The Biology of Politics

August 26th, 2012
in Op Ed

by Roger Erickson, Mike Norman Economics

Tom Hickey dug up a forgotten book. C.Wright Mills — The Higher Immorality (1956) that triggers questions about the biology of politics.  This book continues the antColonyCoopSMALLtradition of pragmatic self-analysis that's been strangely lacking in ambition in the USA these past 50 years.

There's nothing in this book, of course, that wasn't previously written thousands of years ago, by Dravidian, Sumerian, Egyptian, Roman, Greek, & Sanskrit writers - and artfully plagiarized by demented but curiously useful people in various religious texts. So what could we do differently? What part of common sense is failing to propagate through our electorate, via the process we call politics?

Follow up:

First, note that methods drive results. Math is a useful example. Advanced math was used by a notable few like Imhotep, 4000 years before the efficient decimal notation made accurate calculation accessible to the mass of humans. Point is that our operational methods count, far more than most assume, and are rate limiting for group-wide leverage of seemingly available group options. (Ditto for MMT - modern monetary theory - and economics, but let's not go there right now.)

There's a patterned cycle to politics, which we can call the biology of politics.

Every wave of innovation places newly efficient people & practices in positions of influence. Grasp of those innovations also defines an intrinsic buffer shielding the newly powerful people from the early stages of even further innovation lurking in the wings. The trick to continued adaptation is to make that buffer stage powerful enough to achieve change, yet transient enough to QUICKLY avoid denying further change. An "innovate/deny" cycle ensues, where innovation and denying others rapid access to the same innovations follow one another just like a predator/prey relationship curve (think bobcats/rabbits). I/D or P/P cycles continue, like a moth circling a light, until one of two things happen:

a) the predator depletes the prey, and must wait for an outside perturbation to replenish the prey despite the predators best efforts; (restarting the cycle);

[This is where both species trip over a deeper truth, look around, and then go about their business as though nothing had happened. If they don't perish, how long can they go on mindlessly repeating this cycle? Tens of thousands, even millions, of years! Have supposedly brilliant humans shortened that cycle to only hundreds of years? Are we supposed to be impressed with ourselves?]

b) some statistical chance allows the predator & prey time to recognize co-dependence on an identified, outside resource, at which time they can transition to a domesticated, symbiotic relationship akin to shepherd/herd.

For Libertarians, the kinetics (tempo) of our existing I/D-P/P process is individually acceptable, and even attractive. However, for families, tribes, nations and species (and those Libertarians with brains) ... anything slowing the relentless increase in national and species adaptive rate is absolutely not acceptable, and constitutes group suicide.

Why haven't we invented coordination methods that do for crude politics, what decimal notation did for hieroglyphic-based mathematics? What teaching operation would make it dirt easy for all youth to fully perceive the higher returns available from scaling coordination? That would make them unimpressed with politics as is, and immune to propaganda. How do we permanently capture Mills' message, and free ourselves from continually forgetting & rediscovering it? It's not lack of an accurate chronometer that's holding us back now, it's lack of an accurate "coordination-ometer." Better yet, call it an accurate Coordinometer. We don't need students to know more, we need them to know how to zero in on how little of the right things each needs to know in order to solve any situation through coordination. And we need them to know why - and how - to do that better/faster/cheaper every single year! Instead of just the facade of school sports teams, we should have Coordination Leagues for kids, to replace the no longer great game of politics.

Domesticating Ourselves - better/faster/cheaper.

Species have been domesticating one another for billions of years (starting way before mitochondria & chloroplasts), and even humans have domesticated other species for over ten thousand years. Yet humans, like all existing species, still struggle to perceive the benefit of accelerating domestication of their own, diverse subgroups and their range of individual behaviors, so that the aggregate can - through artful teamwork - always pursue the higher return on coordination, sooner rather than later.

That peak return can always be tapped, by simply recognizing the bigger available resource that feeds both the herd (populace) and the predators (criminals) who feed on them. An unending sequence of the same, enduring pattern is there for all to see, but it's only visible through population-wide information sharing.

Try this approach on all examples of non-scalable behaviors. "Look, instead of you stealing from me, and me wasting time fighting you, let's just both cooperate on getting more resources from my newly discovered source? Let's cut out the useless middleprocess. Let's OPEN SOURCE." If you only get a blank stare from Clarence, the slack-jawed yokel, then at least ensure that his kids receive a better education. Over 312 million people won't make a transition overnight.

The most common response is already known. "Aw. It's too hard. You don't seriously still believe in all that 'more perfect union' BS, do you? The Constitution is dead and gone."

That disillusionment and fatality is the biggest hurdle we face. So let's face it head on. For every seemingly insurmountable task, there is a solution, and that solution will always involve another level of indirection. Math was made accessible and scalable through decimal and later notations. In older times it was common for tribes and nations to openly declare group challenges and create open competitions, to look for indirect solutions from any source. The Longitude Act of 1714 was one of the smartest things the otherwise pathologically criminal British aristocracy ever did.

If not a Congressional ACT, we at least need an OpenSource Challenge, for discovery of a way to ensure that an adequate proportion of our 5th graders can permanently perceive "return on coordination" as our optimal return. In short, a method allowing us to rapidly OpenSource more of ourselves. That way, not only could HP keep up with what HP knows, the entire USA could know far more of what the USA collectively knows.

Excerpts from The Higher Immorality: "The Power Elite" by C.Wright Mills, Oxford Press, 1956
"Laws without supporting moral conventions invite crime, but much more importantly, they spur the growth of an expedient, amoral attitude."
"If there is no such thing as a self-made man, there is such a thing as a self-used man, and there are many such men among the American elite."
"Those who sit in the seats of the high and the mighty are selected and formed by the means of power, the sources of wealth, the mechanics of celebrity, which prevail in their society."




About the Author

Roger Erickson is a systems entrepreneur based in Maryland. He worked for years in neurophysiology system research, at the Humboldt Stiftung, MIT, Yale, and NIMH before becoming more interested in community, business and market systems. Roger's newest interests are being pursued through several startups, as well as pilot agriculture commercialization projects with the USDA.

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