by Gene Callahan
I am writing a solicited comment for Dan Klein’s new book, Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation, for the journal Studies in Emergent Order. This is an especially interesting task for me, as Klein’s topic is obviously vital to my preliminary work on social cycles. And Dan is always an intelligent and engaging writer, so this should be a fun project. I find it helpful, in the interest of getting a paper done, to blog my thoughts as I go along, so here we go:
The first thing of importance I have noted is Klein, at least in the opening chapter, seems to posit a sharp dichotomy between spontaneous orders and planned orders. He uses the example of roller skaters in a rink: either they are each skating purely as they wish, or their movements are entirely planned by a “wise” planner. (This may well be modified by Klein later, but even if so, I have seen others treat this topic as if this was a simple dichotomy, so my remarks are, I think, worth making anyway.)
But real social orders are rarely (ever?) of either extreme. The extremes are ideal types, and real orders more or less instantiate the types. Take musical groups, a social structure with which I have fair familiarity. Even in an orchestra, which is well towards the planned end of the range, the individual musicians still have room for individual creativity and expression. (Otherwise it is hard to imagine anyone spending their life playing in orchestras.) And even the most free-form, improvisational jazz group needs some planning: “OK, we’ll start at eight, and end at about eleven.”
I think most social groups are in the “somewhere in the middle” category: we each make our own decisions driving down the road, for instance, but within a planned framework of designated lanes, stop signs, traffic lights, and so on. A basketball team may run set plays, but the players must be ready to respond creatively to unexpected situations that arise as the play develops. Our discussions of these types of orders will benefit, I think, from seeing reality presents us with a gradient of mixtures of the two ideal types, and few, if any, pure examples of either.
Footnote: Klein is very skeptical about the ability of a “roller skating conductor” to direct skating in any way that is at all pleasant for the participants: “To prevent collisions, he would have to impose regimentation. Skating would be slow and simple. Skaters would be bored. Moreover, they would not find the joy and dignity that come from making one’s own course.”
But think of an orchestral conductor: he certainly does not have to play only pieces that are slow, simple, or boring! And it is not clear that the orchestral musicians cannot find joy or dignity following his directions.