Overhea href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691003548/reasonmagazineA/">The Monetary History of the United States to show that "money matters," contrary to the received Keynesian wisdom. Within a decade, the theory of continental drift goes from geologic crankdom to how the world works.
Hypotheses that challenge established ideas may have a tough time--for good reason in most cases--but under dynamist rules they can't be squashed altogether, only marginalized. Anyone can start a journal; form a scholarly, political, or religious association; set up a Web page or discussion group. Anyone can try to persuade the world (or the relevant portion of it) of their ideas. The freedom to persuade is central to a dynamic, learning system, whether the lessons are intellectual, cultural, religious, or economic. And that persuasion takes many forms, of both expression and example. "At the root of technological progress is a rhetorical environment that makes it possible for inventors to be heard," suggests the economic historian and rhetorician D.N. McCloskey. "Free speech leads to riches." Both showing and telling are important.
Rules Within Rules
We swim in a sea of rules. Few are as fundamental as the four principles elaborated above. Rather, they are particular: company policies, traffic laws, religious strictures, etiquette conventions, professional ethics, grammar and syntax, game rules, software programs, university honor codes. Between the common law of contracts and "Never eat old mayonnaise" lie layer upon layer of increasingly specific rules.
The final characteristic of dynamist rules, then, is a rule about rule making: Dynamist rules establish a framework within which people can create nested, competing frameworks of more-specific rules. The overall framework allows Morningstar's "little pockets of the universe" to emerge, establishing their own rules. Competition--the option to leave one pocket of the universe for an alternative--permits such specific rule regimes to flourish without making the overall system rigid or inflexible. We can choose the bonds with which to shape, and reshape, our lives.
In How Buildings Learn, author Stewart Brand examines how buildings are adapted to new uses over time--and what makes for resilient architecture that can "learn." His research provides a useful metaphor for dynamic systems in general. A building, he notes, contains six nested systems: site, structure (the foundation and load-bearing elements), skin (the exterior), services (wiring, plumbing, heating, etc.), space plan (the interior layout), and stuff. The further out the system, the more permanent. Moving around furniture (stuff) is easy, altering a foundation (structure) extremely difficult.
In a building, writes Brand "the lethargic slow parts are in charge, not the dazzling rapid ones. Site dominates Structure, which dominates the Skin, which dominates the Services, which dominate the Space plan, which dominates the Stuff. How a room is heated depends on how it relates to the heating and cooling Services, which depend on the energy efficiency of the Skin, which depends on the constraints of the Structure....The quick processes provide originality and challenge, the slow provide continuity and constraint." A well-designed, adaptable building, he argues, respects the different speeds and different functions of these nested layers. It keeps them separate, allowing "slippage" so that the quick inner layers can change without disrupting the more permanent systems. (You don't have to tear up the foundation to fix the plumbing.)
So it is with rules in a dynamic, learning system. The basic dynamist rules, like a building site or foundation, change slowly, if at all. That is why they must be extremely general. But on top of them, we build increasingly fluid, nested sets of more-specific rules.
The rules of free inquiry, property, and contract that allow universities to form may not change much over time, for example, but the institution-specific codes governing curfews, library privileges, computer use, curriculum requirements, or admissions procedures can evolve rapidly, assuming each institution is free to govern itself. Between the general rules and the institution-specific codes lie other rules: the professional standards that govern scholars, the classification systems that catalog books, the Internet protocols that link computer systems. Nor must every school adopt the same, or even similar, rules. A system of free competition and criticism allows room for fundamentalist Bob Jones University and for freewheeling Berkeley, for requiring senior theses at Princeton and co-op work internships at Northeastern. By choosing a university and leaving if they don't like it, students and faculty decide which rules they wish to be governed by. They don't have to agree on which rules are best for everyone. Nested rules accommodate diversity.
The more that rules must compete for adherents, the more legitimacy they enjoy and the more local knowledge they can incorporate. "We reject kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code," declares the Internet Engineering Task Force Credo, and Internet rules have indeed evolved through trial-and-error competition. Net pioneers are intensely loyal to that process. Against demands for censorship and regulation, they reflexively propose flexible, nested alternatives: filtering software for many different tastes, voluntary Web site "trustmarks" indicating various audited privacy standards, access-provider terms of service enforced by banishing rule breakers. These ideas assume that diversity is valuable and that there is not one best way.
"The value of labels," writes technology intellectual Esther Dyson, "is that people can pick the rules that suit them, rather than be forced to operate in a one-size-fits-all environment where everyone has to follow the same rules....The basic rule is that providers must disclose--label--themselves clearly and honestly. And they must do what they promise to do." Contract, commitment, and competition permit diverse, voluntarily accepted nested rule sets.
Competition makes the distinction between dynamist principles and technocratic rule making all the more clear: Dynamists seek not a world without rules but a world in which rules govern the appropriate level of life. Rachel's rules exist in a dynamist world, infused with the knowledge accumulated through generations of trial-and-error learning. But such rules are the "stuff" of life, the particular maxims through which individuals govern themselves. They are not the "site" or the "structure" to which all of society must conform. Dynamist rules permit complexity and plenitude, even of rules themselves.