The Evolution of Leadership and Government

How do schools of fish know which way to go?

Fish maintain orderly schools and swim in the same direction by paying attention to what their neighbors are doing and by following those fish that are most determined to go in a particular direction. If a fish is determined to go in a particular direction, there’s probably a good reason for it: a predator has been sighted and they are determined to get away from it. Not every fish in a school can see a predator, so it’s a good idea to follow those fish most determined to go in a particular direction.

That’s pretty much a perfect definition of leadership. People follow those who are most determined to go in a particular direction. It doesn’t matter what that direction is, so long as the person is most determined to go in that direction. This is why people follow all leaders, whether they be in government, in business, or in cults. The problem is that when you end up with a high level of cognition such that you become fully self-aware, you are then able to make the mistake of thinking that just because a large number of people is following you, that you’re going in the right direction. Which only makes you more determined to go in that direction. Which draws in more followers.

This is the case throughout the animal world. We see it again in flocks of birds, but we also see it in herds of antelope, and we even see it in humans during riots. Further, we see it in the complex social structures of certain mammals, particularly in primates such as chimpanzees. We used to think that the alpha in any group of social mammals became the alpha to get the best breeding opportunities. However, genetic testing showed there was literally no reproductive benefit to being the alpha, to being the leader. The benefit of the alpha is simply that everyone does what he/she wants everyone to do. They get the right to be the one who will get to be the one most determined, rather than some random individual. In an emergency, it can still be some random individual, but during the rest of the time, the alpha is always the one everyone looks to as the one who will determine in which direction everyone goes.

This is literally the bottom line when it comes to leadership. In business, you usually get followers by hiring them, so it doesn’t quite work in the same way, but in cults, religions, and government, that’s literally what happens each and every time. There is someone who is determined to go in a particular direction, and people follow. There may be “reasons” we have for following that particular person in that particular direction, but all too often it’s a matter of popularity and tribal loyalty. It has nothing to do with truth, nothing to do with justice, nothing to do with reason. We justify our desire to follow, we rationalize our desire to follow, meaning we give reasons after we’ve decided to follow, but only rarely do we follow for rational reasons. We are at root fish following those most determined to simply go in some particular direction.

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On the Origin of Law

Laws (all laws in general, including laws of the universe) emerge from the interactions of the elements of the system. With humans, it is interactions within a social system that first give rise to custom-laws, which then develop into government-laws. Government laws are written down codes that have developed in the society at large. Nobody is actually inventing new laws ex nihilo, but rather observe laws emerging, then give then a name. I think if we truly understand the origins of laws, we will be able to more fully understand their role (and what their role should be) in our lives. Should every custom-law be turned into a government-law? Which custom-laws should be? Which should not? Are there some laws that are created in order to create new custom-laws? Are bottom-up laws better (or always, or necessarily better, if they are better) than top-down laws? (My own opinion: they are. Why? Because of the nature of complex systems. Though this does not mean that we don’t need the occasional top-down corrective of bad bottom-up custom-laws.)

What does it mean for the understanding of law and justice if we take a complex systems approach to understanding the origins and consequences of law?

A Few Observations on Oil and Alcohol

Basic economics shows that we will never run out of oil. As we use up the supply of oil, the price will go up. This will make it more economical to locate and drill harder-to-reach reserves. Higher oil prices will also result in the creation of alternatives, as it will be worth looking for and developing those alternatives. Over longer periods of time, as oil gets used up and the price of oil goes up in response to supply, less oil will be used, and more alternatives will be created, until we are completely converted to the alternatives — sometime before we ever use up all the oil. There will eventually be a price where nobody cares to get any of the oil, and what is left will stay there. Thus, we will never, ever run out of oil. It’s basic economic principles. There will be alternatives.

The car, for example, is an alternative to the horse. A plane is an alternative to either one. A computer is an alternative to the abacus, to pen and paper, etc. During the bronze age, who would have thought of iron as an alternative? The microwave is an alternative to fire. Petroleum, when whale oil became expensive due to a shortage of whales, became an alternative. Some of these pre-existed. Some were invented later.

An alternative in the economic sense is not necessarily something that replaces another object exactly. When we run out of oil, it will become more economically feasible to come up with alternatives — many of which, like so many things in the past — haven’t even been thought of yet.

I have no doubt that it will happen, because it has always happened. Always.

Now one may object that all the alternatives to oil have, so far, been inferior. But just because they have been inferior so far, that doesn’t mean they will continue to be. Many falsely assume that the price of oil will remain constant, meaning people will continue to use it as the same rate, until it runs out, and that nobody will have any incentive to find alternatives. But, again, as the price of oil goes up as supply goes down, it will be economically viable to find better alternatives. What we are getting now is government-subsidized alternatives — so we shouldn’t be surprised at what we are getting. Things will change when market pressures create an actual demand for real alternatives. These new ways of doing things won’t be done with government — unless there is the coincidence of creating a bomb whose power source can also be used for energy production (i.e., nuclear power). I’d rather the market find a solution than to have the government bomb its way into one.

And this brings me to government-subsidized alcohol. Is it really a good idea to turn our food into fuel? That just seems like a bad substitute right on the face of it. One could argue that it’s also a bad idea to wash cars, since that uses up water we could be drinking, but we need to beware of false analogies. There is much, much, much more water than there is corn. If we wash our cars, it doesn’t raise the price of water enough not to drink it. But the rise in the price of corn that has already occurred has resulted in problems in Mexico with availability of corn for tortillas, driving up the price of a main staple there — among some of the poorest people. Further, it has driven up the price of meat, because corn is a food for chicken, pigs, and cows. When the price of feed goes up, the price of meat goes up. This, again, hurts the poor far more than any other group.

So, again, it is incredibly stupid to use food to fuel. And it hurt the poor. But that just means that ethanol is just another thing liberals have latched on to that causes harm to the poor. When your every economic policy harms the poor, one begins to wonder why you want so bad to make their lives worse.

The Kingdom of God

Once upon a time, Barack Obama asked a church audience in South Carolina to help him become “an instrument of God” and join him in creating “a Kingdom right here on Earth.”

I do not like such rhetoric coming from either conservatives or liberals. Think about it: what would you do to achieve heaven on earth, if you really though it possible? With conservatives, it is often a question of personal ethics. With progressives like Obama, it is a question of economics. Do not be mistaken: Obama’s concerns as President were materialistic, not spiritual. We were fortunate he didn’t actually do much during his eight years to try to fulfill that rhetoric. To the extent Obama was a successful President, it’s only because of the extent to which he was a failure at getting his vision enacted.

We have seen many attempts throughout history to make a Kingdom of God here on Earth. If Obama had meant what he said, he would have aligned himself with the likes of Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, and Chavez in their attempts to create a Heaven on Earth. The implications are troubling: each of these men attempted to in a real sense “finish God’s work” which He had poorly done of making the earth and human beings in it. If you are a Christian, Muslim, or Jew especially this should be most troubling. What person has the right to assume that God’s work on earth is incomplete and that they know how to make heaven on Earth? And for an agnostic or atheist, this should sound at best silly, and at worst dangerous.

But there are still those who buy into utopian visions. Impatient for Heaven, people want to create it on Earth. And I would venture to guess that their vision in no way matches that of Heaven itself. No, it rather is a vision of their own making. “If I were God, this is how I would formulate the world.” And indeed, the secular religion of Leftism/Progressivism which defies government now that God is dead are precisely interested in making the world in their own image. And it doesn’t matter how good a person someone is, or how moral or ethical, or how well-intentioned (oh, beware of the well-intentioned!). What is at issue is the disconnect these people have with the world. They abide by Marx’s dictum that “The point is not to understand the world, but to change it.” This is a recipe for disaster. And it has been, repeatedly — some more egregious than others. No, the point is to understand the world before you understand how you can change it to get the actual outcomes you seek. This, of course, assumes that a politician’s intentions are to realize the goals he seeks, and not to merely gain more power for himself.

One last word for those who still think we should try to create Heaven on Earth: we have—as William Blake rightly observes in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” And prior to that, he observes that if when the world is cleansed, “the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.” And there is the point: the world appears to us to be finite and corrupt, when it is in fact infinite and holy. If you cannot understand that the world is in fact and already holy—if you agree that we can and should try to make “Heaven on Earth”—then you need to have your doors of perception cleansed. To paraphrase Heraclitus: “Men have supposed some things to be unjust, others just, while God sees the world as beautiful and good and just.”

Zero Sum Games

In a free economy everyone has the opportunity to get better because the economy is a non-zero-sum game.

Most people in developing nations would rather be poor in the U.S. than middle classed in their own countries. And it’s because the working poor have it better off here than do most people (except the ruling elite, of course) in developing nations.

Certainly the U.S. isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have as free an economy as it could and should have, but its relative freedom allows for a positive-sum economy that makes it possible for all boats to rise. I don’t particularly care if other boats rise faster, either, as that sort of “fairness,” or egalitarianism, only pushes the economy toward increasing zero-sumness.

The point is, in a free economy, I am not hurt in any way, shape, or form if there are others who have more than I do, because they are not taking anything from me in a positive sum game. Their wealth does not impoverish me. To complain about someone else’s wealth is like complaining about someone else being ethical, as though their being good somehow prevented me from being good. The first attitude resulted in the gulag, and the second attitude resulted in the attacks by the Islamic terrorists on 9-11.

The bottom line is that the belief in a zero-sum world has resulted in a lot of deaths, and will continue to do so until we recognize that the world isn’t a zero-sum game, and never has been, and never will be.

The Global Social Network

The human brain has a network structure that is both local and global. There are small, local modules that perform certain functions, and they are typically close to other modules that support those functions. But there are also huge neurons known as giant fusiform cells that allow for global connectivity across the brain. Giant fusiform cells are only found in the apes, and they are found in the largest number in humans. This combination of local and global that reaches a high degree of complexity in humans is what allows for the high intelligence of apes in general, and humans in particular.

There have been moves across the world–most notably, the EU–to create more globalized, more centralized political structures. Roger Scruton argues that we shouldn’t do away with the nation-state so easily, and he argues that it’s the highly-globally-connected wealthy elites who are pushing for things like the EU and even more global governance. At the same time we are seeing a push for a stronger EU, we are also seeing a pushback with the Brexit vote last year, and also more and more desire for local political control, especially in Spain and the U.K. With many of the independence movements, though, there is a simultaneous desire to remain part of the EU.

We can understand this by thinking about the network structure of the human brain. The global elites who are more comfortable with each other than with their countrymen are the equivalent of the giant fusiform cells. The problem arises when they think the world ought to be just like them. But that’s not the reality among human beings. A brain of only giant fusiform cells wouldn’t be a healthy, productive, or likely living brain. Most people are, like most brain cells, part of a local, specialized area. They have their own local culture, religious beliefs, and industries, among other things. And they persist in the face of global culture.

The point is that those who wish to have a more globally connected world are right, and those who wish to maintain their local cultures and mores are right. We need to be both more local and more global–and have many areas of unity in between. We need a global civilization where the Scots can be Scottish, the Welsh can be Welsh, the English can be English, and they can all be British; where the British can be British, the French can be French, the Spanish can be Spanish, and they and the rest of Europe can also be Europeans. And all regions can have a weak connection through the UN. We need strong local cultures as well as natural classical artists with global reach. We need all of this simultaneously. The more the globe evolves to match the network structure of the human brain, the healthier humanity as a whole will be.

Proposal For A New Check in the Old Checks and Balances

Politicians need to be held responsible for when the passage of a law has negative results. We cannot trust voters to vote the bums out — it’s never MY Congressperson who is the problem, but the Other Congresspeople who are the problem (much like, it’s not My School that is not giving children a proper education, it is all the Other Schools that are the problem — no, it is absolutely YOUR SCHOOL!!! that is the problem, and until we admit that, there will never be true education reform in this country). Further, just because someone passed one law with negative consequences, that doesn’t mean that other laws one’s politicians passed didn’t have positive consequences.

Thus, I propose that individual lawmakers be held legally liable for the laws they pass, and the proven negative consequences produced. Thus, if a law is passed that results in an increase in the crime rate, and it can be proven in a court of law, each lawmaker who voted for it will have to pay a fine that makes up for the cost of the law they passed.

I would venture to say that having the ability to hold lawmakers responsible this way would make them think twice about passing any law — unless they had a fair amount of certainty it would have the desired effect(s). Thus, there would be no more of this nonsense about the lawmakers having “good intentions,” no matter what the outcome may be. Lawmakers should be interested in good outcomes, not good intentions. There is a very subtle form of immorality in supporting good intentions that have bad outcomes (remember what the road to Hell is paved with). I say it is about time our lawmakers were held responsible for their actions — and not just with the voters, but in courts of law.

Of course, such proof is at best difficult, especially since so many people will outright reject any sort of economic thinking that will likely have to underlie proving the outcomes in question. And even if that weren’t difficult, I wouldn’t expect any lawmaker to ever support anything like this.