Choosing Your Favorite Shit Pile

1. Sim City

Many years ago SimCity “Classic” taught me a very important principle of life: the 10-15% rule.

SimCity is a computer simulation game where the player is the Mayor of a city and as the mayor, the player’s goals are to:

  • keep his job
  • make his city grow (or at least keep stable)

The Mayor must make choices like: expenses used for public utilities (power and water supplies), salaries of city employees (police, firemen …), tax rates, repair projects, school sites and much more. If his choices result in too much spending or bad planning, the city runs out of money, crime multiplies, housing declines and he is voted out of office. If he spends too little on key services, unrest can develop and again he can also be voted out of office.  Being a Mayor is a precarious thing. To aid his survival, not only can he monitor the statistics for costs-in and cost-out, the Mayor also has constant access to his approval rating — and that is the secret!

SimCity appeared to have an implicit rule built in: If the Mayor’s approval rating dropped under 85%, he was kicked out of office. But usually if the Mayor’s rating was much over 90% it was due to short-sighted over-spending and the city ran out of money and quickly collapsed into chaos — with the Mayor again loosing his job. Thus a successful mayor must be comfortable not only with being unpopular to some degree,  but he must actually strive to keep his unpopularity between 10-15% of the population.

2. The Idealism Assumption

One of the greatest philosophical mistakes I see ourselves often making is the “Idealism Assumption“:  it is the assumption that there is always a perfect answer which will have no faults — we search for perfect systems.  And SimCity illustrates this by showing that a Mayor looking for a zero percent disapproval rating will fail. Instead, a deep principle of reality seems to be that, from a human perspective, all systems have unwanted outcomes. A vulgar way of stating this principle is: “Every system has its shit pile”.

3. The Shit Pile Principle

This Shit Pile Principle is why idealism fails and how “pragmatism” got a name. Admitting to your own system’s shit pile can not only improve your thinking but greatly facilitate debates and conversations. Without understanding the 10-15% rule, we are often deluded and lack real insight. Shit piles exist in philosophical systems, economic systems, political systems, religious systems and all organizations.  Every personality type has its own shit piles also — there is no perfect personality type.

I am not writing anything insightful — this is obvious stuff. We have phrases for this obvious fact of life. In medical therapy, undesired but unavoidable consequences are called “side effects”. In economics, undesired, untoward bi-products of a system are called “negative externalities“.   In our daily lives, when unexpected outcomes result from our choices (or from natural causes), some people say “shit happens”. People respond to this “shit” in many different ways (here is that classic humorous list of religious/philosophical responses). There are certainly some ways that are better than others in dealing with shit, but the most important take-home point is to understand that you won’t find a perfect system. We all must learn that our system choices always entail choosing our favorite shit pile.

Question for readers:  Please tell us an embarrassing story where YOU were tricked by the “idealism assumption”.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “Choosing Your Favorite Shit Pile

  1. banzaibob

    As an aside, I’ve often felt that anyone wanting to go into politics or higher level public service (ha!) should be forced to play sim city and pass it at it’s highest difficulties before they’re allowed anywhere near public coffers ;P.

  2. I think that almost anyone who has voted in an election based on anything more than superficial knowledge is familiar with that principle. The Republicans are trying to figure out their favorite pile of shit right now! 🙂

    My story would come from figuring out my political position. I started out Republican, but got turned off by the worship of the free market and lack of compassion. I flipped over to the Democratic side, but was embarrassed to find how broken welfare was and how unions can really cripple businesses. So I’m now more Independent, not blindly holding on to the ideals of either party, but trying to judge the best candidate for a particular moment in time, and realizing that while the shit may stink, it may be the right shit to use at this time.

  3. @ banzaibob :
    If only your wish could come true.

    @ The Wise Fool:
    I started out Democrat, then Marxist, then I lived in Pakistan, India, Japan and China. The final touch was work in a prison system. Disillusioned, I explored markets only to see how they were controlled too — by power and Government bought by power. We sound like we ended up in the same place: disillusioned by governments and people. Finally, I prefer the shit piles generated by freedom to make mistakes than by those of monolithic monotony. But I may change again tomorrow.

  4. Earnest

    LOVE Sim City. Best game ever, at least the 2000 version was. I got a more recent version and it was actually too complicated to retain my interest. Perhaps that is the Sim City shitpile!

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