Every political system is an accumulation of habits, customs, prejudices, and principles that have survived a long process of trial and error and of ceaseless response to changing circumstances. If the system works well on the whole, it is a lucky accident — the luckiest, indeed, that can befall a society. — Edward C. Banfield
A couple of weeks ago (November, 2006) voters expressed their disgust with government which resulted in a Democratic win at the polls. Not long after this initial exhilaration, for both citizens and political analysts, the realization started to set in that, most likely, nothing was going to change.
Some time ago, I was reading one of the many blogs devoted to the expression of disgust with the government, the loss of our rights, the trashing of the Constitution, the ever increasing size of the government and the public debt, and so on. The author of that blog, who considered himself to be a patriot and an activist, had ideas for how we might cure the problem. His primary theme was that what we needed to do was to kick the bastards out of office and replace them with folks like you and me — honest, compassionate, skilled, well-meaning folks. Such a scheme is fairly common among the activists, to some degree at least, not usually quite as naive.
Frankly, my immediate thought was "What a stupid idea — how does he know his audience would be any better?" Of course, the scheme would not work. While I admit that government and politics probably do attract a class of person that has certain undesirable characteristics, replacing them with a general slice from the population would, in my opinion, not make a whit of difference. Not in the long run, for sure.
And why that is so is the subject of this paper. Government is a system and systems tend to take on a life of their own. That is to say, systems such as the government and other purpose driven organizations tend to act like organisms - superorganisms[sorg], or living systems[livs], some would say.
When viewing systems as organisms we sometimes get a little loose in our descriptions, using such expressions as "it wants to be thus and so", or "to improve its survivability, it elects to follow some such strategy", and so on. Please understand that this is just a convenience to speak this way — it does not mean we think the system or organization is really "alive". Actually some philosophers may claim that the group of things under study may be "alive" depending on how you define "alive". My usage here, however, is just for convenience of explanation and illustration. For there are always reasons why the organism takes a certain path and these reasons are founded in basically "what survives", not on any internally planning by the organism. That is, it is a process of evolution, mostly.
Actually it is quite common for all of us to regard large organizations as organisms. We speak of "the government", "Congress", Republicans, Democrats, a state, etc., as if it were a thing in itself. I recently bought a can of paint that had this bit of wisdom on its label:
This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. (emphasis added)How else to interpret that other than the state of California is a living thing and, apparently, a helluva lot smarter than ordinary mortals in the rest of the country!
In fact we often talk about the state as if it were an organism with a finite life. That is, empires start like an infant, grow to maturity, and then seem to age and die just like animals and plants. Or, sometimes they are cut down in their prime as the Inka empire in South America was (by the Spanish Conquistadors), again just like what might befall a plant or animal.
The "organism", or blob, if you will, that I am addressing here is the state — the combination of the government and the politicians. Authors, journalists, politicians and the public commonly speak of the "state" as if were a being unto itself. A typical example is the LewRockwell.com article "Ten Righteous States" by Michael S. Rozeff. As a bonus, he also speaks of the market as if it were a thing in itself, with a purpose;
The unhampered market maximizes well-being. The unhampered state minimizes well-being. The completely unhampered state is the most complete totalitarian tyranny. States hamper markets and diminish well-being. When citizens hamper and restrain states, they increase well-being.
The most well-known and accepted example of a process composed of a large number of active components being regarded as one macro process or organism is the so-called "invisible hand" of the marketplace, as conceived by Adam Smith (See "Markets without Makers: A Framework for Decentralized Economic Coordination in Multiagent Systems" by Torsten Eymann). The important observation of this spontaneously organized system is that it will, without any overriding control, provide what is believed to be best solution to the utilization of the "market". That is, no system of human control — Communism being the largest and boldest attempt so far — has been found to be superior to the system of free market wherein the system organizes its own self.
An interesting book that looks at history with the view of large political entities being regarded as organisms is Manual De Landa's A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. For example, he describes cities as organisms — with personalities:
By contrast, speaking of concrete cities (instead of "society" in the abstract) enables us to include in our models historically emergent wholes that do not form totalities but simply larger-scale individual entities.Under certain conditions, any large collection of entities can start to act like a "superorganism". Of particular interest to citizens, or victims, if you like, are the ones we call "states".
viewing cities as individuals allows us to study the interactions between them and the emergent wholes that may result from these interactions.
There are many aspects of government. The one least considered is what may be called the biological aspect, in which government is like an organism with such an instinct for growth and self-expression that if let alone it is bound to destroy human freedom – not that it might wish to do so but that it could not in nature do less. — Garet Garrett, Insatiable Government
There is an invisible hand in politics that operates in the opposite direction to the invisible hand in markets. In politics, individuals who seek to promote only the public good are led by an invisible hand to promote special interests it was no part of their intention to promote. — Milton Friedman
The concept of government or political structures being viewed as an organism involves an arbitrary and overlapping boundary. That is government, political organizations, the state, and general society have overlapping boundaries. While this complicates the problem, it is still useful to concentrate on these sub-groups for purposes of analysis.
In fact, many individuals think that the groups overlap far more than they really do. I have often heard the phrase, "we are the government" in this "democratic" society of the U.S.A. Not very accurate! While many individuals may be a member of the government or a political party and at the same time be a member of general society, the groups are really quite distinct — as organisms. If you don't believe that, try going to your nearest National Park and attempt to cart off one of their valued artifacts. Even trying to get into a park or any other government facility by claiming "I am the government" will not get you very far!
Practically speaking, the government is distinct from society. It is the controller, society is the controllee. The distinction is clear and forceful. They can use force, you, the citizen, cannot. For practical purposes then, we can consider government as being a separate organism.
The government organism can be quite small, such as a family, or it can be monstrously large as it is in most developed countries. Gary Johnson, in "The Evolutionary Origins of Government and Politics"[ref], defines the function of government as being "centralized system coordination." That then means the government could be one person or millions of persons. In either case, it can be regarded as an entity.
One of the most sinister components, or sub-blobs, of the government is the so-called "Justice System". For whatever reason, once a person hits the trip wire and sets this system in motion, it is virtually impossible to stop. Virtually all of the individuals in this system are helpless to stop its process no matter how unjust it may be.
Let's look at an example of a system that we hear about constantly (and the analysis is usually completely wrong) and that is that there is some group somewhere that is causing the deterioration of morals, education, compassion, responsibility, etc., in our society. It is not usually said directly that this evil group exists but it is implied. For example, one hears that "It used to be that kids were morally upright, worked hard, and respected their elders. Now they are out of control." There seems to be a message hidden in here that some group was the cause of this. OK, well some folks just say right out, it is the fault of the politicians, the liberal press, academia, Hollywood, and you name it.
But is that really the best way to look at the problem? Does it really make sense at all? No it doesn't because unless you assume that all of these bad people live external to our society, then it would be best to simply look at society as an evolving organism. We have to take one step backwards and ask how did these evil influences come to be. Did yet another group teach them to be evil? You see the mess we are in trying to fix blame on some group.
Academics, especially in the field of Political Philosophy (and a gazillion web and blog authors), supply a constant stream of solutions to the problem of government. But, of course, it doesn't make a whit of difference. The monster government just keeps plodding on its chosen path, driven by internal and real external pressures and pays no attention to the cacophony of voices trying to persuade it to do otherwise.
So, let us look at society as an organism that adapts and changes over time. Members of society are constantly being replaced over time, but it makes no more difference than the water molecules moving in and out of a wave as it passes through. It is the wave that matters! Society's attitudes change with time just like the wave and for the same reasons: external and internal forces. To get specific, universal education is most likely the main force behind the change of morals. When the mass of the citizens were mostly illiterate, if was easy to induce them to follow the rules. Without knowledge, they easily believed illogical things that in turn led them to comply with their leaders wishes. They accepted their fate and had no idea that they could do otherwise.
But education changes things. While our education system is not necessarily turning out swarms of rocket scientists, it does modify the minds to the effect that there is more than one view of the world. Students are not only exposed to at least some other philosophical ideas than what they get at home and their selected church, but also serve as a mixing bowl of ideas from each other. So doubt develops and new things are tried. Like lying and being irresponsible. Most of them find that they get away with it. That is, what we consider to be immoral may actually be rational. It may pay off. And if it does, the blob will move in the direction of the payoff!
The system of universal, government-mandated, education has other aspects that support the "organism" concept. Evolution first comes to mind. Instead of imagining an evil cabal that is determined to dumb down America, a more logical approach is to look at it as an evolving organism. To start with, let us accept that kids coming out of school today probably are not as knowledgeable of the basic "3 R's" as say my generation was. Or the generations before me. On the other hand they do know a little about far more things than we ever imagined! But why would that be so? The teachers, the school board and the parents are to blame, right? But wait, where did they acquire their skills and attitudes? From the same system! At best, only marginally better. So each generation contributes to the deterioration and the reason is, their capabilities and morals are a product of the same system.
Why does it get worse rather than better? I suspect that it is because it is our nature to look for the easier way. That may be a nice way of saying, because we are lazy, I don't know. In any case it seems doubtful that we could expect the whole population to all pull together to build a better system. If they did, you would have to wonder, where did they get the idea to do that?
Maybe from observing other "superorganisms"?
A people is an organism created by the past, and, like every other organism, it can only be modified by slow hereditary accumulations. — Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd, 1896, Page 49The value of viewing government and political structures as organisms will be more easily understood if we look at a few similar examples.
Scientists and philosophers believe that there are general laws that describe the behaviour of composite organisms whether they be bird flocks or rock star fans. An interesting and informative essay, "The principles of collective animal behaviour", by Sumpter, D. J. T., online at http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1626537, seeks to define some approaches to,
. . . understanding the collective behaviour of fish, cockroaches, humans and other animals.
Sumpter makes a stab at defining the minimum principles of a "collective organism", as follows:
In summary, Sumpter states,
I have endeavoured in this article to show that many collective human behaviours are similar to their animal counterparts. In fact, they are so similar that the same mathematical models can be used to describe collective patterns in both humans and animals.
Which is exactly the thesis of this article.
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land And don't criticize what you don't understand Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. — Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin'"
All in all you're just another brick in the wall. — Pink, from "Another Brick In The Wall", The Wall
Having survived the enjoyable experience of raising teenagers, I am well aware of the parental limitations thereof. But that was a generation ago and relatively speaking, a piece of cake. Now I have watched my own children raise their children and I am so thankful that I lived when I did! Much has changed, mostly not to the better, in a generation and the changes seem to not be subject of any control by parents. The realization hits that there is very little we parents can do about raising our children. While I don't agree with Hillary that "It Takes a Village", I do realize that the village has more to do with raising my children that I do and that is more so today than is previous generations.
Teenage society has evolved in the same way that organisms evolve — shaped by the environment, external geography and climate. For the teenagers, that environment is partially the influence of parents, but mostly the external society (including the political structure) and technology. In my humble opinion, technology is a major factor. The impact of television, cars, computer games, instantaneous world-wide communications, has got to be tremendous.
Teenagers for some reason think that some sports celebrity (any?) knows far more about what they should eat, wear, and drive than you do (or any other so-called experts!)
Along this line, there is an interesting report that documents the study of "Youth at Risk Groups (YRG)", i.e., youth gangs, by Alberto Montbrun, which is on line as "Youth at Risk Groups: Are They Autopoietic Systems?"[auto]. According to Montbrun the YRG meet the requirement of an autopoietic system in that the groups "are: 1) self sustaining; 2) self reproducing and 3) self perpetuating systems". Further, he says, such groups are chaotic [chao].
Speaking of chaotic, we might consider what happens when a group becomes self directed, such as the modern teenage society has. It is obvious that under external controls, a machine, a group, a flock, or even real organisms, can be made to be stable. For millions years or so, I would presume, that has been the case for teenagers for they have been under the control of the family and the immediate community. The tradition of customs and leadership by the family and the community have always been strong in essentially all societies. Until now -- when the teenage group has almost become self-directed. While there may still be some financial control, family leadership and strong customs have pretty much gone by the board, it appears.
If that is the case then, we have a group that is controlled almost entirely internally. Where will it go? It is virtually impossible to predict the progress of self-controlled mechanisms, such as the current teenage society -- and the government!
But let us look at another example or two before we get back to that somewhat upsetting subject!
Yes, music styles and appreciation have evolved as a system. I am not talking about the music industry (but it is involved), but the social structure of music and what we now enjoy. Of course, the biggest evolutionary change over the last 100 years is the growth of "Rock & Roll". This is a good example of how the outside influences causes a system to evolve in a certain way, for technology has made "Rock & Roll", as we hear it today, possible. Just as the environment and geography have caused genes/organisms to evolve in a certain way.
What is interesting is that the taste for certain genres of music has changed so much. How is that young people 70 years ago enjoyed "Popular" music and today they mostly cannot stand it? And I'm sure the reverse would be true if possible. What changed? Genes? No, memes!
This kind of thing is often called "Spontaneous Order". For another example, the evolutions of dogs (Dachshunds? What is going on here?) see Michael C. Munger's paper, "Culture, Order, and Virtue," in LIBERALISM, CONSERVATISM, AND HAYEK'S IDEA OF SPONTANEOUS ORDER, M.C. Munger. Edited by Louis Hunt and Peter McNamara. 2007: 267-291. .
Obviously there are many forms of superorganisms or "living systems", many of which are fascinating to study in their own right. Now let us look at the principles of their existence.
Accept your fate as the stream accepts the stream bed. The bed forms the stream; the stream forms the bed. — William Markiewicz, in Extracts of Existence
From the systems point of view, the understanding of life begins with the understanding of pattern. — Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life, page 80
Now, let us look at the merits of viewing large organizations as an organism. Is anything to be gained by this approach? Very definitely, yes. The primary benefit is the predictive value of systems analysis.
That is not to say that by simply regarding a political party as a huge, voracious, organism will allow us to predict what it will do next. No, large organizations fall in the class of things called "complex systems". Complex systems are not very predictable with any known approach but can be handled somewhat by computer systems simulation. These complex systems have the characteristic described as "chaotic", which is to say, that long term predictions are impossible.
But all is not lost for short term predictions are worthwhile and even the knowing of current trends has great value. Consider the weather — a complex, chaotic, system. Are weather forecasts not of some value — even if wrong when it is more than a few days in the future? So, the value of systems analysis, necessarily done on computers for all but the simplest systems, is the same for political structures as it is for the weather — to give you the most probable result. Long term results are still of some value but must be accepted as only "probable" and that with a low probability — a good example being the former USSR!
Further, in many cases, a group of individual components, while not tractable as independent items — the "micro" view — may have mathematically tractable characteristics in the "macro" view. For example, from physics, we know that the macro characteristic of a gas, pressure, is really the result of millions of individual molecules colliding with each other and the container wall. We could attempt to model this closed gas system by mathematically modeling the paths and collision of each molecule. But that is a hopeless effort as there are far too many molecules to model even for the most powerful computers.
On the other hand, if we take the "macro" view, we can use the empirical formula, PV=nRT. That is, the product of pressure and volume is equal to a constant times temperature (see Gas Laws). So a "macro" view of the billions of individual molecules turns out to have some simple properties that are quite useful in describing the global behaviours of the gas. And so it is with other grouped items — including humans in organizations.
Another example of a useful "macro" law is Moore's law — A principle first stated in 1965 by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, who predicted that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 months. Such "laws" may be a fundamental property of complex systems and therefore may apply to systems like politics and government. Specifically, government growth may also be determined by such a law.
Gary R. Johnson, in his article, "The Evolutionary Origins of Government and Politics"[GRJ1], expresses the hope for the discovery of these basic principles:
"... we should in the future be able to identify a set of basic principles of government and politics that apply across all levels of life's hierarchy, from the simplest prokaryotic organisms to incipient international organizations."
We don't have room here in this essay to go into the many other examples of the macro behaviour that results from micro actions and interactions but we can briefly discuss why this might be so. Philosophers and scientists have tried to define just what it takes for a collection of objects to act as an organism. The best introduction I have seen available on the web (see the Reference section for other books and articles) is the article "Self-organization in Collectivities. The Combinatory System Approach", by Piero Mella.
Mella expands on various theories and classifications of "collectivities" but the idea that seems to best summarize the issue at hand here is what he calls "Complex Adaptive Systems Approach". Such systems have at least these characteristics, according to Mella:
This seems to adequately describe the organizations that we are discussing here. However, I do want to note that some philosophers include many more characteristics for "living organisms", even the idea that maybe they can learn — see "the learning organization" at http://www.infed.org/biblio/learning-organization.htm.
We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects. — Herman Melville
As I said earlier, the government "superorganism" plods along on its own evolving path. Why and how is the subject of this section
Just like any other evolving organism, government/politics changes in accordance with external pressures and internal adaptations.
An example is the Federal Receipts as a percent of GDP. It remains over many years at about 20% — see http://perspicuity.net/civics/gov-acct.html and http://www.cbo.gov/showdoc.cfm?index=3521&sequence=0 (Figure 3). This constant percent has survived over wars, new massive expenditure programs, change in regimes, and economic ups and downs. Why would this be? Because there are pressures. The blob realizes that it cannot take too much without negative reaction (see Mancur Olson's paper on the similarities between autocracies and democracies, "The Economics of Autocracy and Majority Rule", http://repositories.cdlib.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2453&context=postprints). Note that this is not a pressure to stabilize government expenditures, for the difference can be made up in borrowing. Apparently there are no significant pressures against unlimited debt from borrowing!
In general, the government can be regarded as a large organism — the "blob", let's say — that encroaches, feeds upon and applies pressures on another large organism, the public. The public responds with a counter pressure, as I illustrate in my essay, "Understanding Vagueness", http://perspicuity.net/paradox/vagueness.html. An equilibrium is reached which will only slowly change with time, if at all. That equilibrium is little impacted by the current individuals in the government as many politicians would like you to believe. Many factors determine the equilibrium and it surely is complex, but history tells us that replacing individuals in the government with other individuals is not likely to change much.
Government growth [nasa], national debt growth, encroachment on privacy and liberty, the drift toward the police state, loss of representation by the citizens, and so on all can be similarly described --the natural evolution of a monstrous "blob"! That is not to say that I or anyone else knows the laws that define this growth (such as the Gas Law described above) but that it might very well be possible to develop useful "laws" if we set our minds to it. If we can determine the laws of growth of such organisms, it would make it possible to predict its further growth. I believe that it is possible to do that — when looked at from this "macro" point of view.
How is it that a theme spreads within the government or political party at lighting speed? Everyone seems to repeat the same "sound bite" for a period of time. The Democrats with their claims several years ago that old people were having to live off dog food, the Republican's many excuses for why things are not going so well in Iraq, and other such myths, have the peculiar characteristic that every key party politician is saying the same thing at the same time.
The concept of memes accounts for this phenomenon to a great extent. There are many articles that introduce that concept (including mine here) but basically it is a simple idea: ideas, beliefs, customs, fads, etc., are transmitted from mind to mind like an infectious virus spreads from body to body. A person infected with a meme (e.g., a belief, a prejudice) will likely be unaware of the point of infection or, even worse, may not realize that she has been infected. But that person then goes on to spread the meme to other cooperative minds. Transmission is greatly enhanced by the news media and, now, the internet.
And so, with everyone "thinking" the same thought, the political structure acts as if it were one big organism that moves in some specific direction — just like a flock of birds.
For more on how memes are involved with the evolution of organizations in a similar way that genes are involved in the evolution of living things, see the essay, "Darwinism, Probability and Complexity: Transformation and Change Explained through the Theories of Evolution", by Tanya Sammut-Bonnici and Robin Wensley. This is an excellent essay, down to earth and easy to follow, with several good references, and is recommended for an introduction to the general subject of the evolutionary growth of organizations. One passage is worth noting here:
Great debates, with roots in the political thought of Plato, Aristotle and Confucius, have raged over whether the evolution of [complex] societies is voluntaristic or coercive, whether their operations are to be understood in terms of conflicts, and whether the right unit of analysis is the individual or the social institution. [emphasis added]
I believe that feedback is the most critical ingredient in the makeup of an organization that determines the ultimate evolution and state of that organization. Feedback can be positive and negative or both. In most organizations and certainly the state, there will be both. The amounts of each kind will determine whether the organization will grow, will die, will become stale, will become oppresive to its neighbors, and so on.D. J. T. Sumpter, in his article, "The principles of collective animal behaviour", previously referenced, discusses the effects of positive and negative feedback extensively. He suggest that for a group to take on the appearance of an organism, positive feedback must be present:
. . . if the system consists of independent units its output will be normally distributed, that if the units are subject to positive feedback the systems output will be ‘more than the sum of its parts’ and strongly subject to its initial configuration. It may appear now that, through this wonderful theory of self-organization and mathematical modelling, we are well on our way to fully understanding and determining relationships between everything from the foraging of ant colonies to consumer behaviour in our own society.
If positive feedback builds up a collective pattern then it is negative feedback that stabilizes it. . . Negative feedback leads to homeostasis, stable output in the face of varied input.
It is important to note, however, that if negative feedback stabilizes a system, positive feedback can de-stabilize it or create chaotic responses — as anyone in the electronic systems design well knows. That is, too much positive feedback can create a catastrophe. On the other hand, too much negative feedback can create doldrums or lifelessness.
We see examples of both of these extremes in some organizations, at some times, especially in politics and government.
Piero Mella, in his essay, "Self-organization in Collectivities. The Combinatory System Approach", makes note of another type of feedback, that between the individual and the organization (see the diagram in his Figure 1). He emphatically states,
A necessary and sufficient condition for a collectivity (observable or hypothisized) to be considered a combinatory system is the existence of a feedback between the micro behaviour of the individuals and the macro behaviour of the collectivity constituting the system. [emphasis in the original]
He elaborates on the feedback mechanism further in his online paper, "Combinatory Systems Theory" at http://www.ea2000.it/cst/cstindice.htm. Several diagrams are presented that help to explain this theory.
In summary, feedback is the primary mechanism that explains the mechanism of stability or the lack thereof of large organizations, such as the state.
My web page, "A Rational Life", http://perspicuity.net/ratlife.html, goes into considerable detail about the complexities and dilemmas deriving from individuals as members of groups. One individual's vote obviously has no significant impact on the results of a state or national election. Yet it is the sum of these votes that determines the output[vote]. And so it is with the political structure only more disastrous.
No one person, with the possible exception of the president and his advisors, has a significant impact on the structure of the government. The superorganism could have all its members replaced and it would still be essentially the same.
Yet this massive monster we call the state is actually the product of all these individuals. Ron Paul, the only avowed libertarian in Congress, votes against the wasteful spending, the abuses of the constitution, the drift to the Police State, at every opportunity. Yet his vote does nothing to alter the direction our government is going. It can't — his is just one vote in the pool of 550 representatives.
To go into further detail on the "wave" analogy, each individual is like the molecule of water in a wave. The wave has a life of its own and is made up of different molecules as it moves along. No one molecule has any impact on its progress, yet the wave could not exist without the molecules (let us not get into radio waves — a far different matter!).
For more on the complexities of a person being both an individual and a member of a group, see my essay, "The Social Dilemmas" at http://perspicuity.net/sd/sd.html. Much more on this dual membership dilemma is discussed by Piero Mella in his essay, "Self-organization in Collectivities. The Combinatory System Approach", previously mentioned. Mella also shows how this dual membership might be modeled.
It is better to regard the political structure as one big blob that has certain pressures, internal and external, that causes it to evolve and move in a certain way. Let us examine a few.
In the long run people do whatever they are rewarded for doing and avoid doing what they are punished for doing. That is true whether the issue is "right" or "wrong". That is, rewards generally trump ethics, at least in the long run. So, government organizations grow and spend more money, get bigger offices, staffs and other perks, take control of more and more of the public, etc., because all those things are pleasant to the individuals involved.
Humans are more sensitive to relative change than to absolute values. So, even though the government debt is monstrous, just a little more is not going to cause anyone a major headache. So it grows a little each year, and so does everything else that feels good to the politicians and government bodies. So the political blob is sensitive to relative growth, not absolute growth (known as the first derivative of the function by mathematicians). That is why we hear that some program has been "drastically cut back" by the evil politicians in power, when, in fact, only the rate of growth may have been slightly decreased (known as the second derivative by the mathematicians).
While many have observed that states and other large groups grow and act like an organism, few have suggested why this might happen. Edna Ullmann-Margalit in her article "The Invisible Hand and the Cunning of Reason", suggests certain conditions under which a group might evolve. She says,
First, let me recall the invisible-hand aspect of evolutionary explanations--whether biological or social. It consists, of course, in the fact that when an item, be it a social institution or an organism, is claimed to be the product of an evolutionary process, its existence is thereby taken to be explained without any reference to a designing agent. Evolutionary explanations qualify as invisible-hand explanations insofar as they are liberated from the grip of the formative—yet in a way primitive—picture according to which to account for the existence of something is to point to its creator.
. . .
In the biological case, where the item to be explained (say an organ, like a kidney) is known to have withstood the generations-long evolutionary test, it may safely be assumed—or, at least, rebuttably presumed—that the item in question has some survival value to the organism containing it, that it fulfills a positive function contributing to its overall fitness.
. . .
So, what an evolutionary explanation in the social domain does is the following: first of all, it ascertains that the institution in question fulfills a useful social function and identifies it (say, the continuous creation of money within the banking system); that is, it establishes its contribution to the equilibrial well-being and survival of the society incorporating it. Once this is ascertained, the explanatory schema can flow on. It assumes that by performing its useful function, even the faint beginnings of the social institution in question—whatever their origins—are with time reinforced and selected for. Consequently, this institution is seen as contributing to the evolutionary "success" of the society incorporating it, and this success, in turn, accounts for the perpetuated existence of the institution in that society.
This explanation (she postulates others) then suggests that for an organization/institution such as the state to grow and evolve, it must perform a useful function to the "society incorporating it". The problem is, what is that society? In a so-called democracy, one might think that it is the citizens of the state. Even that is doubtful and certainly for states that are not or were not democracies, that is not the case. No, the owners of the state exist but it is not the general public. It is the politicians and the private interests that basically own the government. Now, given that, we can see that the "invisible hand" that governs the state will push it in the direction that benefits these owners. The "invisible hand" theory assumes that this is done without any direct human planning, necessarily.In "Culture, Order, and Virtue," LIBERALISM, CONSERVATISM, AND HAYEK'S IDEA OF SPONTANEOUS ORDER, M.C. Munger. Edited by Louis Hunt and Peter McNamara. 2007: 267-291, Munger makes a distinction between "organizations" and "institutions" that might be helpful here:
He [Douglass C. North] distinguishes two levels of analysis: institutions and organizations. Institutions are the humanly devised rules of the game, formal (constitutions and laws) or informal (norms, moral systems, manners), but they tend to be long-lived and not easily evaluated, because there is no specific feedback metric for comparison. Organizations are the optimizing responses to the set of incentives and constraints created by institutions. The reason the distinction is important for North is that organizations are always optimal, in the sense that they maximize the advantage of those who own or control the organization.Given that background then, we can say that the state has various incentives, desires, lusts — whatever — that tend to drive it. It desires and consumes resources (mainly money) as other organisms do. To ensure its survival, it challenges the growth of others states, both economical and through wars. It has a tremendous lust for power and control that results in the steady deterioration of the freedom and rights of its citizens. A recent essay by Michael S. Rozeff, "Power Dynamics: Four Theorems of Politics" summarizes this lust thusly:
Those who have power seek more power. . . Politics nurtures the growth of power. Once a power center is created, like a national state, that state will attempt to increase its power. Power is a good, both in itself and because it can be used to obtain other goods. Men in power have already shown they desire power, so we predict they will seek more.
I noted above that even though the state is extremely powerful, it is held in check somewhat by resistance of the public. Actually, since that resistance continues to decline, it is more accurate to say that the rate of growth of the state is limited by the public. Given that, we then wonder why, if the public has such power, it does not push for a change in government. There are many examples of government, at least certain functions, around the world that would if adopted be superior to our government. Part of this is explained by the concept of "path dependence", which is to say, we are reluctant to change even if what we have is inferior.
It is a well known phenomenon that the group sometimes makes a choice that nearly everyone is unhappy with but no one can change[teen]. Look at Betamax, the QUERTY keyboard, and, some would say, the Windows computer "operating system"!
A good example of this phenomenon in our government is the method of taxation. A good argument can be made that the "flat tax" (and several other possible schemes) would be superior to our present system. Nevertheless, it appears that we are not going there no matter how much better it might be, due mainly to "path dependence".
While there is not room here to pursue the many facets of the theory of systems that have the characteristics of organisms, I have provided several references that would give a good start to anyone that finds it interesting. There are a few online pages of links or references; the best one that I found is the "Complexity Papers in Postscript, Archive or Downloadable form" at http://www.calresco.org/offline.htm. A good start for research on the subject, in any case.
There is hope in men, not in society, not in systems, not in organized religious systems, but in you and in me.— Jeddu Krishnamurti
In summary, what I have suggested in this essay is that there would be usefulness in regarding the state as a giant organism and to try to establish laws that describe such organisms in the same way physicists have established "macro" laws about physical processes. Description of water waves and the gas laws were given as examples. With some research, I believe that similar laws could be established for the growth of government and be used for reliable predictions. Whereas predicting weather using the "micro" approach is essentially impossible, we get very useful results using the "macro" approach.
It appears that the growth of debt, tyranny, loss of freedom, concentration of power, and other undesirable functions are inherent trends of the state "organism" and is virtually impossible to change by individuals either in or out of government and politics.
No, it cannot be changed by you and me; it will require an organism at least as big as the state itself. Which, of course, could be me and lots and lots of you!
Leon Felkins is a retired Engineer, a retired Army officer and former teacher of Computer Systems. He now maintains a web page on political philosophy, "A Rational Life", and a "Political Almanac."
Copyright 2006 Leon Felkins. All rights reserved.