In Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott gives a brief history of scientific forestry in 18th-century Prussia, examining the ecological and social oversights in growing the same species of tree in straight rows, absent supporting wildlife. He arrives at some conclusions on page 22:
The administrator’s forest cannot be the naturalist’s forest. Even if the ecological interactions at play in the forest were known, they would constitute a reality so complex and variegated as to defy easy shorthand description. The intellectual filter necessary to reduce the complexity to manageable dimensions was provided by the state’s interest in commercial timber and revenue. If the natural world, however shaped by human use, is to unwieldy in its “raw” form for administrative manipulation, so too are the actual social patterns of human interaction with nature bureaucratically indigestible in their raw form.
Forestry has never been part of my life, but this hubristic attitude has haunted many of my endeavors. Whether I have said it or not, I have demanded legibility (the word J.C.S. likes to use). I have demanded legibility of systems before I have fully understood how they operate. Once, when my wife was explaining musical notation to me, I declared in frustration that it was stupid and that I could invent a more legible, computable style if given some time. It later hit me that I have not more than fiddled with guitars and pianos and have no right to question hundreds (thousands?) of years of tradition.
Spreadsheets used to be my weapon for schematizing the world, but they are woefully simplistic. Relational databases get a bit closer to representing reality, but one glance at one of those hideous all-things-to-all-people ERP systems reveals the paradigm’s oppressive capacity. Graph databases and zettelkasten-style hyperlinked documents are formats I’m most optimistic about at the moment. I want to meet reality where it is, rather than stuffing it into little jars because little jars are all I understand. Stopping and asking questions before engineering a solution (or even assuming a solution needs engineered at all) would do some good here.
Side Note: Are hierarchies (versus circles of accountability and flat organizational structures) something built into creation, or are they a human perversion?