"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for..."
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1784
"The possibility of an increase in the real liberty of the subject depends not in a continual compromise between individual rights, but in a continual attempt to remove limitations which are non-automatic, that is to say, do not proceed from what we call the laws of nature."
Clifford Hugh Douglas, Social Credit, 1933
One of the findings from the study of self-organizing systems is that maximum benefit comes from de-centralisation, the ability of the parts to do their own thing without overall control. This has major political implications for business and society and here we will look into the ramifications of this on the conflict between state or company interests and those of the individuals making it up.
Many countries around the world pride themselves on their democratic systems, yet we will show that in practice the world still operates under the assumption that control from the top must over-ride the interests of all the individuals. The apparent anarchy of uncontrolled society will be contrasted with the self-organized stability of complex systems and we will see that self-organization, not governmental control, is the most effective way of establishing a true democracy.
Animal life is free (at least in the absence of predators) and primitive man, as perhaps the highest link in the food chain, must be regarded as the freest of all. Hunter-gatherers, given the necessities of life, had no restrictions on where they went or what they could do. Over time of course they tended to organize into communities, and agriculture was born. We can see the advantages of this in the ease of gathering crops, and likewise in keeping livestock. Work on food essentials was thus reduced and more time was left for play or other activities.
But every gain has its loss, and here freedom was exchanged for time. No longer could groups occupy the same territory, planted fields had value and needed protecting against intruders (animal or human). No longer could people wander anywhere they wanted, they needed to return home occasionally, they had a fixed base. Yet such homesteading was largely self sufficient, each group performed the same tasks and had the same primal needs - survival.
Further down the line towards civilisation the groups grew and specialised. Carpenters, Smiths, Warriors and others appeared, and trade was born. Again this gave fitness benefits, a professional specialist can produce goods cheaper than an amateur, and trading scarce products is mutually beneficial. The concentration on such specialisms led to villages and towns, to communities in which individuals now relied on each other for the essentials of life. Again freedom was traded off for time and a better standard of living.
Given diverse skills it is necessary to plan ahead, to ensure that enough resources of the various types exist for the whole community. This leads to control, to a chief or leader empowered (by the community or dominating by force) to organize people's lives. A trend that has sadly grown inexorably throughout the world, until today we have many levels of control over our lives. This hierarchy of control (government, corporate, society, family ) means that most people now have little control over their own lives, a far cry from the freedoms of the past. We can ask, must it be thus ?
Most rules are about conformity, doing what you are told and not something different. They are the props of static systems, attempts to maintain a fixed organization. If this system is the best possible one then such constraints can be reasonable, but clearly our world is very far from that state. We must ask therefore why follow the rules - if by breaking them we can do better ? In complexity thinking this is very much a valid question in that our available options or state space contains multiple optima, some better than others. Escaping a local optimum needs a perturbation to the system, a rule breaking innovation that explores new possibilities, new improved areas of state space, new attractors. This is true regardless of the type of system, so applies to governments, companies and families in exactly the same way.
Innovations come from individuals, so one way to obtain the necessary improvements is to remove all the constraining rules from the individuals. Yet change isn't always beneficial and too much can force a system into total chaos. We also need to take account of the co-evolutionary effects of change, whereby my improvement can be your loss. In the interlinked world system we have today we can wish for our own total freedom, but will still desire others to follow the 'rules' and provide us with food, so a globally available freedom doesn't seem possible without anarchy and a descent into more primitive conditions - as we have seen far too often recently with the disintegrations of infrastructures following conflicts.
The forms of democracy we have around the world today produce little more than elected dictators. Once a party has power it is impossible for the electorate to replace them peaceably, until their term is up. This sort of discrete and static accountability is very far removed from the sort of ongoing control of legislature that a truly democratic system in the ancient Greek style gave (despite its faults). It seems clear that 'representing the people' is little more than a euphemism for 'controlling the people' - as the undemocratic antics of many current 'control freak' leaders testifies (political and business).
Corruption in politics seems to be endemic around the world. This self-interest over community interest seems generated by the dynamically unaccountable nature of our political systems. This state of affairs is as much to the politicians benefit as it is to the elaborate bureaucracies that they create to exercise that hierarchical control - so change will always be resisted. The introduction of supposedly local democracy has done nothing to change this unaccountability - simply created a set of conflicting power bases whose squabbles waste even more time and energy, and take away even what little local autonomy people had before - by allowing external interference in increasingly trivial personal matters.
It is rather strange that whilst there has been a general move towards political democracy around the world over the last century (supported extensively by United States views), there has been a corresponding move away from democracy in business practice (again supported by the Americans !). Modern multinationals are no longer controllable by any state or local government (if one tries they simply threaten to move their operations elsewhere - a form of legalised blackmail with thousands of employee victims). They are, in effect, un-elected dictatorships (whose shareholders collude in this arrogant self-interest).
Yet such corporate activities often have much more effect on local populations than do elected governments, thus it is quite illogical that they should be free to adopt anarchic laissez-faire policies that impact negatively on everybody but the board members and shareholders. Control, in any area of society, should relate to the power wielded and its potential to affect the lives of others and their environment - those affected must have an effective say, if not a veto power. The single dimension of profit is totally inadequate to serve as a valid check on the activities of these exploitative and socially destructive company structures.
In essence it is a form of synergy. A collective arrangement that benefits (in various ways) the individual members. If this was not the case then we would simply stop associating with each other - civilisation as we know it would never have arisen. We of course are born into society, so find it 'ready made' as it were, but this should not lead us to believe that it is 'competitive' as is so often stated. This simply cannot be the case, since competition in effect trades benefits between groups and does not create them.
The creative aspect of social systems however is very evident, the collective benefits of cooperation surround us, none of us now needs to provide all our survival needs (indeed most of us are no longer capable of doing so !). In similar manner all the real achievements of civilisation have been in the increase in our personal options, the choices we have available in our lives and we know from complexity studies that the greater the area of state space we have to search, the greater the personal and social fitness optima we can reach. The restrictions we place on our social behaviour, the social 'rules', reduce however these options, sometimes for our overall benefit (e.g. in proscribing murder) but sometimes not, many of the shackles we retain are arbitrary historical impositions from long dead societies.
It is the people who collectively made their own chains, so only they can break them. Even in today's information rich world (or perhaps because of it) people generally do not want to be bothered with politics. Indeed none of us can attend to every possible issue, so even using electronics to enable us to conduct referendums at will would not remove the apathy that has gripped our nations. But we do need to change the balance of power from a centralised (uniformity based) domination culture to a system that recognises the benefits of our diversity and our right to control it ourselves.
Here we stumble over a major obstacle, and that is the view that power in itself is good, and that it is an acceptable thing for one person to impose their views on the many. This mode of thought is a highly selfish one, where the fitness of the many is sacrificed to the fitness of the few. Yet it is so deeply embedded in our history and culture that it is almost impossible to eradicate. It is a view based on superiority, the idea that the 'ruler' is better than the 'ruled' and has some right to dominate (whether divine, military, intellectual or economic makes no difference - all are delusional excuses).
In self-organizing systems however this idea of centralised control is discarded. Instead, we allow each individual to interact locally with selected others, in order to maximise their fitness. When this is allowed the system will self-organise to achieve a balance or attractor. It can be shown that this can improve fitness overall and results in the system automatically establishing a balance ('edge of chaos') between a static (dictatorial) state and a chaotic (anarchic) one.
These systems become modular, generating their own multi-sided hierarchies (heterarchy) in a way that does not need centralised control. We can see this in the social activities that arise outside politics and business, the hobby organisations, the sporting organisations and so on. In these systems the membership is directly involved in controlling the structure and development of the organisation (despite many trappings of the power structure mentality of course being present). This 'proof of concept' opens the way to dissolving those top heavy control structures that have so many side effects on our lives, and that take so much human time and effort to democratically monitor and troubleshoot.
Politics is about social arrangements, but what is it for ? Firstly to provide security, to prevent individuals being harmed, a collective protection from hazards that we cannot individually resist. Secondly to provide those services necessary in community life that cannot be provided or sold individually, e.g health, public goods, justice, defence, education. The commercialisation of these (often seen today) means that they are only available to those that can pay - excluding much of society. Preventing the opportunity to choose is however fitness reducing, so we must ensure that the synergistic improvements possible from cooperation are not prevented by excluding accepted society members from participating.
The development of our potential could be said to be the main reason for having a political system of any sort. In a free-for-all (control or anarchic) system many casualties result, and each of these is a fitness loss to society. So prevention of the have-nots is a crucial task in a just society and a justification for communal regulation of some sort. How this is done is however contentious, but we will say that a relativistic, incremental view of change is a good principle by which to work. This means that we can compare two political possibilities for relative fitness and adopt the one that achieves the best overall result.
In a complexity based body politic however we must transcend any idea of fixed mechanical systems, there is no system (of any persuasion) that holds in an absolute way, for all peoples, for all times. It is the attempt to impose such a system that has generated the confrontational political scene, leading to the contempt in which politicians are held by thinking people today. Such systems are little more than modern enactions of the oscillating religious persecutions of the Reformation, each group destroying the work of the other in turn. That is not a fitness enhancing strategy, and therefore not an effective political arrangement.
In a dynamic, organic style, political system toleration is paramount. A mix
of policies and strategies can coexist (as does a mix of niches in an ecosystem).
The choice between these is not imposed (as in first-past-the-post political
systems) nor is it an impotent compromise (as in coalitions). Both these are all or nothing
schemes. What is required is a localised system that can meet the needs and
wishes of locally interacting individuals. A politics is needed that treats context as the
important organizing factor, and relegates static one-dimensional dogmas to
the historical dustbin where they belong.
But creating such free format and liberating structures is not without its own problems. How do we then prevent them from reverting to dictatorial type (as often is evident) or from degenerating into an 'anything goes' selfish form of parasitism, where nobody pulls their social weight ? In complexity studies this requirement comes down to appropriate response. We engage in constant transactions with each other and so come to know whether another person is likely to act in a mutually beneficial or in a way harmful to us. We can therefore treat them accordingly. This is, in simplistic terms, the strategy known as Tit-For-Tat in Game Theory (Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma), the idea that niceness is reciprocated with niceness and vice-versa.
In more distributed societies, where we do not know everyone, we must rely on sharing information, thus 'reputation' becomes a guide to expected behaviour and we can socially monitor the behaviour of those whose behaviour affects us. This requires of course an open society, and the free availability of behavioural information about strangers. Privacy and social acceptability therefore are mutually exclusive states and we must arrange a compromise that gives us mutual trust but without compromising our individual freedom.
But what about those who will not play ball ? Those who despite our trust consistently break it ? As we said, the benefits of society arise by synergy, so those not prepared to behave in a socially acceptable way simply exclude themselves from those benefits. How we deal with this rejection of group membership depends upon the extent of the transgressions against society. We can simply throw them out to fend for themselves (total exclusion), eradicate them (execution), prevent their activities by force (by army or jail), try to re-educate them and so on.
We have a difficulty here, in complex systems terms, in that non-conformance does not necessarily mean wrong. Many alternative behaviours are perfectly valid in many situations. This means that we must distinguish actions that are actually damaging to society from those that are only changes, new options. Our societies must grow, they are dynamic organizations not static machines, thus each case must be examined on its merits. Nethertheless it is often easy to distinguish those actions that actively hurt other society members and reduce overall fitness (negative-sum) from those that are simply alternative optima or even fitness enhancing overall (positive-sum).
A politics for everyone must have cultural diversity, it must not discriminate on any dimension. These dimensions or values are very much a personal thing - although we have many in common and it is this that allows us to bring scientific objectivity to bear on this problem. What interests us varies from time to time, as we grow or become bored, so static measures of worth are not a politically valid way of making decisions, we need the flexibility to alter decisions to track our changing needs as a group. This dynamic decision making is very different than the '5 year plans' on which current politics are grounded - the "we will do it at all costs" form of imposed control.
Balancing needs at multiple levels (resources, wildlife, survival, social and metaneeds) is a difficult task, and not one reducible to single dimensions of evaluation (whether monetary or not). Sometimes claims are made that this cannot be 'rationally' done, but this requires a view of 'rationality' that is itself irrational and dualist - since we do balance fuzzy needs all the time, the either/or logic used is a myth. We need to find (rationally) forms of optimisation that cater for multiple conflicting goals, not only our own but those of other groups. This requires a niched approach, so that we can generate an organizational structure that can accommodate diverse groups with different balances between their desires. Techniques for such multidimensional niched optimisation are still in their infancy, but with computer assistance hopefully can be developed sufficiently to assist in our attempts.
Most of us view society as a local phenomenon, we are either British or French or whatever. Yet the rise of the global village can cause us to question that assumption. Many of us now have more interactions with people outside our locality than we do with our physical neighbours. If communications are said to define society, then we already have distributed societies, academic, business, personal (e.g. Usenet newsgroups). Political science has lagged behind this development, with a emphasis still on the physical. This is required in some sense (we are physical beings and must have certain tangible resources), but we can question the extent.
Why should a borderless society not exist ? In fact, from a complexity viewpoint, we may ask can it be stopped ? We are all members of many sub-societies nowadays, virtual communities of diverse wishes and structures. We thus need a political arrangement that can support this structure in an appropriate way. But when we ask how it is already structured, we find that it has actually self-organized over the years - and it works ! Perhaps it really is time that we discarded those control based ideas of yesteryear and embraced in politics what has already happened elsewhere in modern society ?
A good society will enhance all aspects of a person's creativity, and it must thus create tolerance since we are all different. This requires taking into account the dynamic aspects of our being and our world, so the old static political systems of the past will be inadequate. Instead we can learn from complex systems thinking how to integrate diverse parts into a whole, how to use self-organization to automatically generate our political system - an adaptive organic system suitable to enable our distributed, multicultural and multivalue society.
This isn't a easy task to achieve, it need better techniques for fitness evaluation and compromise than those currently available, but study in these areas of multiobjective optimisation are underway and we can be hopeful. Our lives develop by a form of trial and error, and we have developed considerable wisdom over the centuries as a species - but this has yet to filter through to our animal behaviour patterns. The new teleological acceptance, resulting from the complex systems view of us as dynamic organic systems (and not passive mechanical ones), allows us to recognise that individual diversity matters to group fitness. Maximising the benefits of society requires that our politics takes into account both individual opportunities for growth and the need to adopt values that integrate the whole. We need approaches to society that do not stir up conflicts but use these alternatives to gradually reach a better social optimum, benefiting all.