A thought inspired by Sunday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 33
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Secondary effects, agenda and openness.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
Values and goals are essential, but a single-minded and blinkered approach to accomplishing them may not be the best strategy.
In a complex world where every change impacts many related concerns, we are rarely able to foresee all the outcomes of our decisions. We may think we are improving matters with our policies but the system may adapt and the result may be very different from that which we intended. Our aim may be to achieve some primary effect, but there are almost always secondary effects too.
Our bodies are a great example of a complex and adaptive system. For instance, if you are missing a hormone, you may inject it to supplement the deficiency. Nevertheless, your body might sense the externally-introduced hormone and reduce its own production of the chemical accordingly. Similarly, society as a whole is a complex and adaptive system, and we do not know enough to predict its evolution.
We may introduce new policies aimed at reducing inequality, but in the long run, they could end up increasing inequality.
Single-minded devotion to truth at all costs could have negative consequences down the road, but can we ever afford to compromise on transparency, honesty and full disclosure? Will the resulting loss in trust not have its own negative secondary effects?
Consider the editorial policy of a major media outlet. It may have an agenda based on its values. The owners and editors may have a vision for a better world that conflicts at times with the value of giving every opinion an equal voice.
One solution to this dilemma, which preserves the right to pursue an agenda, is to disclose that agenda along with all the policy decisions that have been made. While this proposal may have some negative consequences, it seeks to balance secondary effects in a multi-valued reality.