As an artist, the chances are better than evens that you will have found yourself doing this. You will have made a piece of art and toward the end of proceedings, decided that the work needs just one more tweak – one more tiny adjustment – for it to be perfect. In making that one, tiny, little alteration, though, we end up ruining the work completely. For want of a bit of perspective and self-control, we will have fiddled with it, not left well enough alone and ended up over-tweaking the art, to its ultimate detriment. There can be few things more frustrating that wrecking a perfectly good work of art, while trying to improve it.
Why do we believe a tweak will make the art better? What convinces us that the next tiny adjustment will get it to be just so? Why do we always over-egg it? “Over-egging” means: “to go too far in embellishing, exaggerating or doing something”. Alternatively, it means: “to spoil something by trying too hard to improve it.” It’s a universal enough experience. The same sentiment, in German, gives us the word “Verschlimmbessern”, which translates to accidentally making something worse in the process of attempting to mend or improve it. The word has multiple, redolent applications around computers, cake baking and relationships, not just the making of art.
Recognising when it’s time to stop turns out to be surprisingly difficult. Is it our inherent optimism about our ability to continuously and linearly improve what we make, simply by doing a little more? Is it our failure to recognise the beauty in our creation thus far, or are we driven by some other form of insecurity?
Why do we thinking tweaking will work at all?
Making incremental change, in the belief that the change will cause a tangible and worthwhile improvement, seems (at face value) like the moderate, reasonable thing to do, or even the safe thing to do, but in light of the overwhelming evidence, we’re insane to think so. There are countless examples to the contrary that scream incontrovertibly to us that over-tweaking leads to disaster.
Sometimes, you really have to start again, a different way. A work can go beyond the point of betterment or rescue. After that point has been passed, there is nothing we can do that will resurrect the lost beauty. The further we go past finished; the worse the result.
There are many things, besides art, in our lives that we know are already ruined beyond redemption, but we persist in trying to tweak them until they get better, even though this is utterly futile. We can be absolutely certain, given the overwhelmingly abundant evidence amassed so far, that slightly changing these situations will make no material difference to the outcome. Despite the fact that we are positive that tweaking will make no difference, we carry on tweaking and over-tweaking; because we don’t know what else to do, or else don’t want to have to face rethinking the whole thing and starting again.
Here is a brief list of things that tweaking won’t fix, no matter how much tweaking we do:
- We will never eliminate corrupt politicians by voting for better ones. It never works out that way. We have thousands of year’s worth of evidence that says so.
- Changing the government does not solve government inefficiency. The fundamental problem is our belief that governments can ever be efficient. They are, by their very nature, destined to be inefficient.
- War can never be avoided or curtailed by buying more weapons, of greater destructive power, which terrify our designated enemies to a greater degree. This strategy has never and can never work.
- The way we create and issue money always results in spiralling, runaway, unrepayable debt. There is no other possible outcome, given the rules we impose on the practice. Tweaking the details of money creation and issuance does not, in any way, change the fact that it’s a pyramid scheme, as we define it. The only possibility to have money and not have an eventual catastrophic breakdown in the economy is to issue money in a completely different way.
- Free markets are never and can never operate freely. They are always subverted, corrupted or manipulated. Belief in free markets rates with a belief in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. It’s a fiction, of our own creation, which we prove to ourselves, time and again, is just a figment of our imaginations, yet we persist in trying to perfect free markets.
- Inequality cannot be solved by Capitalism. It just doesn’t work that way. There are many excellent, compelling reasons why we should not have extremes of inequality (such as survival of human beings as a species), yet we carry on trying to tweak a system whose only outcome can be extreme inequality, as if our adjustments and tampering will somehow, magically result in Capitalism without inequality.
- Environmental regulations will never protect the environment. There are stronger incentives, built into our customs and traditions of human behaviour that are more compelling than regulation. The only solution possible is to change the incentives and rewards completely, rather than trying to hone and fine tune environmental regulations as we know them. Heaven knows that the imperative to rethink all consumption of earth’s resources has become extremely urgent, but we keep imagining that just one more statute will make everything suddenly ok.
- Cheating consumers and customers is built into hierarchy, privilege, elitism, entitlement and an addiction to violent means of solving conflicts. In short, it arises whenever there is a power differential between parties, but we keep pretending all contracts are freely entered into, with a balance of consideration on both sides and fair dealing assumed, when the evidence tells us there is none.
I could go on, but I think the point is made and I would not wish to over-egg the argument.
Some things simply need a fundamental rework, from first principles. Over-tweaking won’t produce the changes we require.
Luthiers, when building stringed instruments, don’t try to rescue a spoiled piece of work, if their tool slips or they make a mistake. Instead, they have the integrity and courage to scrap it and start again. There is no way to tweak the mistake out of existence. Once the work is spoiled, it is no longer fit for purpose. You cannot adjust it until it becomes acceptable.
When will we lose our addiction to over-tweaking things? Will we ever?
Sometimes ya just gotta leave things alone. When your art is good enough, it’s time to step away.
Other times, you have to start again, from nothing and go a different way.
Over-tweaking rarely helps.