due to an unintended faster line on the course. Three ingredients created the controversy: the course construction, Zach McDonald’s ride-around-the-barriers and the UCI official’s unique ruling and penalty on McDonald’s actions.

(Cyclocross Magazine, Poll: Riding Around the Barriers – Fair Game or Should Be Penalized?).

There are two further intuitions/explorations here.

One is the accuracy of an individual’s, organization’s, or society’s assumptions about human nature. I wonder if aggregated experience would be matched by an empirical study, if one of this type is feasible. Perhaps some sort of test could be created or conducted to determine an individual’s or a society’s trustworthiness. Something like credit ratings. X is honest 90% of the time, reliable to complete simple tasks well 75% of the time, 50% if the task is complex, this business has a 50% reliability rating in terms of delivery on time, and so on. Obviously feasibility is difficult, to another extent it already exists– reviews, seller ratings, grades, and so on. Still, development of even a roughly scientific and accurate form/methodology of assessment would be useful, would help inform investment, legislation, specificity of instructions.

Do legislators ever ask themselves, “How honest are our people?” Do managers? In-house counsel? Parents?

If it is not asked, is it assumed? What informs the assumptions? Are they accurate– do they correspond to reality?

The other intuition is somewhat related.

Does the following reflect generally held assumptions about human nature?

Something I find fascinating is the possibly misguided nature of the assumption that heavy street traffic necessitates the use of traffic lights and stop signs. The theory is that controlled intersections are faster and safer. But the empirics don’t necessarily bare this out, and the late Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman has persuaded a number of jurisdictions to shift to an uncontrolled model, especially in Northern Europe. In Southeast Asia, meanwhile, uncontrolled intersections are popular not because of hip traffic engineering theories but simply because economic growth and vehicle ownership is growing faster than infrastructure.

And it seems to work well.

(Matthew Yglesias, Uncontrolled Intersection in Siem Reap).

Assuming the empirical foundations are true– these were some of my questions:

What would most imagine happening in a world without street signs, crosswalks, or traffic lights?

What do those control mechanisms (specifying the execution of a conduct; GO/SLOW/STOP/WAIT/NO LEFT/etcetera) say about assumptions of human nature?

What does the fact that accidents seem to decrease without those mechanisms say about human nature? About the assumptions in places that regulate more extensively?

Do we pay a price for our assumptions of what is “reasonably prudent”? Would Monderman’s proposals have been considered risky, careless, before empirical demonstration proved otherwise?

Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign – literally – that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done his job. ‘The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,’ Monderman says. ‘To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.’

(Tom McNichol, Roads Gone Wild).

Less instruction, less delineation, less specification of how to act in a particular moment: increase in efficiency, decrease in accidents.

I am not sure how much of this is really due to an approach of increased trust in human nature (“people are naturally safe drivers”) versus one of a more subtle and precise understanding of human nature (“people are conceptually more afraid of being in an accident than running a red light”).

Still, I think there is some insight in these recent traffic methodologies that I would try to carry over to legislation and administration (there is a sense of hesitation with contracts– I need to think more about this). The instinct is that law (and every set of instructions, really) has an element of design and architecture, a system of GO/SLOW/STOP/WAIT/WRONG WAY for varying types of conduct, the traffic of human activity. Is there a way to make laws that regulate through architecture rather than control? That work with rather than against human nature? That resemble a sign-less intersection more than a stoplight?

The more prohibitions and taboos there are in the world,
The poorer the people will be…
The more wisdom hawked among the people,
The more that perverse things will proliferate.
The more prominently the laws and statutes are displayed,
The more widespread will be the brigands and thieves.

Hence in the words of the sages:
We do things noncoercively
And the common people develop along their own lines;
We cherish equilibrium
And the common people order themselves;
We are non-interfering in our governance
And the common people prosper themselves;
We are objectless in our desires
And the common people are of themselves like unworked wood.

(Roger Ames and David Hall, Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation).

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