Strict Constitutionalism

‘Why’ is much more interesting than the ‘how’. The ‘why’ is the meaning behind why something is done or why a technology was created or why the clause in the constitution was added. Only understanding the process or the mechanics of the technology or just the text of the constitution gives you particular knowledge of the thing and no greater understanding. The ‘why’ requires a network of contextual knowledge. To truly know why something is, you have to know a lot about other things. On the other hand, the ‘how’ is an isolated fact about the particular thing.

Learning and thinking about the ‘why’ is much harder than the ‘how’. In Calculus, it’s much easier to memorize the steps required to calculate a integral along a closed curve using Green’s Theorem then it is to understand what Green’s Theorem is and when to apply it, nevertheless proving it. Elsewhere, this economist article demonstrates that without understanding the underlying reality, you can apply supply and demand analysis and get two contradictory results (prices may rise or fall depending on the shape of the curves and the extent of the supply/demand shocks).

The ‘why’ is knowing how to fish and the ‘how’ is just having one meal worth of fish. Knowing the ‘why’ informs your thoughts and actions in other, perhaps unrelated, areas. For example, in developing our platform at work, I try to keep API’s and syntax as loose as possible because I know that was the primary reason for HTML’s success. It succeeded because it was used in ways that its designers could never have imagined. PERL’s the same way.

In my experience, most folks spend their time performing the ‘how’. At work, I’m frustrated by people trying to understand how to apply a particular policy rather than just thinking about doing the ‘right thing’. It’s seems to me that if you know why a policy was put into place you can act appropriately without having to bother with the particular wording of that policy. What if the wording in the policy is wrong?

Is there a place for just putting your nose down and doing the work?


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