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Groups never admit failure (nav.al)
485 points by todsacerdoti on Dec 8, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 346 comments

A group will never admit they were wrong. A group will never admit, “We made a mistake,” because a group that tries to change its mind falls apart. I’m hard pressed to find examples in history of large groups that said, “We thought A, but the answer’s actually B.”

Now that is a useful insight.

It's a big problem for voluntary associations. Companies can sometimes change their culture, but it usually requires replacing the CEO.

This has come up a few times in military history. "L'audace, toujours l'audace" was a WWI French slogan. It took a huge number of casualties before high command got it that charging into machine guns does not work. Courage does not help. In WWII, a big change was discovering that battleships are not useful once the enemy has torpedo bombers. The resistance of the battleship admirals was overcome by Congress, not the Navy. Congress ordered that the captains of aircraft carriers must be qualified to fly aircraft. Sidelining the "Gun Club" took major political effort.

Now, the US military is struggling with the "Fighter Mafia", which tends to run the USAF despite the ascendancy of drones and the usefulness of the A-10.

Probably that can be a useful insight in some specific circumstances as you describe, but it falls flat as a generalization. Allow me a snark: maybe a group of venture capitalists (many of whom call themselves "angels") might not admit a mistake. But many groups (not as grandiose as the military, though) jolly well admit and own up non-trivial mistakes.

I participate in several open source projects over 13 years now. And as jancsika mentions in this thread, various times I've seen mature groups of contributors and maintainers admit, and articulate, really difficult mistakes in public. Granted, these are small groups ranging from six to twenty-ish. Still, it takes courage and wisdom to do it gracefully.

I have yet to make a mistake, but when I do I plan on publicly admitting it.

It seems to miss the mark in other regions, but here in Denmark that is considered a bullseye joke :)

> I have yet to make a mistake

For some carefully chosen definition of mistake.

I believe that was humor, my friend

It's getting dangerously reddit in this thread.

HN has been Reddit for a while now, there's no functional difference.

As far as I'm concerned there's not much reason to care either.

I think that might’ve also been humor? Some dry, mathy humor

The post you replied to was also humor, btw.

I think what separates the two camps is a positive incentive to admit failure, which is where the rarity comes in, as highlighted by other posters. If the group's incentive is integrity and trust, or loyalty and retention, it makes sense as there's a capital (political, monetary, etc.) incentive in doing so.

That's where I think the insight cleanly falls apart and yet holds up pretty well for the vast majority of situations. Rarely are groups actually positively incentivized to admit failure, and therefore they do not, as a cohesive unit, actually admit failure as there's a greater incentive not to, barring force.

Groups can get a life of their own, like a virus. Those who do admit fault can be replaced with others who are vocal about not admitting fault.

The more polarizing, non falsifiable the beliefs of the group, the harder the change.

> I've seen mature groups of contributors and maintainers admit, and articulate, really difficult mistakes in public.

And do it right here on HN. Just the other day a member of the Python core team said the Python2 to Python3 transition was be a never to be repeated mistake.

> Granted, these are small groups ranging from six to twenty-ish.

And big groups do it too, apparently. In community groups I'm in saying things like "we tried this but it didn't work" is a regular occurrence. They make for entertaining, self depreciating war stories, letting newbies know things aren't judged too harshly around here.

In fact it happens so often, I wondering if all the posts here saying "of yes - that's right" is some sort of group confirmation bias at work. I wonder if it will be self correcting - and the group later come to the conclusion it was wrong.

> And do it right here on HN [...] And big groups do it too, apparently [...]

Indeed; all this is old news for anyone who has worked in open source communities for a decent chunk of time (say, six years at least). It's the "angels" that are disconnected from real world that tend to stretch a small observation into a sweeping generalization, in the name of "insight". The cynic in me says, "they're doing it for the clicks and brand-building."

Admitting mistakes is one thing. Admitting that what the organization has set out to do is unachievable is another.

I think the essay is strongly written — never is a strong word — but it resonated with me because of a personal experience.

In that experience part of the problem was that those who disagreed with the group were purged out of the group one way or another, either because they chose to exit out of disgust or because they were driven away, or something in between. So there was a "survivorship bias" in the group, where "surviving" sort of meant staying with the group.

It's interesting to think about how this applies to your WWI examples, where the people in the position of admitting mistake are still alive, and there's a very literal survivorship bias with regard to group membership.

Anyway, when you have an entity that can change in composition, it affects what is involved in admitting to mistakes, because the people making the mistakes might be different from those who would admit to them.

Indeed - my personal experience of this was at my business - I would admit my and our mistakes to the extent that the perception became that I was the source of all of our failures.

My partner was and is a person who is never wrong, never fails, never makes a mistake - it’s always someone else who stymied his ambitions, or circumstance, or just bad luck. Never an error.

I left, after a decade. It was partly of my own volition, but the moment I voiced the possibility he, and our investor, couldn’t show me the door quickly enough.

Now, here’s the rub.

I’ve been gone for nearly six years. In that time their revenue has fallen by 80%, their core product has been axed, and I am still the scapegoat.

Even when they ultimately fail completely, which they will, and soon, as none of the issues I identified have been addressed, I am certain that they will go down crying “damn you, madaxe_again”.

Reality, commercial or not, is purely a matter of perception.

That happens all the time. I think I am slowly getting the point of the story about Casandra. People that realize issues, voice them and raise them be properly addressed are almost never heard. Especially when these issues go against whatever group think narrative is in place. Those people also are the scapegoats when the bad things they predicted actually do happen. Because, hey, they knew it. So why didn't they do something about it?

I feel you, usually I am one of the people to raise those issues. Now I am trying a different approach, being very careful how I voice that stuff, and making sure I do it indirectly wherever possible in those rare occasions I do. The rest of the time, I just try to keep my mouth shut.

Kudos so for sticking around for 10 years.

I ended up with an almighty Cassandra complex, and by the time I left I was almost prepared to believe that I was the source of the issues I flagged.

Hindsight, however, is everything - most of the engineering team left in my wake, and all that remains is a hollowed out core of sycophantic middle management. They went from an improbable 0% client churn to a revolving door of unhappy customers.

Truly, it was a shame - and remains so - for my sake, however, my departure was the best thing I could have done, as it saved what precious threads of sanity I had remaining. I still hope for the sake of the once-friend I started the business with that he yet learns something.

How does it go? For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'.

This pretty much sums up the last two years of fighting COVID.

Governments/media/academics: we will solve the problem by doing X.

Sceptics: that won't work / isn't working / hasn't worked.

Governments/media/academics: it isn't working because of the unbelievers.

Academics mostly got it right, media thrived on conflict and false-balance while politics, especially German politics, were more concerned about elections than anything else.

How'd you figure that? Academics have been wrong about this from the start, I'd say. Their models are a byword for joke pseudo-science. But I guess your reference to "false balance" means we can infer what your beliefs are here. Groups never admit failure and one way they don't admit it, is by finding clever sounding excuses to not listen to those who were right.

Well, the RKI models pretty much predicted the German Wave Four. Case rates, hospitalization and so on was predicted pretty well. They missed the timeline by roughly two weeks so, if memory serves well. Little matter, since they first modelled that in summer.

They predicted a huge wave even after a vaccination programme? Really? When exactly did they "predict" this wave - can you cite that? Or is this one of those cases where modellers "predicted" something that was already happening.

My father incites me to apologize often for saying true things that aren’t nice. There are two approaches, and I believe you are pointing something correct. If you apologize on any aspect, it is a well-known effect that you entirely revoke your legitimacy from the group. In the woke culture for example, the first who apologize has to also quit and lose its career entirely, it’s a recurring problem. The second approach is never to apologize. It’s annoying, but it keeps people in check. It’s an attribute of real power: making huge visible mistakes and not having to say something about it. And this is what wins in our current culture. People will accept your authority and you will avoid being the scapegoat, people will criticize a bit but much less (and that it the surprising effect) than if you say “I’m sorry”. The looks of an apology seems to trigger a reaction of entire reject from the group, even if your words were carefully measured and balanced.

I empathize that you’ve lost your business to this. I sounded like you would instill an awesome culture where people recognize mistakes…

"If you apologize on any aspect, it is a well-known effect that you entirely revoke your legitimacy from the group"

Modern approach to civil conflict. Maybe there should be a focus-group that teaches employees to acknowledge ("to own", as they preach) their mistakes?

It's not about how they do it but about what are the consequences.

You sound like a great person to work with and for. And I applaud your healthy look on the situation. Which can’t always have been / be, easy. But you’re wearing that scapegoat mantle with pride, and a touch of compassion. Some people just never learn. Best to stay clear of them and accept the way they think of you. You know better. You did the right thing.

I have the same mindset but I don't think you appreciate the effect it has on the broader team. Yes you might have a specific individual that avoids taking responsibility but in my experience everyone picks up on this. People have a very strong intuitive smell for this kind of stuff.

So in the longterm all someone does is burn leadership capital trying to pretend they're perfect. This isn't a viable strategy for succeeding in your career.

Reality is not a matter of perception, but humans' reaction to it is.

Until reality is inescapable.

Reality is a bitch, and when it hits, it hits hard. Also, the later it hits, the harder it does so.

"Reality is what you can't change" (Bazon Brock, Philosopher)

Would you say, in hindsight, that your partner was the wrong fit for you?

As the business developed, certainly - however in the early days our mutual antagonism served us well - every decision was challenged, and his ying to my yang meant that we got off to a roaring start. Unfortunately in latter years, this became more of an impediment than a boon, as I ended up spending a majority of my time disentangling situations he refused to even acknowledge the existence of. I can fight an uphill battle with gusto, but when it was against my own ally, it became utterly demoralising.

In extreme cases you have evaporative heating of groups where after some major setback all the more moderate members leave and the remainder are on average more attached to the group and more fanatical. This is pretty common to see when religious cults have prophesies that fail to pan out.

Perfect description. I also see this happening in newly formed political parties over here in Europe, political parties that were marketing themselves at the beginning as "anti-system" (i.e. different compared to the old, established political parties) and such.

Initially they were attracting quite a diverse bunch, which is good imo, as political parties should represent swathes of the population as large as possible, but as the time progressed and as the disillusions started to show up their ranks got thinner and the only people left were the "more fanatical" ones, as you well put it. Unfortunately doing politics with "fanatical" people is very unproductive and border-line dangerous for the fabric of society.

Not sure if there's a way out of situations like these.

The WSJ had a piece many years ago about this happening to the Muslim Brotherhood as the moderate members, who were more visible and accessible, were arrested forcing the group to become more fundamentalist. Found that interesting. "The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems..."

I never did validate if that claim about the Muslim Brotherhood stood the test of time but I found the thing interesting in the moment.

the new vintage of Hamas, brought to you by Israeli intelligence

Isn't Hamas an example of the opposite dynamic--of becoming less fanatical? Yes, Hamas leads violent, armed protests from the Gaza Strip. But there's arguably been less violence compared to the armed conflicts they induced on and across the Lebanese border. Once they began to independently govern (not withstanding lack of Israeli recognition) the Gaza Strip they had to soften their stance somewhat, similar to the PLO, which is an even better example.

This points in the direction of another commenter who mentioned that it's a matter of incentives. Yes, many groups are seemingly defined by their particular disposition on certain issues. But toss some strong incentives into the mix and some of those groups turn out to not be quite as intransigent as thought. Although the Hamas and PLO duo shows the limits to that--Hamas responded to incentive, but definitely not as strongly as the PLO did, perhaps precisely because the PLO holds the more moderate ground, and Hamas as a group distinguishes itself from the PLO in that way. I'd wager that if you could magically extinguish the PLO, then it's likely Hamas would either become more moderate or split in order to fill that vacuum.

> not withstanding lack of Israeli recognition

Israel recognizes Gaza (as something else than Israel at least.)

It is mostly journalists (and internet forums) that conflates Gaza with an open air prison.

I think the OP meant that Israel doesn't officially recognize Hamas rule over Gaza (because Hamas is a terrorist organization, and it also doesn't recognize Israel). But Hamas de facto rules over Gaza, and as a result they have (slightly) moderated their behavior.

It's true that Israel does not consider Gaza to be Israeli territory, nor does it want to annex Gaza. And it hasn't actually occupied Gaza since Ariel Sharon as PM ordered the IDF to unilaterally withdraw, although Israel and Egypt do maintain a shared blockade of Gaza.

Thanks, you wrote it in a very clear way.

I think we should note though that the Egyptian blockade of Gaza seems far stricter than the Israeli one (which just seems to control that weapons and things that can easily be used to create weaponry or tunnels aren't brought in).

> things that can easily be used to create weaponry

Just to be clear, this means items like food, paper and any and all electronics.

Israel maintains a strict calorie limitation on Gaza, because Hamas turns any excess into rockets. Of course, this doesn't actually deter Hamas that much, because they care about shooting at Israel more than they care about the health of the population, and so a huge portion of the population of Gaza is chronically malnourished.

> Just to be clear, this means items like food, paper and any and all electronics.

You'll find that if you look behind Hamas approved sources (not Israeli propaganda, but local sources in Gaza) you might get a mlre nuanced view.

> and so a huge portion of the population of Gaza is chronically malnourished.

The problem in Gaza does not seem to be the supply of food but the distribution. Hamas is notoriously corrupt and evil as written about in length by their own. To them I guess it is even beneficial if their people us malnourished when journalists and UN officials arrive.

Besides: Hamas needs only to start behave civilized, start imprisoning the violent ones instead of sending grants to martyrs and you will probably find Israelis a lot more cooperative vs now when they openly say they want to destroy Israel.

We're talking about the 80s here, when they wanted the PLO to be taken down a notch

Hamas used to be worse - at least to Israelis. They are still as far as I know foul to their own people, but of that we don't know too much on the outside.

There is a reason these walls etc exist now and that is because when I was younger, reading about buses getting bombed or civilians machine gunned in Israel was totally unsurprising.

Or they accomplish their goal and everyone who isn't an extremist says it's mission accomplished and starts caring about other things leaving only extremists to chart the group's direction. MADD is a good example.

*Evaporative cooling

I think he meant to write heating. Because the moderate (slow) parts leave, keeping the 'hot' members.

He meant to write cooling; the moderate (warmer) parts leave, leaving the fanatical 'cold' members. I agree that 'fanatical=cold/moderate=warm' seems a little backwards, but it's that way and not the other because it's an analogy to a real physical process, while evaporative warming doesn't exist.

From 2007: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/ZQG9cwKbct2LtmL3p/evaporativ...


Distillation may be a more appropriate analogy. The unwanted part evaporates away, leaving the more concentrated solution behind.

In distillation, the whole input liquid is evaporated by heating, then condensed by cooling and collected.

That depends on whether you want the more volatile or less volatile liquid at the end.

> I think the essay is strongly written — never is a strong word — but it resonated with me because of a personal experience.

I struggle to hear someone use "never" and other absolutist language—as the author does—and imagine they are likely to admit a mistake as well. I think it can depend on how certain a group is, or as you mention, how the certain ones drive the less certain ones out of the group. I can imagine if there are people in a group who say "always" "never" "the best" "the worst" a lot, then yes, the more doubtful ones may leave and the group may become even more convicted in their rightness.

However, I don't think every group follows that path, possibly not having such people clinging to certainty or even if they do, the ones with more humility working together to downgrade the hubris.

Secondly, if you can't tell, I can feel quite frustrated when people speak with such certainty, and I'm grateful and impressed that you seemed able to look past that in the author's writing.

Just like it takes time for probabilites to flow from one atomic orbital to another, I would assume this could form basis for the analogy for why it takes time for groups to change their mind.

Atomic Orbitals, Visualized Dynamically - https://youtu.be/BPkcDWLBsrI?t=412

Similar to the "Gun Club" (and also in the U.S. in the WWII era) was the Bomber Mafia - convinced that lots of long-range heavy bombers could win any war:


They were profoundly resistant to reality (such as sustained "unsustainable" loss rates in un-escorted daytime bomber attacks on Germany), or even ideological compromises (such as long-range fighter escorts for those bombers)...up to the point where the en-mass sacking of mafia members, or massive "de-emphasis" of their branch of the armed forces were clear and present dangers.

The astonishing thing was that the UK had just sustained a massive bombing campaign by Germany whixh had veeu obviously and singularly failed to break the civilain spirit and make the UK sue for peace.

So, obviously, the UK airforce proposed that a massive bombing campaign would clearly break the German civilian spirit and force Germany to sue for peace.

Well yes, but the Blitz was never all that effective. London was never burned like Dresden, let alone Hiroshima. In any case, the aim was absolute destruction of production, not civilian demoralization.

The bombing of Dresden was very late in the war. Those making decisions in 1942 would not have had the insight to see how the bombing would (fail to) break the civilian spirit. On the contrary, in fact, for the Germans Dresden was as much of a propaganda win as are dead children for Hamas today, even when Hamas kills the children themselves.

The allied bombing of civilian targets in Germany officially never happened. They were 'military' or 'industrial' targets. It's commonly understood that they were retaliatory as opposed to strategic.

Really? Was Dresden a military target? Most major German cities were reduced to rubble.

Theoretically yes, because it was "a major rail transport and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort".

It's worth remembering that at this time precision munitions didn't exist. Attempting to bomb a factory was largely worthless, especially at night and under enemy fire. It was really just about dropping as many bombs as possible over a wide area and hoping that somehow, some of them would get kinda near the actual targets. The fact that most wouldn't was taken for granted.

Cities are major industrial centers. In the twisted logic of the generals at the time, destroying them wholesale was a legitimate way to strike at the military-industrial strength of a country

Countervalue was a thing in nuclear planning too - tie down enemy AA/missile defense defending cities

> the ascendancy of drones and the usefulness of the A-10

Its really a popularity problem in that there is a doctrine of "we need something survivable in BVR and active ADA" but we don't like talking about that situation as much as pew-pew A-10s are cool and we always plan to fight the last war where there was no BVR or ADA threat (not after the first few days...)

Inevitably we will someday go up against an opponent that is willing to take BVR RoE risks and is capable and willing to do ADA (anti-aircraft guns and missiles). At that point the drones and A-10s are simply out of the fight, in fact the entire Air Force is out of the fight until either another procurement cycle or hope that the ground Army, despite having no air support at all, somehow knocks out the opfor so our undefended planes can fly again.

That's why we have a doctrine, however uncool to talk about, of keeping BVR-proof and ADA-proof weapons systems around, there is a situation where they're quite useful.

Really its not even ADA-proof, its more generically "capable of operating in an environment where we do not already have total utter complete air supremacy".

There is a logistical theory that air supremacy is so expensive that nobody but the USA can sustain it, although it goes guarantee huge USA losses until supremacy is lost, so that's not really politically viable. "They're going to wipe our ground forces out by air and there's nothing we can do about it until they run out of armament" is something that's supposed to happen to other nations, not the US, so its a very hard sell politically.

BVR = Beyond Visual Range (37+ km missile)

ADA = Air Defence Artillery (anti-aircraft weapons).

what are "BVR-proof and ADA-proof weapons systems". Are there planes that can survive being shot at by air defence? Or can evade missiles ? (Is this "stealth" as the answer? If so it seems the war is based on the targetting / anti-targetting arms race?)

I am not trolling - just asking as it does seem that all the advantages are with cheap missiles hunting expensive planes (a very similar situation to naval warfare I believe)

I think I am asking for a good primer on modern warfare ... I suspect it is a contentious subject.

Nothing is completely invulnerable to a modern integrated air defense system, but the F-22 and F-35 are specifically designed to have at least a chance to survive. They have low observability which makes them difficult to target, good sensors for avoiding SAM radars, and high power-to-weight ratios that give pretty good odds of evading missiles.

If those 5th-generation fighters are able to successfully suppress the air defenses then A-10s and other obsolete fighters can come in later for strike and air support missions. But against an intact IADS they would take extremely high casualties.

The survivability onion: https://i.redd.it/33lz51812ko31.jpg

Gun anti-air(AA) is basically useless against jets at this point (they fly too high and fast). For missiles, you can't really evade them if you're in their kill zone (they can accelerate way faster and turn way tighter than a human can survive). Your hope to survive a missile is to either not be "seen" in the first place (whether that's radar, or at somewhat less far distances IR), or to be far enough away that you can run away from the missile until it runs out of energy (aka don't be in it's kill zone and have enough speed/energy to flee. Speed is energy is life in air combat, turning hasn't really mattered since the 60s and dogfighting is a meme since turning kills your energy which makes you even more susceptible to missiles).

Ground based AA has big problems with actually seeing planes from far enough away at this point due to the horizon, and the ability of planes to shoot anti-radar and/or loitering munitions from over the horizon against ground based AA. Plane based AA is obviously better due to being higher so the horizon is pushed further out, and not having to be immobile (think cruise missile saturation attack against a ground based AA site), but if you have inferior planes or munitions (eg. Russia vs US/NATO), then investing more heavily into ground based AA makes sense as you'd never be able to reliably have air superiority to protect your ground troops if you relied on plane based AA.

Stealth (low observability is a better term) plays a huge role at essentially reducing a radar's effective range (iirc estimates I've seen are that the F-35's stealth reduces the S400's effective range from ~140km against regular jets to ~35km against an F-35).

This has all ignored the datalink/networking going on between all these different systems to eg. extend radar coverage, or how afaik SAMs are usually run in "passive mode" and are constantly relocating (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loitering_munition#Initial_rol... is a good primer on how planes vs ground based AA can actually be planes with "cheap" missiles hunting SAMs). Also, in a peer/near peer conflict A-10s wouldn't be used even after achieving air superiority and destroying all the SAM sites, because they're too vulnerable to even cheap manpads or gun AA and can only be flown in areas with 0 anti air threat (which is why the airforce wants to drop them and get Super Tucanos that can do the same job of dropping a laser guided bomb at ~1/10 the flight cost).

I cannot help, when looking at the peer-v-peer model, to be reminded of acoup.blog's excellent analysis of WWI stalemate. The concepts put forward of "knocking out the opponents SAM capability and achieving air dominance" might not work so well when the opponent is trying to do exactly the same thing. This is just a uneducated thought so please comment but it interests me.

Its unlikely either side will throw 100% of its air assets into the mix to achieve complete dominance, so there is always some planes / batteries around, and we end up with "we dominate that area, you dominate this". At that point, no-one has air dominance, and there is a "no mans land" over which some aircraft might be yours, or theirs, but you have to go through that part.

As soon as we have that situation, there will be discussions on "break out" - land forces getting through the contested area, but when you do, guess what, you have broken into the are where their air is dominant.

It seems you either have air dominance, or you fight in the air till you do have. But committing all air assets to do that risks losing them all, so stalemate seems inevitable...

Yeah, the problem is, IMHO, that modern AA capabilities are way cheaper then the air dominance hardware you to throw at the AA to break it. That's why stealth is so important, because you can get close. As is saturation with, e.g., drones. I always wondered how often the USAF would throw multi-billion dollar worth of hardware and multi-millions and multi-decades worth of training at a specific target. Especially over enemy air space, where you won't recover personnel or hardware. I always feared that if anything in a hot war between nuclear powers one side might be tempted, or forced, to resort to tactical nukes. Or powers decide to just not do it for financial reasons.

Joke was that Red Baron style wood and cloths bi-planes would be an alternative once the top notch hardware is expended. Easy to build, easy to maintain and pilot training is faster and cheaper as well.

Last time I talked with people heavily involved in future air combat, the scenarios were as follows:

Stealth vs. stealth -> most likely to end in a dog fight, fighters wont be able to engage each other at longer distances

Stealth vs. conventional -> most likely stealth gets a shot from BVR on the conventional aircraft, AVACS and the conventional fighter running under EMCOn change that, as soon as the stealth fighters fired the first shots, any surviving conventional fighters will engage again in dog fights

Conventional vs. conventional -> pretty much the same as above, only that both sides will get some shots before distances are closed

If anything, I understood dog fights will become again more prevalent due to stealth.

After a large organization is structured, it's objective will shift to the survival of the organization itself when the original (legitimate) objective is made irrelevant by internal or external factors ("winning", or a change in the context that required the objective in the first place).

I would expect an adage about this to already exist – if it doesn't, I'm claiming it. :)

This very topic is covered in Eric Hoffer's book, "The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements".

He's talking more about religious and political movements than companies but, with the way many companies today want people to believe in their mission, there are strong parallels.

> it's objective will shift to the survival of the organization itself when the original (legitimate) objective is made irrelevant by internal or external factors

Yes, and also the furtherance of the careers of the top people.

And the less actual stuff said organization has to do, the worse it gets.

The better is gets - more time for career manoeuvring

And without the need of any domain knowledge or any other skills!

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people":

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

-- https://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/iron.html

I never worked directly for an official bureaucracy, just indirectly. I have to say so, you find the same kind of people in all organizations being large enough to need more than one pizza to feed everyone.

Pournelle's "Iron law of bureaucracy" comes close...

In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals that the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

Can we apply this to Google-sized megacorps, when the original goal 'make money' has been overachieved?

The March of Dimes is an interesting counter-example. They went from a Polio cause to a premature infant one post-Salk.

I love the A-10, but it is really only useful in places like Afghanistan where you have air superiority, combined arms, artillery, mobile infantry, and the enemy is farm boys with AK-47s.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think we should discontinue it, because man we do a lot of oppression of teenagers with AK-47s in the last 50 years. Really the US Military should have an "occupation and oppression" service branch if they were honest, with the counter insurgency, A-10s, helicopters, urban warfare infantry, snipers, drones, etc. It could be equipment that is 10 years old, or simply very cheap versions of more expensive stuff used by the branches that presumably exist to fight a peer state.

This post was brought to you in the spirit of "the war nerd".

But they'd never be that honest.

> "occupation and oppression" service branch

The USMC is planned to become that, no? No tanks or artillery anymore and very few jets, but instead lots of helos and drones and mortars and MRAP cars and landing equipment for suppressing insurgents anywhere in the world.

(Not even kidding...)

> It took a huge number of casualties before high command got it that charging into machine guns does not work.

Well, there was a nice posting here (hopefully someone will find it) about WWI and that 1) stasis was effectively inevitable and 2) you do have to charge the enemy occasionally or you can't maintain your stasis (it prevents them from moving their artillery forward).

Edit: Thank you, malcomwhite. https://acoup.blog/2021/09/17/collections-no-mans-land-part-...

It goes further than that. Charging into machine guns does work! It works fine. Offense won a little over 50% of the time, making it better than defense.

The problem, as identified in the post, is that although your charge usually succeeds, you end up taking ground that your pre-charge offensive barrage has made impossible to hold. And then you lose that ground.

You take more losses and run out of manpower - its a finite resource

More losses than what? Again, offense was slightly favored over defense, which is the only relevant comparison if you're trying to evaluate the claim "charging into machine guns doesn't work".

The only relevant comparison is manpower losses of the two sides, and every assault cost a lot more men to the attacker than the defender. The attacker has to have a massive concentration of manpower and numerical superiority.

If this were not true, no one would setup defences.

> The only relevant comparison is manpower losses of the two sides, and every assault cost a lot more men to the attacker than the defender.

OK, we've established that you're eager to declaim on a subject you never actually bothered learning anything about:

>> Consider: at the Somme (1916), the British and French attacked and the Germans defended; the allies took 620,000 losses, inflicted 445,000 (a ratio of about 4:3 favoring the defender) and got basically nowhere.

>> At Verdun (also 1916), the Germans attacked and the French defended; the Germans took 355,000 losses to the French’s 400,000 (a ratio of 7:8 favoring the attacker) and got basically nowhere.

>> Over the whole of the German Spring Offensives (1918), the Germans took 688,341 casualties and inflicted 863,374 (a ratio of about 3:4, again favoring the attacker), knocked huge salients in the allied lines, didn’t break through and thereby lost the war.

>> I think here it is worth really noting how high the defender’s casualties are in these battles; I keep noting this but I want to stress: defenders suffered high casualties in trench warfare. Being on the defensive operationally did not save you any more than being tactically on the defensive did. You were just as likely to be killed in your trench by an enemy shell or grenade as you were on the offense machine-gunned trying to cross no man’s land. If the latter holds a larger place in the Anglophone consciousness (e.g. 1917 and Gallipoli) that has more to do with the British and Commonwealth forces being more often on the attack than the defense, not on the casualty implications of attacking or defending.

It is a myth that attackers lose more people

It's also a myth that losing more people is what matters. Wars are won and lost on morale. Losses have their effect through their impact on morale long before they start to restrict your fundamental capabilities.

Compare the quote attributed to Ho Chi Minh:

You will kill ten of us, we will kill one of you, but in the end, you will tire of it first.

He won and we lost. It's not because we took more casualties.

the A-10 is actually the perfect "fighter mafia" plane aside from its weight.

the fighter mafia basically wanted more maneuverability, cheaper planes and CAS than interdiction bombing. A-10 is all of those except light.

they were vehemently opposed to optimizing planes for beyond visual range (BVR) combat like by improving sensors or stealth because they considered it "a fantasy."

problem is missiles fired 100 miles away don't care what you consider fantastical.

the A-10 is actually a giant hunk of junk outside of COIN operations. it has no stealth, it's slow and its gun is useless against modern armor. against terrorists in flipflops with AKs it can be useful but that's only because they don't have any sort of AA. even stingers are a huge problem. and in an uncontested airspace you may as well bring in a plane with even more firepower and loiter time like an ac-130.

so basically the a-10 in this day and age is a solution in search of a problem. it's big, slow, heavy and would be shot out of the sky in a peer confrontation before you could even blink. its gun is useless against modern tanks and an f-35 can carry a similar amount of munitions.

I'd go the opposite direction, that an A-10 is a great plane for the kinds of wars America has fought for the past few decades. Until your enemies are BVR, it doesn't make sense for you to have a really sweet BVR plane. It's a flying infantry support tank, and it being scary and loud as it flies by after wreaking havoc as a psychological weapon is half the point.

Yeah, maybe a low flying AC-130 hits the same niche, but we only about twenty or so AC-130s versus almost 300 A-10s in active service.

The A-10 is too slow even for COIN operations, it can't get to where it is needed fast enough. The most effective smart bomb truck right now is the B-1B. It is fast, has long endurance, large payload and can designate targets itself.

The only reason A-10 is still flying is gun fetishism of certain senators.

it's a flying tank, not a fighter. it shouldn't even belong in the air force. ground troops love it, it should fly for the army with AF doing what AF usually does, which is flying fast, high and stealthy if possible.

Usefulness of the A-10? The aircraft that was pulled from the early stages of the Gulf war for getting shot up too many times, is notorious for blue on blue, and immediately dies in the presence of any modern Anti Air?

Sure, but US is was not facing modern anti-air in Iraq and Afghanistan regular Iraq forces were destroyed in 2003. On the other hand, a Reaper drone is perfect to bomb a wedding that’s not protected by AAA

It is the same old thing, they became successful doing X and that works great until X isn't the optimal thing. However, after 50 years doing the same thing, they are a one trick pony.

Also, the A-10 is one heck of a plane and always my favorite. Largest caliber nose cannon and the ability to limp back to base on one engine and one rudder is so freaking cool. There is a National Guard base nearby and it is so cool watching them do flybys on the small mountains.

> There is a National Guard base nearby and it is so cool watching them do flybys on the small mountains.

I'm near a different A-10 base. I've noted that they've stepped up training flights during the last two weeks. I'm wondering if it's related to the Russian build up on the Ukrainian frontier. Have you noticed more flights?

I actually have moved since I saw them all time. I'm not far away but not on their flight path anymore. :(

>Now, the US military is struggling with the "Fighter Mafia", which tends to run the USAF despite the ascendancy of drones and the usefulness of the A-10.

Duuuuude, the Fighter Mafia was active in like the '60s and '70s, and some of its members were involved in the design of the A-10 (in line with their strong advocacy against multirole aircraft). Do you have any evidence that current USAF strategic policy is dictated by the fighter community? Fighter pilots have lamented the loss of "l'audace" for decades, but despite their bravado I don't think any of them really believe that they deserve absolute strategic primacy.

There was a recent story about the Air Force trying to kill off one of their most cost effective aircraft, whether that's evidence of a "fighter mafia" or not is debatable, but it does show the USAF's proclivity for expensive high-tech over cost effective platforms.


The MQ-9 Reaper is cost effective for counter insurgency missions but it requires reliable high-bandwidth remote control data links to operate. In any conflict with a peer adversary they will shoot down the communications satellites and jam other links, making such drones mostly useless.

They have enough rockets equipped with ASAT weapons to destroy the Starlink satellites ? All 40 000 of them (planned, about 2500 already in orbit)?


Shooting down just a few dozen satellites will produce kessler syndrome, there will be no satellites or spacecraft for anyone for decades.

Also, you don't even have to shoot them, there is jamming


Which is why they will become autonomous…

Perhaps someday, but for now that's science fiction. Autonomous vehicles can only perform a very narrow range of missions.

Autonomous drones will be either useless, or equally dangerous to everyone. FoF is gonna be a crapshoot

some of its members were involved in the design of the A-10 (in line with their strong advocacy against multirole aircraft).

That was John Boyd, the fighter jock's fighter jock. He pushed for both the F-16, for air-to-air combat, and the A-10, for after the F-16 has cleared the sky.

people have a hard time realizing when the technology they've spent their lives learning and perfecting is no longer applicable

People have an equally hard time realizing that there is very little genuinely 'new' under the Sun, and today's 'wizbang' was yesterday's 'vozalm' with a superficial change to it.

Only in the last few centuries. Progress is not forever.

You had me till "A-10", which has become completely useless except against adversaries like ISIS that none of the modern military powers like.

Actually I think any organism or group that can balance certainty and observation is peak.

The more the change is forced from the outside - either through someone who has them by the purse strings, or by existential threat of death (complete military defeat in the field), the more at stake and the more it is fought. It isn’t impossible however.

But it isn’t like Hitler was waving a white flag and being contrite. I can’t say he was wrong that death was the easy way out with the situation that he had made.

In my experience, the more negative the communication/power style, the more all or nothing the internal politics of the organization tend to be, and the less likely ‘gentle’ change can happen.

Admitting an error in a leader even in most considered positive medium to large organizations is considered a complete failure requiring their removal. At the nation state level, very few countries let a national leader even bow out without the next in line trying to throw them in jail or execute them.

Good luck having a productive shift in policy in that case instead of ‘we WILL make it work’ - including lining people against the wall if they don’t agree.

The A-10 is truly remarkable as are the drones. Meanwhile the F35 is an overpriced hangar queen that should never have been built (the F22 is a solid stealth plane).


Meanwhile corporates are groups and when they fail we call it creative destruction in Schumpeter's words or nowadays disruption.

> Meanwhile the F35 is an overpriced hangar queen that should never have been built (the F22 is a solid stealth plane).

From what I read, the F-22 is the hangar queen. F-35 can do several supersonic missions per day and is not afraid of rain. It is overpriced, though.

> The A-10 is truly remarkable as are the drones. Meanwhile the F35 is an overpriced hangar queen that should never have been built (the F22 is a solid stealth plane).



> The billion-dollar question here is really whether or not developing another new fighter could result in an overall reduction in cost without creating a reduction in capability.

Since this is HN your bullcrap-meter should be going off here just as if somebody told you throwing away the the Linux kernel and rewriting it in Rust would improve performance, while reducing the number of CVEs - oh and this whole business would only take a year or two while maintaining ABI compatibility with existing packages.

Care to elaborate?

I was on the board of a foundation that was charged with giving out money for a cause, and I found it very disillusioning because what I learned was that no matter what the foundation did, they would declare victory. Every project was victorious. Every project was a success. There was a lot of back slapping. There were a lot of high-sounding mission statements and vision statements, a lot of congratulations, a lot of nice dinners—but nothing ever got done.

This is what most nonprofits, and a surprisingly large number of businesses, are like: https://seliger.com/2012/03/25/why-fund-organizations-throug.... Some nonprofits mistakenly believe that grant evaluations are about evaluating the efficacy of the program, rather than declaring victory: https://seliger.com/2013/06/02/with-charity-for-all-ken-ster...

An important corollary is that if you mistakenly attempt to rationally evaluate a program when everyone expects backslapping... then it's going to come across as a declaration of abject failure.

When stakeholders expect victory to look rosy, and instead it looks balanced then they'll believe something went wrong.

I accidentally killed a very promising project this way. I gave a pitch demonstrating how it could stand up brilliantly to multiple avenues of ruthless investigation and criticism. People didn't listen to the words, they listened to the emotion of the ruthless investigation, and they discarded the idea in favor of one which would have tipped over if someone had brought a similar magnifying glass to within a mile.

Once I realized that good pitches were about emotions, I started getting much better results.

It's a very painful moment in everyone's career when they realize that, no, they're not the only one that has noticed that powerpoints are usually full of fluff, and no, they're not going to get anywhere by changing that, because yes, they got that way for a reason.

I don't think it's just presentations or even corporate culture in general. I sell second-hand goods online, and have found that explicitly describing any defect completely torpedoes the sales process.

Having a photograph that shows it off clearly but saying nothing doesn't have that effect, though.

It’s the same bias, we’re so accustomed to sales pitches proclaiming perfection that an honest pitch sounds like the top of a disaster.

Honestly, I think it goes much deeper than that.

The more I learn about optimising the business for revenue, the more I come to understand that consumer-focused retail is essentially a socially acceptable form of prostitution.

We don't exist to solve a problem in peoples' lives, but to satisfy primal urges, indulge fantasies and make people feel powerful/special. The actual product you take home is just a souvenir.

Going back to GP's comment, I wouldn't be surprised if many corporate jobs could be looked at this way too.

Perhaps that is cultural? We're used to faults only being addressed when they're really dire; hence, if you address any faults, your product must be in a dire state.

In reality, that is probably the case, but it's also the case that any culture always moves in this direction; the nash equilibrium is reached only if you describe your product a bit too rosy.

Quote from reviewed book in link: “a bedrock and simplistic assumption that has long shackled the charitable world: that money spent on direct services is the only worthy use of charitable funds, while money invested in organizational effectiveness is to be kept as close to zero as possible. It is an equation widely accepted by the donating public, by the press, by charity watchdogs, by government regulators, and by most charities themselves. To keep overhead costs down, charities forgo necessary investments with devastating and sometimes deadly results.”

There are a lot of parasitic organisations that provide shitty expensive advice/consultancy services to crappy charities. A sort of web of symbiotic parasites, helping charities to provide no value. It is no surprise that crappy charities can spend a ton of money on “organisational effectiveness” that only return negative value overall.

> I was on the board of a foundation [ ... ]

I strongly suspect this was a US-based foundation. That behavior is not exclusive to the USA, but much, much more predominant here. It's almost a stereotype of US (individual and corporate) behavior.

> There were a lot of high-sounding mission statements and vision statements, a lot of congratulations, a lot of nice dinners—but nothing ever got done.

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.

"The Red Queen"

Counterpoint: GiveWell has a link "Our Mistakes" directly on the main navigation bar!


It's beautiful to see such behavior <3

Looks great, although all their mistakes are minor process mistakes. They never admit something like "We gave these guys money but they wasted it, so we shouldn't have".

Amazing. Thanks for sharing.

> A group will never admit they were wrong. A group will never admit, “We made a mistake,” because a group that tries to change its mind falls apart. I’m hard pressed to find examples in history of large groups that said, “We thought A, but the answer’s actually B.”

Just because the author can't think of an example doesn't make it true.

In fact groups of people, typically businesses, admit failure all the time. And it doesn't follow that this causes a "schism"

Isn't Y-Combinator all about failing fast and pivots? Funny to see such a silly notion here of all places.

Probably more correct to say that: "A group never admits they are wrong about the core identifying belief that defines the group"

Groups admit being wrong about non-core beliefs all of the time. But of course if you look at the core belief that actually categorizes whether you are in the group or not, then it cannot admit being wrong or else it ceases to exist.

Having said that, I think the author is really making a silly point to say that a group defined by a core belief CANNOT admit that its core belief is wrong. Kind of obvious when expanded to its more verbose form.

I'm thinking about how Germans post-WW2 generally were greatly embarrassed for their mistakes during the war. Of course, it probably helps that the former government was removed and many of the officials put on trial.

Now that is something that is true for people as well as groups. That's why it's so important to be careful how you assign your identity.

Without it the blog post is less interesting. Having listened to Naval on Clubhouse he's extremely confident in everything he says (/said on Clubhouse, which was largely political/covid/government/society/extremely broad categories). For people to find you interesting, unfortunately you usually need to project such confidence even if it's not technically true.

> Without it the blog post is less interesting.

I disagree.

When I see the author's exaggeration and overconfidence, coupled with a lack of examples, I stop reading. It reminds me of driving by a paper mill. Memorable, yes, in the wrong sort of way. I'll remember to avoid it in the future.

I don't dig the writing. I find it uninteresting and unpersuasive. An author does not have to exaggerate to be interesting. Even a dry scientific article can punch you in the face. Isn't that interesting? Perhaps impact and exaggeration are inversely related. Perhaps become exaggeration is easy and overused.

There is a time and place for exaggeration, sure. However, a skilled writer has many varied tools: metaphor, details, humor, and much more.

There isn't one formula to good writing, certainly, but what I'm seeing here misses the mark.

typo fix above: become -> because

This is such an ignorant perspective, it really makes me mad. Literally a google search will provide hosts of examples of groups admitting they were wrong and ironically many for-profit companies not admitting they were wrong. It's amazing how someone can be ignorant of history, make a pronouncement that justifies their priors and think they have reached some sort of enlightenment. There is this whole constellation of hustler mindset puff pieces like this that often spout "insight" without really having an actual critical perspective, but don the air of "criticizing most people think" as if that makes them critical.

Ironically it's often due to a lack of seeing feedback, a mechanism of the same kind the author criticizes groups of! Or perhaps cognitive biases.

You are welcome to share a couple of prominent examples.

The Rationalist community in particular is very good at rationalizing.

One of the best contemporary counterexamples, and incidentally one of the largest organizations in the world by official membership, is the Communist Party of China.

A lot of Mao Zedong's policies are viewed as mistakes by the Party, including the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Heck, Mao himself publicly admitted that the GLF was a mistake for which he takes responsibility.

Yet the CPC, as an organization of millions of individuals, didn't implode and remains as formidable as ever.

There are a lot of reasons for this, not least China having 5000 years experience with running civilization-scale groups.

> A lot of Mao Zedong's policies are viewed as mistakes by the Party, including the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Heck, Mao himself publicly admitted that the GLF was a mistake for which he takes responsibility.

My impression, from talking to modern Chinese people, is that the Cultural Revolution is viewed as a mistake, and the Great Leap Forward is not. The Great Leap Forward is viewed as having suffered from inclement weather.

I tend to suspect that this reflects current party orthodoxy.

> There are a lot of reasons for this, not least China having 5000 years experience with running civilization-scale groups.

That would make the comparison groups Egypt, Iraq, and Iran. Plus a much weaker argument for Pakistan.

How formidable are those governments, compared to the government of China?

I think the author was implicitly referring to loosely organized groups instead of dictatorships. In groups with strong leaderships, instead of being like a "group", they are more like a bunch of organized people following a (small number of) leader(s), in which case the risk of schism is less pronounced.

Just yesterday I stumbled on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backyard_furnace Doesnt sound like Mao was that hot on admitting failure.

How about we read his actual words, spoken to a gathering of Party officials?

> I have committed two crimes, one of which is calling for 10,700,000 tons of steel and the mass smelting of steel. If you agreed with this, you should share some of the blame. But since I was the inventor of burial puppets, I cannot pass on the blame: the main responsibility is mine.

Read the whole thing for a little treat at the end.


The CCP under XiaoPing Deng creates indeed a schism. It no longer takes communism seriously. Its legitmacy comes from economic growth, rather than from whatever Mao cared.

It creates a schism among Western "leftists" -- which, surprise, are completely irrelevant to internal affairs of The People's Republic of China.

I think there's also the difference between admitting failure and admitting failure publicly. Lots of groups will admit failure internally, but there's often not a good reason to admit failure publicly, because your adversaries will use it against you.

The article isn't about PR though. It's more about internal admissions of failure.

If you want to challenge the YC orthodoxy ask if it's worth giving up 7%. I know people who chose to do YC and didn't. And honestly, the YC-attending guys were steered away from the idea that would make them a billion-dollar company. Only when they disregarded the YC advice and moved on could they prosper.

EDIT: Sorry, I'm rate-limited here. Yes, I meant that their current valuation is $1+ billion. They abandoned the path that YC suggested - no success down that road - to get here.

And did they prosper? There's a cosmic sized gap from a billion dollar idea and actually obtaining a billion dollars.

Sports teams. Many admit failures collectively. Not always for sure, depending on the circumstances, but it happens very frequently. Small group though.

The principle claim of this essay is that groups never change their viewpoints. What's ironic is that it appears in a public environment in which groups are changing their viewpoints, often quite publicly. Many are taking extreme heat for this.

Technical projects and groups are adopting codes of conduct and behaviour, changing stances on what had long been accepted.

Companies are similarly changing their views on what types of behaviour are considered acceptable amongst both staff and leadership.

The high court of the United States just heard a case in which it seems highly likely that it will substantially change its collective mind over a decision it had made some 50 years ago.

The two major political parties of the United States have, over the course of some 60 or so years, virtually completely changed their respective stances on racial equality and civil rights. Not a fast change, but a profound one.

The Catholic Church has reversed itself on earlier condemnations and beliefs, notably of heliocentrism and the conviction of Galileo.

Scientific bodies and disciplines change their mind, preferably based on evidence, all the time. It's what science is. A remarkable case was the development of the theory of plate tectonics from a radical fringe concept to the central organising principle of geology, from 1915 to 1965.

We're in the midst of an onging attempt to change collective understanding, and response to the overwhelmingly evident fact of anthropogenic global warming as a consequence of fossil fuel use.

Reputable news and media organisations report on their own errors and omissions on an ongoing basis.

The most durable institutions in the world are not commercial entities (the five-year failure rate of new enterprises is about 50%). Rather, they are not-for-profit service organisations and institutions, typically schools. The oldest universities date back over 1,000 years, and there are primary schools dating to before the year 1.

And the field of economics has been in the process of admitting the failure of free-market absolutism, or even of free markets as anything other than a special case, for over 150 years.

Groups are resistant to change, yes, but they are not absolutely incapable of it.

Arguing against facts is quite easy where one doesn't bother to consult them.

> The Catholic Church has reversed itself on earlier condemnations and beliefs, notably of heliocentrism and the conviction of Galileo.

But nobody changed their minds or admitted a mistake: people just died or retired and were replaced by different people who thought differently.

The content of the post makes it obvious that it's discussing the actions and decisions of groups over much shorter periods of time: i.e., within a single human lifetime, and actually within quite a small portion of a lifetime, because it's talking about outcomes of funded projects and how they're viewed.

The conviction of Galileo is actually pretty funny; it took a few decades _after landing on the moon_ for the church to apologize: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair#Modern_Catholic...

That's some sinful pride right there.

Regarding Galileo affair from what I read it was church following scientific inquiry while Galileo was like trust me I know better because I am authority on this.

At least some of the examples might be explained by _new groups_ taking over _old brands_, no? This would result in the group seemingly change its beliefs, when in reality, it has been replaced.

Take the cathlic church. Say some people realize that the geocentrism is wrong. You have the option of either splitting off and starting something from scratch; or, if you have the option, you launch a coup, and replace the people in the cathlic church, effectively changing the group, but still seeming as the "cathlic church" from anyone outside.

> The principle claim of this essay is that groups never change their viewpoints.

Actually the principal claim is that "a group will never admit they were wrong." I think I agree with both claims.

The general domain is group conflict and change. There's a literature on that. Naval's failed to acknowledge its existence, let alone consult it.


Changing a change of mind is a subset of admitting error. Naval's claim is an absolute ("never"), and a single counterexample serves as a sufficient disproof.

I've provided multiple.

Corollary: Naval never admits failure?

It's interesting to contemplate instances in which businesses or industries refuse to do so.

Tobacco, oil, asbestos, lead, pharmaceutical (e.g., Sacklers), coal, gaming, alcohol, dioxins, plastics generally, advertising, adtech, sugar, firearms, trans-fats. That whole slave-trade thing.

> The principle claim of this essay is that groups never change their viewpoints.

I understood that the principle claim is that groups never admit publicly that they were wrong. Maybe in reading to much into it, but it is the interpretation I've got. They can, and actually do change, but it is always a "path of victory". And in the few cases that they admit they were wrong is to gain an advantage or when they are forced to: To appear humble, to pivot to a trending opinion before the "other side" do (and usually after a huge pressure).

We have several examples of this: Microsoft with Linux (now Linux is trendy, they want to embrace the developers that code on Mac, and so on), Germany after WWII (decided by the allies in the Postdam conference), or any political party that ever existed.

The rant's punchline is "If you want to change the world to a better place, the best way to do it is a for-profit because for-profits have to take feedback from reality."

It could be rewritten to say what you're noting. That would be an entirely different essay, however, and not what was submitted here.

Mind: I'd also find more agreement with that view. It is not, however, the one that was presented.

This could just be about the scope you attach to a group. If the composition of the group changes is it still the same group?

I feel most of the changes you mentioned saw a churn in the members of the groups themselves.

Also, the article mentions changes can happen but not without a schism, which I feel most of your examples demonstrate that a schism is happening.

I guess it was pretty clear that group views meant same people in that group over a period. What you are talking is simply about large organizations where many people or even generations of people have come and gone and obviously held different viewpoint.

Your comment is typical example of arguing over completely different point and then claim as counterexample to original argument.

It took a lot of effort, but Japan's Meiji Era civil war was a big one.

The Samurai Class said: "This system is not good, and look over there, battleships from Western Nations are on our shore. Time to modernize and industrialize, and time to retire the Samurai system".

Of course, the other half of the Samurai argued otherwise and thus the civil war started. Turns out that the side that chose guns and industrialization won.


Arguably, every revolution and civil war was basically a group deciding that the old way was bad and that some new way was better. But the Meiji Restoration is perhaps the most striking example in the past 200 years.

Yes, the "schism" happened as per the blogpost. But the schism was fixed and Japan was reunited, fighting as a united front in the Russo-Japanese war... proving that Japan had in fact become a modern world power.

In that case the group didn't remain intact: it split in two. To use the article's language, it's a group that tried to change its mind then fell apart as a result.

"The Group" was the Tokugawa Shogunate, a group of Samurai who were leading Japan from the 1600s through the mid-1800s.

Some of the Samurai remained pro-Shogunate (the old system of power). The others were pro-Imperialists (Emperor Meiji, Prime Ministers, Bi-cameral house, etc. etc., and other such modernizations).

It was the group that tried to stay on the old Shogunate / Samurai system that lost. In part, because the pro-Imperialists were some of the most powerful samurai of Japan (such as Ito: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%C5%8D_Hirobumi).

In the end, people largely acknowledge the forward thinking of Japan's samurai class. The samurai largely convinced other samurai (through the old system of war / killing each other), that the new Imperial system was better. Turns out that Samurai were still good at fighting, even if they were fighting to remove themselves from power.


This is a group that fully acknowledged the inefficiency of the 1600s-era system of government and Feudal territories lorded over by Samurai / Noble warriors.

The pro-imperialist Samurai themselves led the revolution to create a new system of government, industrialization, and open up trade with the world. Yes, even if it meant ending the Samurai powers of old.

there are a lot of funny passages in here, but this one really made me laugh:

> If you want to change the world to a better place, the best way to do it is a for-profit because for-profits have to take feedback from reality. Ironically, for-profit entities are more sustainable than non-profit entities. They’re self-sustainable. You’re not out there with a begging bowl all the time.

Tech, finance, and the automotive industry are three great examples of for-profit industries that are almost always insulated from feedback from reality and are constantly "out there with a begging bowl."

>Tech, finance, and the automotive industry are three great examples of for-profit industries that are almost always insulated from feedback from reality and are constantly "out there with a begging bowl."

And with all three what's missing is competition.

When you get big enough competition stops existing and quality stops mattering for a very long time. You can only fail because you're awful at what you do when you're small. Get big enough and you can just buy out anybody better than you.

It's interesting to me that you include the Tech industry. I am familiar with bailouts for the auto and financial industry. In what way is the Tech industry "insulated from feedback"?

Venture capital is at its core a vehicle to shield businesses while they’re figuring out PMF — aka, figuring out how to turn ideas into money. At the scale that it operates at today it’s barely distinguishable from bailouts — I’m thinking of examples like Uber and WeWork.

The timescales are quite different though. A failing car factory can be propped up by government subsidies for decades; a Juicero will crash and burn in a year or two.

Uber and WeWork are outliers in that they provide what's clearly a useful and novel service, but it's still unclear how profitable they can be.

The article starts with a shoddy overreach about group dynamics, countered by countless exceptions raised on this page where groups in fact self-correct.

Then it continues with a howler about the supposed "sustainability" of for-profit enterprise. The engine behind the success of marketplace capitalism is creative destruction! In a healthy marketplace for-profit entities must constantly compete to stay alive, and those that can't adapt die because they are not sustainable.

There's something to the idea that groups are reluctant to change course, but we aren't learning anything about it from this article, which chose to go down the path of ideological screed.

>I’m hard pressed to find examples in history of large groups that said, “We thought A, but the answer’s actually B.”

Being German I would like to think that while there's always opportunity to be more introspective about your history over the last few generations we've done an okay job of correcting some historical mistakes, and that's a pretty decently sized group.

>If you want to change the world to a better place, the best way to do it is a for-profit

I can only assume that if we'd turned the country into an LLC we'd be even more on the cutting edge of error correcting today. I feel like this post is what happens if you burn every history book and instead shove a diet of a16z podcasts and silicon valley serial entrepreneur biographies through GPT-3

we've done an okay job of correcting some historical mistakes

I don't want to take anything from the generally commendable and impressive German efforts in that regard, as you say, over a period of several generations. At the same time, one has to acknowledge to get there, Germany was physically destroyed, its territory dismembered and occupied, it effectively ceased to exist as a sovereign state for a period, etc, etc. It's not much of an example of a group spontaneously deciding they'd got it wrong.

Why would anyone, especially a large group spontaneously change one of their core beliefs? Don't you need some kind of trigger event to enforce the change of mind?

Yes, but in the case of Germany, it wasn't the case that the German government and societal structures changed their beliefs; they were replaced.

People have been wondering since that time a Wookiee lived on Endor.

Sorry what? I guess I don't get what you're saying

I didn't get what you were asking either!

Oh OK sorry I'm not a native English speaker so I might not chose the right words.

I was asking who spontaneously changes their mind without any event that would trigger such a change? If I believe in something, why would I have any motivation to change it if everything is running well / as planned?

Oh it's mostly a figure of speech - the point was that Germans 'changing their mind' was not anything close to 'spontaneous' despite the fact most of it was, over the long term, arduously accomplished by Germans themselves.

Interestingly though, a trip through germany revealed monuments to the atrocities they committed.

The general idea being that future peoples need to learn from the mistakes of the past.

However much I like the German way of dealing with the past, I can't shake the suspicion that all of this is not without it's incentives.

As someone living in Germany as well, Germans love to tell others how things are done. This is only possible if you have the moral high ground. Musterschüler an all that.

Well, Germany had to be made to do that. We had to remake the nation into one that has changed its dogma from "we were right" to "we were wrong". The fact that the populace accepted it is awesome, actually, but it needed to be done to them.

There is the theory that Germans accepted this culture of Vergangenheitsbewältigung because of a reason. While I don't necessarily believe this is a 100% true, it would explain the incentives. The theory goes as follows:

How would Germans be able to tell other Europeans what they need to do in which way if they didn't have the moral high ground of Vergangenheitsbewältigung?

While this might not be true for a big chunk of the German population (which is truly horrified by and sorry for the harm their nation caused), it is certainly part of the reson this has been successfully accepted.

Pretty sure it took two tries also

Blaming WWI entirely on Germany is myopic, and is in part what set the social unrest in the Weimar Republic in the first place. The huge debt was put on Germany, and they were heavily dependent on loans. When the US economy crashed in 1929, they were done for. If Germany did not take the full blame for WWI, WWII arguably never happened. Because someone like Hitler wouldn't have been able to rise to power via a massive social unrest.

I'd say the economic and political effects of the Versailles treaty are exaggerated (especially given how little it was enforced), but yeah.

The idea that Germany was in any way the single country responsible for WWI is absolutely ridiculous.

That is hard to prove contrafactual. The Germany still lost WWI which was massive sticking points for them. The "stab in the back" myth would existed either way, because Germany being having super militarized culture could not admit loss.

The revolution in Bavaria would still happened. And still irk right wing. The democracy would still be rejected and Weimar Republic would still be one massive mess.

Hitler did not gained power just because of social issues.

(And also, less importantly, had Germany won the WWI, they had plans to ask other countries for large reparations. It is not like those were something unheard of at that time.)

GPT-3 looks like the best answer here. There are more than a few outliers I can think of A then B logic as written, which indicates a limited training set database of, like you said, a few podcasts and biographies.

I would replace "never" with "rarely." Patagonia is a good example of a company that admits failure -- they talk alot in their publications about finding ecological, moral, and profitability problems with their practices, describing lessons learned and attempts to improve.

I have seen in my work that individual tasks present failures as successes in their final reviews, and I can't think of any examples of a task that admitted "this didn't work out" even though many of the projects I'm thinking of are R&D and really didn't work out at all.

This a good point. I think we can refine the rule to something like “groups never admit anything that makes them look bad.”

Patagonia can admit failure because they’ve set it up so that failure is a fine outcome and even the attempt is noble.

Exactly. The trick is to create an environment and context where it's possible for groups and individuals to brag about their failures (+/- mitigation strategies).

Seems like this depends on what you mean by "large group." If we're only talking about, say, populations of entire large countries, or all adherents to a major world religion, then sure, it would be very unlikely to get them to literally all agree that some error was made. But that's mostly because it would be difficult to coordinate any behavior that specific across that large of a group of people. If, however, we're just talking about the official leadership or representatives of some large group, then there are plenty of cases of them admitting mistakes. Even big companies and governments occasionally admit mistakes.

This article reads like an anecdotal rant.

> Groups never admit failure.

> I’m hard pressed to find examples in history of large groups that said, “We thought A, but the answer’s actually B.”

First statement does not follow from the second. The rest of the article is even worse in its sudden jumps to conclusions.

The author is Naval Ravikant who is a wealthy VC and pseudo-philosopher. He's clearly a smart guy but also seemingly disconnected from reality at this point in his career.

A piece that has no facts backing the point, which exploits confirmation and conformity biases in readers, is just a badly researched and biased piece, regardless of author.

Write a counter piece then, or don't. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

> A group will never admit they were wrong. A group will never admit, “We made a mistake,” because a group that tries to change its mind falls apart. I’m hard pressed to find examples in history of large groups that said, “We thought A, but the answer’s actually B.”

What would this look like? 100% of members all announcing it at the same time? A simple majority? Just a single leader, or board?

Because if it’s the leader option, that does happen occasionally. And even when groups don’t instantly change their minds, they can change their minds over time and eventually admit they used to be wrong. That does happen.

Put another way: “We” didn’t think anything. There is no such thing as a group changing its mind because a group doesn’t have a mind. Each member thought something, probably something slightly different even when they largely agreed, and very often they completely disagreed with one another.

The Naval and Balaji type folks often seem tricked into thinking that organizations are actually atomic entities simply because we talk about them as if they are. They’re abstractions. Abstractions over groups of people who are each individually as complex as you and I are. Easy to forget sometimes!

> Put another way: “We” didn’t think anything. There is no such thing as a group changing its mind because a group doesn’t have a mind.

I mean yeah, but I don't think that's what the author meant. They seem to be saying that groups don't admit failure, not that admitting failure is a definitional impossibility. It's like going, "jellyfish NEVER breastfeed their babies."

Delay, Deny, Defend. In doubt and you can't help, confess to be a miserable wretch, but also a victim of circumstance and heartbreakingly beg for forgiveness.

Not to forget, tell them you have understood your mistakes and will do everything possible to avoid them in the future.

That 'possible' is important next time, you fool them. Just in case they remember last time.

Sometimes it even pays to keep its promises.


I think it depends on how drastically wrong the group is and if the which sets of individuals in a group that gets attracted to it based on around an idea, mission, value, etc.

Like for example, as soon as meme stocks dive in the next recession, most likely the reddit groups based around this will fall apart because the idea that meme stocks are a great way to make quick money will die.

I think the shape of the group changes, those with more deeply held beliefs about a group will stay and perhaps "regroup", but for most, who get attracted to a particular group for no clear first principles, they will leave and from their perspective, the group has definitely died.

But to use the meme stock example above, those who were in the group because of deeper beliefs that meme stocks signal a shift in retail trading and the rise of the consumer need for financial independence early on tied to the lowered barriers of financial transactions thanks to the internet, they will regroup.

Ok back to work

Seems like yet another lesson from Clay Shirky's "A Group is its own Worst Enemy"[1]. From the talk/essay:

  It’s obvious that there are no groups without members. But what’s less obvious is that there are no members without a group — because what would you be a member of?

  So there’s this very complicated moment of a group coming together, where enough individuals, for whatever reason, sort of agree that something worthwhile is happening, and the decision they make at that moment is “This is good and must be protected.” And at that moment, even if it’s subconscious, you start getting group effects.
[1] https://www.gwern.net/docs/technology/2005-shirky-agroupisit...

I once knew a man that was campaigning against a proposed metro line because he feared it would be too noisy, harm the environment, scar his neighborhood, etc. One day he organized a walk along the entire proposed path of the new metro line. At the end of the walk, they discussed it and to his own surprise he came to the conclusion that actually it was not that bad after all. His anti-metro group did of course dissolve. I had a lot of respect for him.

Apple was forced to admit that its efforts to develop a next generation operating system failed so they looked around and after considering both BeOS and NeXT Apple bought NeXT and began work on what would be called Mac OS X which is what many of you used to read this.

I'm sorry to read this. It is very cynical.

It's not necessarily wrong, but I perceive it as inductive reasoning (failure to admit failure means failure, as a whole), that may not apply to many application contexts.

I've been in the NPO world for over 40 years (as a side gig). I have family that have been in it for even longer (as a full-time vocation); with varying degrees of success. I have friends that work at some very famous and effective NPOs.

I've had lots of failure; both individually, and as a member of a team, and we have always admitted it. I have also had what might be perceived, in the for-profit world, as "failure," but was actually a form of success, in the long game.

The same kind of thing can be ascribed to academia, and even to a selection of for-profit endeavors. I have seen this behavior many times in my "day jobs."

That said, the NPO/Academia world is pretty crazy, compared to the neat, clean lines of for-profit organizations. The main currencies tend to be passion, reputation, and ego, as opposed to money, and that leads to some "strange" behavior. Also, people can be quite ... driven, so the fights can be ... invigorating.

The body seems to have been written by GPT-3, but the title and subheadline are a simple, and probably useful truth.

If an organization is wrong about one of its central tenets, it doesn't change that tenet, it splits. This is because if you disagree with one of the central tenets of an organization, you are no longer an guiding member of that organization. Therefore, if an organization of 100 people split because 90 of the people realize that the purpose of the organization doesn't make sense, now you have an organization of 10 people carefully explaining how those 90 never really understood the original purpose, and weren't willing to put in the work.

I think that's the process that strengthens groups, When Prophecy Fails style. Being wrong is a crucible that leaves the group completely composed of members who are only dedicated to the group itself, rather than any external object. The slag, who are hung up on actually being right, get skimmed off.


This is one reason why at the time of group formation I ask that one person be responsible for delivering the desired outcome of the group. By election, by appointment, whatever the circumstances may call for. And, as I learned the hard way, that responsibility needs to be coupled with and balanced by a suitable degree of authority.

Anecdotal at best. Never is too strong of a word here. I was expecting a study to be accompanied by the article given the conviction insinuated in the title.

Groups can come in various shapes and forms but generally they often come with a group leader, and that person can play a major role in defining success/failure.

It's an interesting premise, but does not support the conclusion that for-profit companies are more sustainable than non-profits. Like at all.

> A group will never admit they were wrong. A group will never admit, “We made a mistake,”

Controversies over the status of historical figures serves as a complete refutation of this piece. Societies and groups values are constantly changing.

This honestly sounds like rumblings one should have at a bar, not on a blog…

No part of the argument is backed by anything but vague personal experience, and the outcome is as far reaching as “for profits are better than non profits”

What bar does a blog need to meet?

> Usually what happens in that case is a schism

Pretty sure the "we were wrong" half of the schism is admitting failure. This feels like a "no true scotsman" fallacy. There are certainly going to be people who never change their minds, but there are many, many examples of groups changing their policies to the reverse of what they were (slavery, gay marriage, outlawing inter-racial marriage, etc). Obviously plenty of people disagree with those changes, but OP's view is that the "real" group is only the people who never changed their minds.

Great article!

On and individual level people often won't admit to mistakes either. There is a great book called:

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts

> Groups Never Admit Failure

I've been a member of groups that admitted failure. One time a group of us swam through a barnacle-encrusted passageway & cut ourselves. Everyone was bleeding. "That was a mistake," we agreed.

A volunteer group I'm in accept a $150k bequest, and after much soul-searching we decided to return all but $10k. Everyone agreed that we shouldn't have accepted the money in the first place because it caused too much strife in our organization.

>I realized this was because there was no objective feedback. Because there is no loss—it’s all social profit—they couldn’t fail.

>If you want to change the world to a better place, the best way to do it is a for-profit because for-profits have to take feedback from reality.

Why would it be the "best"? Non-profit organisations do have many other ways to have their performance validated and evaluated from "reality" transparently and objectively, just like e.g. a public company.

Sure, non-profit is not sustainable and legally binding etc etc, but the author doesn't provide concrete reason that a specific organisation model serves best for "building a better world." I'm not arguing that non-proft is the "best," but a foundation may receive funding and/or grants from a consortium of various non-profit and for-profit organisations, individuals, and etc.. This does not necessarily make the foundation itself "for-profit." The foundation could operate under critical scrutiny of stakeholders.

If anything, I'd blame the lack of transparency to interested parties (e.g. donors) as the main factor of organisational failure. This applies to both for-profits and non-profits.

Most groups will not admit failure. This is because (IMO) we do 'groups' wrong.

What is a group? Its a bunch of individuals that come together to do something.

The problem is that the 'thing' groups come together to do, is different for different individuals. Some people are looking to find completion, some community, some a specific goals, others a series of goals, others want control, others want to learn, etc.

Groups should come together for a specific goals, and then be disbanded when that goal is met or cannot be met. The issue groups do not come together in this way - instead we create a structure that potentially runs in perpetuity (the governance structure is the most egregious example of this.)

If the goals are unclear, if the structure can be hijacked so that one individual is in a position of power over the others, at that point, the group is in conflict - some are winners some are losers. The ostensible goal may end in failure, but only for some in the group. In fact, for the winners, a sort of strung out failure is success! Just look at our political class - the system is failing and no one is happy, but they have converted their parasitic position into a win.

> But I would argue that the best businesses are the ones that are for-profit, sustainable and ethical so you can attract the best people. You can sustain it because it’s a mission and it’s not just about the money—because there are diminishing returns to making money. There’s a diminishing marginal utility to the money in your life

This is ideological, in practice, just like non-profit fail to be profitable, for-profit fail to be ethical.

Odd connection perhaps, but this book stuck with me about its framing of group changes. Though it only looks at terrorist organisations.

Essentially how the groups changes its positioning, beliefs and modus in the world over a longer time horizon. Seems to be heavily facilitated by attrition and shedding effects, which changes the units of decision making, the people, to have different personality and character profiles over time.

So how group in time X looks at a situation vs how group in time Y looks at a new situation. Excluding the immediate information on what is happening per each situation. An additional big variable to take into account is how external and internal effects have effected attrition, shedding, and new joiners between those two time periods.

The Terrorist Dilemma https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691157214/th...

I might suggest Naval misunderstands what it means to manage something (which is funny because he's known for being wildly successful at having done so). It's not solving problems, it's extracting value from them. The board he was on congratulated itself because it had managed, e.g. to continue to extract value from whatever cause or dynamic it ostensibly exists to contribute money into. It has no interest in solving problems, as then what would it exist to manage?

This is very close to the cynicism of those who accuse for-profit enterprise as only doing things for money with no care for the people their decisions effect, with the slight modification that it's not so much the money managerialists do it for as the power of continuing to do it, money is just one effect of sustaining a dynamic.

Imo, Naval's generalization succumbs to exceptions because it misses the above point of what these groups and boards are formed to do.

What immediately come to my mind is companies. When they made mistake they tend to have a specific person to take the blame and apologize. If it's too much, then that particular somebody would (be forced to) resign or get fired. And then life within the company goes on normally as if nothing happened.

I liked the first half of the essay - some interesting nuggets of some possible ideas, particularly the point about schisms forming rather than continued collective action once a group becomes large enough.

The last half sounds a little bit too much like the bias towards markets and profit motives and whatnot without question and without critique. There are plenty of dysfunctional for-profit orgs that don't allocate resources well, in spite of overwhelming feedback, from the market and elsewhere. The majority of for-profit orgs also have a sales team that is out there pounding the pavement trying to drive sales: it's not all, "Build it and they will come."

I don't buy that a successful company needs to be a mission either. That's very common thinking in the startup world, but not even close to representative of the whole.

So.... Ask contributors to any given group project what their contribution was. The total will almost always be >100%. Ask about share of blame, I reckon it will always be <100%.

Organisational culture and group psychology tend to prop up such fallacies, allowing everyone to overestimate and underestimate their contribution to success and failure... these accumulate to organisational fallacies over time. Venkatesh Rao once called the lies cumulating as a result of this "organisational dark matter."

Lies beget lies. If a team is responsible for 180% of the success and 45% of the failure... something has to account for that. External factors played a role. Someone else failed. The project is actually more successful than it is. Etc.

A lot of group psychology is just this... ways of supporting group beliefs.

> This happens in crypto land, too, where the coins fork

You only get hurt when you're holding? Crypto for me was always about not using it as a speculative currency, but actually /using/ it when you could. There's a thing called /spending/ which all the wealthy seem to avoid.

Spending? What's that? Crypto is mostly about the speculative asset bubble and scams. :)

It seems the author is conflating a human social proclivity toward back-slapping/good-jobs with a reluctance to admit failure.

Medium and large groups admit failure all the time, but rarely dwell on it. Instead they adjust and evolve, which is the healthy response to failure.

Consider changes in management, business pivots, board changes, values evolutions, even cultural shifts and generational displacement. These are responses to failure after some form of prior admission to failure, even if slight.

The shiny thing that happens is declarations of victory and praise - so that’s where a lot of attention goes and where even the author has a bias. Admissions of failure are by their own mechanics brief and not very sparkly/shiny/attention-getting.

> Groups never admit failure.

> A group will never admit they were wrong.

I liked this essay, but it seems like they combined these two observations together with their example about the non-profit. Failure and wrongness are not the same thing.

In their main example, it seems like the company did not admit when they had failed at their goals, and the solution to that is to measure the goals and be accountable. But they also did not question whether those goals were the wrong ones to pursue in the first place. Metrics would not improve that, and many for-profit companies run into that reality even while improving their KPIs quarter over quarter.

I would have liked that distinction to be teased out a little more.

In my experience, it's way easier to get a group to admit they have failed. Failure, after all, is only temporary, and often a reason to raise more funding. What's hard is to get groups to say "we need to question if we're working on the right problem", because that is an existential threat to the organization itself. People will fight hard not to change that: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it," etc. etc.

> Groups never admit failure.

> A group will never admit they were wrong.

ConstitutionDAO tried to buy the US Constitution. When the auction ended there was a large Twitter spaces group that mistakenly celebrated CDAO's 'win' in the auction.

However, when it was revealed that CDAO actually lost the bid, the Twitter spaces group admitted they were wrong and that CDAO failed and then announced it to everyone in the group. [0]

This group admitted failure.

[0] https://www.vice.com/en/article/wxd5z9/chaos-reigns-as-const...

Interesting. Peer pressure is very strong in Japan, and the failure to admit failure is considered one of the reasons why Japan lost WWII[1]. Likewise, there are many failures in Japan today, where organizations in general struggle to point out and correct flaws in executive plans. This usually stems from hierarchy, and junior members of orgs experience pressure to accept initiatives set by their seniors.

[1] At least by a Japanese book called "The Essence of Failure" https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/4122018331

The link between "groups never admit failure" and "non-profit organizations are not sustainable by design" is a little bit too direct and non relevant.

Lots of non-profits make revenues, selling stuff with customers, they just don't pay dividends by design and re-invest everything. So what he says does not apply.

And again, even foundations are at least oriented to hear feedbacks from donators who are their "customers". So it does not apply here.

The only valid point is that yes, group never admit failure as a whole, but the post should have stopped after this

> A group will never admit they were wrong. A group will never admit, “We made a mistake,” because a group that tries to change its mind falls apart. I’m hard pressed to find examples in history of large groups that said, “We thought A, but the answer’s actually B.”

Germany openly regrets Nazis and Hitler. In the US we admit that letting McCarthy run amok was a huge mistake. Globally billions of people admit that we were wrong to let short term economic interests steam-roll the environment for the last century.

This article feels like a “my logical-to-me sounding hypothesis must be true because I haven’t thought of any counter-examples” rationalization. It doesn’t examine any cases of groups admitting being wrong, and there are lots in history. It doesn’t ask the question why is a group being wrong is a legitimately harder conclusion to come to, even from people external to the group. There usually are debates and individuals causing things to go one way or another.

> In the US we admit that letting McCarthy run amok was a huge mistake.

Who is this "we" ? I strongly suspect that a large number of those who voted to re-elect the previous president likely incline a little bit in McCarthy's favor. He was anti-commie, anti-leftie, pro-america, and really a model for some parts of contemporary conservatism. Yeah, ok, so a few innocents got hurt, but look ... with all those people in front of McCarthy's committee ... a bunch of them had to be commies, right? No smoke without fire, etc.

You make a good point. In my defense, I was thinking of McCarthyism and the feature that it conducted mock trials, committed character assassinations, and accused people of being guilty by association. A lot of that has been quite roundly condemned by “us”, by which I mean the courts (including the Supreme Court), governments, historians, and the public. Even if some of the politics live on, and even if there are splinter groups who would do it again, I feel like it’s fair to say a solid majority of our group does admit the tactics of McCarthyism were an error, no?

> Germany openly regrets Nazis and Hitler.

If you were looking for the least-subtle example of the author's schism theory, i think you found it. :)

Though I get your point - maybe the missing piece is "a schism will split the group... but in the very long term, it might be healed."

Not sure I’d agree Germany ever split or experienced a schism. It went one way for a while, then another, and the group as a whole admits not wanting to repeat it.

The relevant example here is Europe, not Germany. Germany regrets Hitler because Europe split, but the allies defeated it and then imposed their world view on the losers. The Nazis that disagreed were hung, imprisoned, killed or committed suicide. If Hitler had won this thread could have looked very different.

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