The Problem With Incrementalism

The problem with Incrementalism: Unless the trick is to dabble incrementalism as an infinite series 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + … where “…” means keep going. What is supposed to add up is 2 ends up in the Zeno’s paradox, the arrow sneaks on his victim, Achilles sneaks up on the tortoise It is how you can do infinitely many things in a finite time. Do the first thing; do the second thing one minute later; do the third thing half a minute after that; then the fourth thing and so on. After a while you’ve done infinitely many things but you still didn’t get to 2 You did a lot of other stuff but you didn’t get to 2. Some futures are harmless, others are not. How do you tell? I have no answer but I’d use a heuristic that if your concept does not lead to red flags and contradictions, then it’s safe to use, but if it does, then it isn’t.

Here are 10 historical examples where incrementalism failed to achieve success over time:

  1. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States: Despite incremental progress, the movement faced significant setbacks and backlash, and it wasn’t until more radical and confrontational tactics were employed that significant changes were made.
  2. The War on Poverty in the United States: Despite incremental efforts to alleviate poverty through programs such as food stamps and Medicare, poverty rates remained relatively unchanged, and the program has been criticized for not addressing the root causes of poverty.
  3. The British policy of appeasement in the lead-up to World War II: Despite incremental concessions to Nazi Germany, Hitler continued his aggressive expansionist policies, leading to the outbreak of war.
  4. The Kyoto Protocol on climate change: Despite incremental reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by participating countries, global emissions continued to rise, and the agreement ultimately failed to meet its targets.
  5. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals: Despite incremental progress towards reducing poverty and improving access to education and healthcare, many of the goals were not met by the 2015 deadline.
  6. The gradual abolition of slavery in the United States: Despite incremental measures such as the Fugitive Slave Act and the Emancipation Proclamation, the institution of slavery was not fully abolished until the end of the Civil War.
  7. The War on Drugs in the United States: Despite incremental efforts to reduce drug use and trafficking through increased law enforcement and mandatory minimum sentencing, drug use and trafficking rates remained high, and the policy has been criticized for its disproportionate impact on communities of color.
  8. The United Nations’ efforts to prevent genocide in Rwanda: Despite incremental warnings and attempts to intervene, the international community failed to prevent the genocide that took place in 1994.
  9. The Chinese policy of gradual economic reform in the 1960s and 1970s: Despite incremental efforts to liberalize the economy, economic growth remained stagnant until more radical reforms were implemented in the late 1970s.
  10. The American policy of containment during the Cold War: Despite incremental efforts to contain Soviet influence through military alliances and economic aid, the policy ultimately failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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