Thoughts: Picking your Battles

The promised post for yesterday on Independence Compensation unfortunately collapsed in a logical error. I can hopefully work around it, but it will take at least two more intermediate posts. There are more thoughts at the link, though that page is more of a tone poem about related concepts than it is an actual description of the concept.

Our topic today is the Great Man Theory of history, that the efforts of one person (or a small group) can noticeably change the course of history. As we cannot do statistical analysis on history directly, this is difficult to prove or disprove.

  • There are certain historical counter-factuals that seem to demonstrate the Great Man Theory. What if Napoleon had not come back for the Hundred Days? What if Roosevelt did not run in 1940?

  • Sometimes scientific discoveries are given as examples, but I think that is not the case. If Newton had not discovered calculus, Leibniz would still have done so; and if neither had there are a dozen men who might have done so 20 years later.

  • The current debate over abortion seems an excellent example of a situation where the efforts of one person will not make a noticeable impact. There are already thousands of activists on either side, and the ideological positions are fairly clear.

  • Curtis Yarvin, in one of his many articles that have brilliancies as well as obvious errors, suggests the thought experiment of Jeff Bezos wanting to change the conversation on transgenderism. He suggests it is impossible. I think he has misread that political landscape - we are not nearly as far from such a change as Yarvin believes. A few well-funded think tanks and a few dozen Twitter trolls could make a big difference in that discussion.

That does give us a model for the Great Man Theory. Societal changes have, effectively, a weight. Sometimes those weights are asymmetric, and the arrow of progress will have inevitable consequences. Sometimes, the weight is small enough that any one person can make a difference. Sometimes, there is enough leverage (Bonaparte causing a million men to be called to arms) that only one specific person can make that difference.