The Heinlein Theorem


Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable, and safer ways to do things.  And they rarely know what they are doing. – Ian Morris; Why The West Rules – For Now

Okay so that’s not really the Heinlein Theorem.  Robert Heinlein is a science-fiction writer who once suggested that “Progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things.”  Sociologists jumped on this explanation and dubbed it the Heinlein Theorem but as Stanford University History professor Ian Morris has explained, the Heinlein Theorem is incomplete.  It’s not just lazy people, it’s lazy, greedy and frightened people who affect change. 

This explanation is of course a bit pithy. 

The desire to work as little as possible is as much a function of sloth as it is a function of intelligence, why walk one mile when you can ride a horse ten miles, or drive a car a hundred?  Man is intelligent, not lazy. 

Greed, while not necessarily good, as Michael Douglas so famously declared in Wall Street, the desire for status, regardless of whether or not that status is monetary, is what rewards ingenuity.  Without some type of reward there is no incentive for ingenuity and thus the entire market system that we know and depend upon today would never have developed.  For lack of a better term, the desire for recognition is just as well described as a healthy amount of greed but the term doesn’t quite do the sentiment justice.

To say that change is driven by fear, to me makes man seem like little more than a scurrying mouse.  A sense of self-preservation is not necessarily a result of fear as it is a function of the desire not to die.   I wear a seat belt when I drive not because I’m afraid of the other cars but because I’d rather not find out what would happen should my head come in contact with the windshield.  That’s not fear, it’s just common sense.

My own Heinlein Theorem goes like this;

Change is caused by highly intellegent people who like to be recognized for their acheivements and wish to keep on living.

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