Idealist versus Realist

August 17, 2006

The idealist sees events as the result of grand strategies and grand movements, while the realist sees events as the result of local, lower-level tactical decisions.

Most conspiracy theories are necessarily idealist. The aphorism 'never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity' (sometimes called Hanlon's Razor) is a realist position.

This says nothing about who is right; sometimes there are conspiracies, but sometimes there are not. (And sometimes there are both local tactical reasons for things and grand plans; people with grand plans like this, because it makes their job easier.)

The computer world has its share of idealist versus realist screaming debates. Is Microsoft an evil monopoly or more a large sack full of cats all lurching in various directions? Is Linux on desktops being kept down by a thousand papercuts (many self-inflicted) or the efforts of people who don't want it to succeed? Google, deliberately using its power to suppress things or not?

I suspect that people inside organizations usually feel that the organizations are more realist than idealist. This is unsurprising, even in the face of genuine idealist conspiracies, since (successful) conspiracies are almost always small.

Arguments between realists and idealists are at best difficult (and at worst a complete waste of time), since the disagreement is one of fundamental premises. Often the two sides will seem to each other as if they're on different planets.

Written on 17 August 2006.
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Last modified: Thu Aug 17 16:36:26 2006
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