20 days ago

The Ethics of Disruption

Link: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/DemandingChange/~3/999GLfqh6TM/the-ethics-of-disruption.html

In a recent commentary on #Brexit, Simon Jenkins notes that

“disruption theory is much in vogue in management schools, so long as someone else suffers”.

Here is Bruno Latour making the same point.

“Don’t be fooled for a second by those who preach the call of wide-open spaces, of  ‘risk-taking’, those who abandon all protection and continue to point at the infinite horizon of modernization for all. Those good apostles take risks only if their own comfort is guaranteed. Instead of listening to what they are saying about what lies ahead, look instead at what lies behind them: you’ll see the gleam of the carefully folded golden parachutes, of everything that ensures them against the random hazards of existence.” (Down to Earth, p 11)

Anyone who advocates “moving fast and breaking things” is taking an ethical position: namely that anything fragile enough to break deserves to be broken. This position is similar to the economic view that companies and industries that can’t compete should be allowed to fail.

This position may be based on a combination of specific perceptions and general observations. The specific perception is when something is weak or fragile, protecting and preserving it consumes effort and resources that could otherwise be devoted to other more worthwhile purposes, and makes other things less efficient and effective. The general observation is that when something is failing, efforts to protect and preserve it may merely delay the inevitable collapse.

These perceptions and observations rely on a particular worldview or lens, in which things can be perceived as successful or otherwise, independent of other things. As Gregory Bateson once remarked (via Tim Parks),

“There are times when I catch myself believing there is something which is separate from something else.”

Perceptions of success and failure are also dependent on timescale and time horizon. The dinosaurs ruled the Earth for 140 million years.

There may also be strong opinions about which things get protection and which don’t. For example, some people may think it is more important to support agriculture or to rescue failing banks than to protect manufacturers. On the other hand, there will always be people who disagree with the choices made by governments on such matters, and who will conclude that the whole project of protecting some industry sectors (and not others) is morally compromised.

Furthermore, the idea that some things are “too big to fail” may also be problematic, because it implies that small things don’t matter so much.

A common agenda of the disruptors is to tear down perceived barriers, such as regulations. This is subject to a fallacy known as Chesterton’s Fence, assuming that anyone whose purpose is not immediately obvious must be redundant.


Simon Jenkins, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt will have to ditch no deal – or face an election (Guardian, 28 June 2019)

Bruno Latour, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (Polity Press, 2018)

Tim Parks, Impossible Choices (Aeon, 15 July 2019)

Rory Sutherland, Chesterton’s fence – and the idiots who rip it out (Spectator, 10 September 2016)

Related posts: Shifting Paradigms and Disruptive Technology (September 2008), Arguments from Nature (December 2010), Low-Hanging Fruit (August 2019)