Humanity Needs a New Social Arrangement and New Understanding of Reality
What follows is an exercise in fantasy or at least futility. Note that while all of the below are conceivable in principle, give some thought to what it would take in practice to change things from our current mind sets. Given what I believe is the current level of sapience in the average brain, getting people to make the changes needed in thinking is nearly imponderable. Back in 2011 I wrote this on the subject.
So what kind of age would we have if somehow we were able to transcend the current modernist world view and form a new social order? [I will avoid using the term “post-modernism”, primarily because of some of the more extreme anti-realist sentiments held by ardent proponents.]
Let me presumptuously name it the Age of Systems Awakening. But perhaps it should be called the age of Sufficient Sapience! Sapience involves not only systems thinking but strategic thinking and strong moral sentiments along with a much higher capacity for tacit memory and learning veridical models of how the world works. Until the majority of human beings display these capacities, the possibility for a sapient society is greatly thwarted.
A successful social system for humanity, that is one that is fit for survival in the Ecos, will look extremely different from what we have now. Some of what I will mention will sound extremely socialistic or collectivist and may make many readers uncomfortable. I would suggest those readers not read further. But this is exactly the world view that humans will need to develop in order to have anything like a civilization in an era of constrained resources and climate chaos. Humans have to learn or become far more cooperative and willing to live with coordination. A market system of economics only works on small and local scales of time and space. It only works when all parties have access to information about the intrinsic values of goods and services. Libertarians will hate this idea. But then, they are the dinosaurs of today. An ideology based on individualism and self-interested decisions/actions is completely contrary to the trajectory of evolution. And our culture must evolve.
What sorts of things would have to be considered in this age? First it seems that we need to have a better idea of what kind of ecological footprint the human species can afford to have. I will bet that it will be significantly less than is currently the case. Not only do we need to have a much lower population but a much lower per capita demand on the planet. Our current high tech, high power societies (in the western world, but growing in the Asian world as well) are so clearly unsustainable that it is painful to think that the majority of people believe that business as usual (BAU) could go on indefinitely and everyone should, in principle, be able to live as large as westerners do. Of course a growing proportion of people in the world now realize that our burning of carbon-based fuels is going to have to come to an end. But those same people, still driven by their ideological mind frames, assume (and believe) that all we have to do is swap out our carbon-based economy for a solar-based one. Easy. Aside from the horrendous ignorance about the nature of alternative energy sources (and the extent to which we can convert to electricity), this attitude doesn't really represent an increase in consciousness at all. It is still part of magical thinking.
Starting with how individuals will need to see the world and think about their place in it, I want to then consider the consequences for communities, their collective behaviors, economics, and relation to the Ecos. This amounts to constructing a culture that will succeed in living on Earth truly sustainably. Whether humanity decides it wants to successfully live on Earth is another matter. But here is what I think it is going to take — a whole new world view.
If all of the issues I've written about before (and many I have not mentioned but are still cogent) are problematic for human survival, then what kind of life would we have to live to be in balance with our home, the Ecos? The first order of business is to recognize that individual human beings are really subsystems within the human social system (HSS), that in turn is a subsystem of the Ecos. Understood in this light, and applying the principles of systems science to grasp what this means, leads to a very different conceptualization of what it means to be an individual human being in tight interactions with all other individuals. And by the rules of transitivity the collective of human individuals are tightly coupled with the elements of the Ecos.
The implication is that people must turn away from thinking they have a “right” to accumulate excess wealth and take as much profit as they can, even when they are innovative or particularly resourceful. Any societal profits gained, say by increased efficiency due to someone's creativity, must be reserved for the future or shared among all of the people equally. The claim that people will not endeavor to create new things or ways of doing things unless they are rewarded financially for it is simply not true. Naturally creative people do what they do without need for material rewards. That old claim has simply been used as an excuse for the dishonest and selfish would-be industrialists to rationalize their taking more than they really need to live.
The reality of human existence is that the individual does not actually exist! Of course each of us is an individual but we are in no way informationally individual. Our minds are the result of the development of a human brain in the context of a social environment. Thus our attitudes and beliefs about individualism have to come into accord with evolutionary reality.
Individalism is out. Collectivism is in. Individualism has always been a philosophical stance at odds with evolution and particularly the evolution of human consciousness, which is the result of group selection over the course of Homo history. Human beings have never been solitary animals. Our existence has always been predicated on being part of a social unit and doing what was best for the group was in the best interest of the individual. What moral philosophers who promoted the elevation of individuals have done is make the mistake of confusing individuality with autonomy of individual minds, the ability to support subjective experiences and thoughts. Individual autonomy simply means that each individual in a collective has the ability to come up with different ideas and engage in speech acts that advance the ideas for consideration by the group (discussion and debate). This capacity is unique to human beings as eusocial creatures. It is equivalent to the variation in genetic alleles due to mutations that are the source of variation in the population that are subsequently subject to selection. Different ideas, shared with the group, provide variations that can then be selected by group discussion (this is what happens in the “council of elders” meetings in indigenous peoples even today).
Autonomy does not mean selfish action. It never did. Individualism as a philosophy and a political concept is a direct fallout from the ideologies of capitalism and market economies (thanks in part to personalities like Ayn Rand!). It is a total distortion of the observations made by Adam Smith regarding individuals seeming to do only what was in their own best interest yet somehow society was better off. Smith made his observations long after capitalism (even small-scale capitalism) was already in full swing. What he observed was the profit motive at work but in what was still a small marketplace environment. Buyers knew sellers and vice-versa. Sellers' reputations could easily be tarnished if they did not deliver quality and value for the exchange. Compare that with the situation today when a major global automobile company can attempt to cheat on emissions controls to fake mileage gains just to boost sales. Smith's observations in Wealth of a Nation were only a tiny part of the picture. He also wrote a treaties called The Theory of Moral Sentiments in which he pointed out the social obligations that come with being a human being! Smith mistakenly believed that humans do not have inborn moral sentiments, but he correctly noted that the development of moral sentiments depended on humans being in a social network of similarly motivated individuals. Sapience theory asserts that moral sentiment, and hence conscience and hyper-sociality is a natural function of the brain of human beings.
Human beings, unlike ants in a colony, are autonomous thinkers but not autonomous doers (of course there are anomalous cheaters, but they are the exception, not the rule, and human evolution has produced mechanisms for identifying and dealing with cheaters). Through mechanisms of negotiation, debate, and discussion mediated by language, human beings in groups come to resolutions of differences and decide on actions to take. This is normal politics, not the dysfunctional kind that we observe today, but the kind that has been the basis for successful decision making for human beings for the majority of their existence. The kind of political process we see today is an extremely poor reflection of normal collective decision processing. It is the combined result of non-scalability and the remnants of individualistic selfishness (due to the general low level of sapience). In the natural form of political process not everyone need be particularly happy with the final decision, but they are motivated by moral sentiment to support whatever the group has decided. Dissension and passive resistance hurt the group. There was and is a strong selection pressure for that kind of attitude to be subdued for the good of the whole group.
The phenomenon we witness today in the US political process has become motivated by hatred, distrust, and ignorance. But it is not the norm for human beings operating in a natural society limited in size to that in which each individual can know all of the others. What we see is the result of mental illness brought on by the stresses of over population and over complexity of modern life, aggravated by the decline in free energy. The latter factor is contributing (causing) the slowing of economic growth and hence triggering responses of competition for shrinking resources. Everyone “feels” this background condition even if they are ignorant of how energy flows and wealth production actually works. And it brings forth primitive emotions — the non-sapient mammalian, if not reptilian, brain.
The current state of human evolution suggests that we were well on the way to a collectivist mind set, which we call hyper-sociality, going into the Agricultural Revolution. However, there remain remnants of individualist thinking left over from our early Homo predecessors. And those ways of thinking remain with many of us today. If these people cannot change their minds and realize that we all progress together or all fall as individuals then they will be a major drag on any attempts to realize a future for the species.
So every indication in our evolution and current state suggests that the solution to our conundrum is in the community. That is, we will succeed as communities of autonomous thinkers but will always be collective doers.
Human beings (Homo sapiens) and their generic predecessors have always been communal animals. Our survival has always depended on being eusocial. Our success as a species, compared with those predecessors, has been based on the degree of eusociality that we have followed. We have language to help us cooperate to make collective decisions that have led to our out-competing all other species of Homo. We have basic moral sentiments that compel us to cooperate. We also have more evolvable brains that allow us to participate in coordinated behaviors. That is, we are capable of organizing hierarchical cybernetic governance structures that permit much larger groups to act as a unity (see below).
Successful societies in the future are most likely going be comprised of loose aggregates of small communities living in regions that are the least subject to chaotic weather. As the amount of CO2 emissions continue unabated (indeed seemingly accelerating) the range of such regions is getting smaller by the year. The carrying capacity of the Ecos for humanity is also shrinking rapidly. As I have written, the amount of human habitat needed to live in relative steady state is something like four hectares of mixed use land per captia (see: What is a feasible living situation for humanity). This is considerably more area than is needed under industrial agriculture, including forestry and mineral extraction, because the assumption is that those activities will not be subsidized by fertilizers and fossil fuel-driven machinery.
Communities will need to learn how to be more self-sufficient. I have been advocating for years that anyone who is paying attention should learn and adopt permaculture living (systems principles applied to holistic living). I think the most successful communities of the future will be based on this approach. Food and water security is, of course, the number one priority, followed by shelter, clothing, and fuel. People can live in subsistence of course. But if successful with permaculture there is an opportunity to do more than subsist. It is possible to address the full range of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs right up to and including self-actualization. [Interested readers may want to take a look at what I wrote way back when: The Path].
Why small communities and loose aggregation (e.g. trade)? Humans are naturally inclined to feel their cooperative attitudes in small groups of people they personally know. The feasibility of large organizations and large “states” comes from another natural propensity in humans, to defer to wiser elders, or, in other words, authority (see Governance below). In prehistoric times, in small groups, authority was vested in age, in experience, in wisdom. We are genetically programmed to acquiesce to perceived authority. Living in small groups allows every individual to become familiar with every other individual and to form bonds, the basis for cooperation.
When groups get larger it becomes difficult to really know everyone. And if individuals are autonomous thinkers there are likely to be difficulties in communications. Natural languages are chock full of ambiguities so that mere conversation with someone that you know only slightly is bound to raise issues that are not easily resolved. Not even market mechanisms (below) are sufficient to assure cooperation. Larger groups can exist only when there is a hierarchy of authority that can act to coordinate activities and resolve disputes.
The economic subsystem of society is an extension of the somatic physiology and resource acquisition of individuals integrated into a community process. Or at least that is what it should be. An economic system is one that helps the community acquire the needed resources from the environment, manages the work processes that operate on those resources to produce specific products or support the provision of services, allocates the produced wealth equitably, efficiently, and effectively, and sees to it that wastes are appropriately expelled to sinks that can handle them. This is exactly the same thing that happens inside single organisms (even single cells) to maintain life and health. It is just now implemented by exosomatic processes that use on energy and material resources beyond just food. It is the physiology of the community and should be organized accordingly.
When the society is comprised of the loosely coupled aggregates of communities previously described then the situation reflects a similar pattern to what we see in multicellular organisms, wherein the communities play the roles of single cells or tissues, and the larger, intercommunicating society is the whole organism. Communities can specialize in larger scale processes, one can specialize in fiber production, another in vegetable production, and so on, assuming there are regional variations in basic resources. This is exactly the kinds of communities and societies that humans have participated in ever since the onset of agricultural lifestyles and possibly even before. It was that way, and needs to be that way again, because this is the natural organization of social systems. When viewed as extended physiology it is easier to understand as whole systems. Imagine for a moment what would happen in your body if some small group of cells decided they would confiscate as much of the resources as they possibly could to the detriment of others rather than there be a fair distribution of resources to all of your cells. This, of course, is the disease we call cancer in the body. And it is exactly the same when small groups of individuals and organizations decide they are going to obtain ludicrous profits to the detriment of others.
Currently our lives are ruled by corporations and the neoliberal capitalist mindless system based on growth and profits. Most of us can't even imagine a different world except for the historical precedents of serfdom, slavery, sweatshop workers, etc. Ergo, we persist in thinking the modern age of capitalist corporations is not only normal, it must be the best. It is true that in our generally low sapient consciousness we are getting our basic needs met with convenience and speed by the way corporations produce consumer goods and services. Not even the CEOs of modern financial institutions have a clue as to how much damage they are doing to the environment and the psyches of billions of people. They can even rationalize that they are “doing God's work.” [Of course God promised not to bring another flood to wipe out evil men, so maybe bankers were invented by God as an alternative means of destruction!]
The main mechanism employed by modern economies and ideologically believed in is the market. The market is the matrix in which any set of material or service trades are made. Markets exist within living systems and are the basis for what is called the on-demand production/consumption process. Products are produced by specialist subsystems in response to demand signals generated by other specialist subsystems that use those products. For example mitochondria produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in response to the concentration of ADP (adenosine diphosphate - an ATP missing one phosphate radical) in the cell's cytosol. The latter is an indication of energy usage in the cell as a whole and the mitochondria are programmed to pump out more ATP (assuming the availability of carbohydrate inputs to the metabolic process) in response. Similarly, the stomach will secrete more hydrochloric acid into its interior in response to the amount of dense proteins present for digestion. Living systems produce only as much product as is required to maintain overall process. They do not work for a profit and they do not market their wares in hopes of selling more!
In a simpler, local market a buyer that needs something can ask a producer to make it and offer to pay an amount of money to cover the cost (including income for the producer) on an as-needed basis. Imagine a blacksmith who can make horseshoes waiting until a cowboy requests some for a horse. If there is high overall demand for horseshoes the blacksmith will be kept busy and receive a steady income from production. If the demand is filled, the blacksmith can turn his talents to other productions where needs exist in order to maintain his income.
Our current goods and services markets have become exceedingly complicated. For one thing, because of the way we aggregate capital, the facilities for production seem to need to be continuously employed making product. One argument for this is that if there has been a historical on-going need for the product, then production in anticipation of a near-term sale is warranted. Products can be stored in inventories until sold. The problem with this is that the pressure from capitalists to produce on-going profit shifted the perspective from sensitivity to demand to creation of demand. Marketing went from simply providing potential customers with information about availability and quality to messages meant to entice people to buy products for psychological reasons, e.g. prestige, sex appeal, etc. The more distance between buyers and sellers in social space, that is as social groups got larger and more detailed knowledge of the seller by the buyer was lost, the more difficult it became to make judgements about the actual value of products and services. Complexification due to higher technologies didn't help either.
The problem with markets as mediators of value and moderators of distribution is that as buyers and sellers become more distributed in social space, and as products and services become more complex and specialized, the information flow becomes distorted. Knowledge, the basis for making sound decisions, becomes less certain. No one really knows what anything is truly worth in terms of a price relevant to real costs based on value added. The market becomes a free-for-all and the prices are set by a feeding frenzy psychology; whatever the buyers are willing to pay!
Economists and capitalists love this. It guarantees full employment for the former and maximum profits for the latter. Unfortunately, society is worse off for it. Unfettered, or so-called “free” markets are simply not able to handle the information load or support honest evaluation of goods and services when the social milieu gets beyond a certain level of complexity. Markets as sole arbiters of economic activity are not tenable when societies reach the level of complexity we have today.
In fairness I should point out that the buyers are just as guilty of getting us into this mess as are sellers. Buyers respond to the herd mentality too easily. They are willing to accept as a mark of value whatever they believe everyone else thinks that value should be. They are then willing to pay it. And this just perpetuates the problem.
This does not mean that markets are useless, even in very complex societies. Quite the contrary. I believe markets are essential to the healthy operation of an economic system, for the same reason that natural markets in living systems are essential. They are about the communication of need and supply through channels that operate at the level of production and use. This makes the whole system extremely efficient. But they only work if there is another layer of mediation of information flow that insures the validity of information in the market. That is what is largely missing today.
While I claim that effective mediation is missing it is not that there haven't been tendencies to address this. Our social system is in the throes of evolution. What we currently think of as government regulations on market activities (hated by libertarians and conservatives in general and completely misunderstood by liberals) are reactive attempts to ensure the mediation needed after recognizing that distortions (lies) are part and parcel to complex markets. Government policies are enacted to close barn doors long after the horses have escaped. What proof do I have? The existence of Wall Street rich dudes for starters. [Financial markets are the most esoteric and complex of markets in the world. They do not deal in actual goods or even normal kinds of services. Rather they deal in wholly invented “products” and attendant services that have no longer got a basis in physical reality. Once upon a time, financial instruments were largely based on real asset holdings, like a production plant or a house. Today they are based primarily on promises and algorithms!]
The entire concept of consumption needs to be refined to recognize that the only short-term consumption applies to food and water. Clothing and tools of various sorts may get worn out from use, but they should persist over the intermediate time scale of years to decades. The idea of manufacturing something that is meant to wear out quickly to keep sales up should be viewed for what it is, sinful (in the social sense). Long-term assets such as homes should serve for several generations. They will likely revert to abodes for extended family occupancy. The concept of “trading” up in assets will have to go completely.
Personal or family income is just that needed to pay for the basic needs of families. The major portion of income will in all likelihood come from the family members being directly involved in food production and preserving. That is a basic income. If someone is talented at manufacturing goods or providing services they may get paid for those, but paid a fair cost-based price. In fact all non-food income would most likely have to come from a pool of group income.
Every complex adaptive system employs a governance subsystem to ensure that all of the component subsystems are behaving according to the overall schema of structures and functions required for the proper behavior of the whole system. That behavior is determined by the system's fit in its environment. That is, in order to not be selected against in the world, the system has to perform according to a purpose that is imposed by the environment or larger meta-system's needs. The system needs to produce products or services that benefit one or more other entities in the environment or negative feedback loops will develop that can disrupt. The governance subsystem has evolved to manage that behavior to obtain that end.
Systems that don't have to move around, like plants, are generally governed by internal signals that are pre-balanced and do not require extra information processing. Systems like animals that need to move (as a general rule) require much more in the way of a governance subsystem, which includes brain, ganglia (and associated communications wiring), and endocrine functions. Higher order animals that have more complex life cycles and thus more degrees of freedom in behavioral choices require multiple levels of governance. The fundamental problem of all such systems is the overall coordination of internal processes among themselves (logistical), the coordination of the whole system with other entities and conditions in the environment (tactical), and having a long-term “plan” for behaviors that will lead to fitness (strategic). For all species below the level of human complexity the latter is largely determined by evolutionary “decisions.”
Animals that live in colonies or groups require a higher level of governance than just that for the individual. Colony or herd animals most often have evolutionarily developed inter-individual communications systems that allow individuals to “cooperate” with one another. Think of a school of fish or flock of birds in flight. No master fish or bird controls the activities of the others. Simple rules of maneuvering in response to others moves are hard-wired into their brains.
Social groups are those that require some additional governance mechanisms for more complex behaviors. In all such cases, e.g. a group of chimpanzees, the programs for cooperation are still hard-wired, but the degree of autonomous thinking has also risen such that different individuals can have different wants or needs and disputes can break out. It is not uncommon in order to maintain equanimity in the group that there is some kind of hierarchy of dominance wherein the alpha male or female takes on the role of authority to break up fights. Of course they may also use that authority for personal gain!
With human groups we see a quantum leap in complexity and degrees of freedom of behavior of the individuals. In small groups a relatively simple form of group governance is feasible. For early Holocene groups of hunter-gatherers this came in the form of wise elders making strategic decisions, those most knowledgeable about game and vegetable food were in charge of organizing forays, and those most talented in making tools, clothing, and shelters took care of those duties. Specialization, while still a bit weak, allowed humans to distribute the kinds of decisions (tactical, logistical, and strategic) to persons most qualified to make them.
When groups started getting bigger and after the advent of agriculture and settled living, the decisions became more complex in all three categories. Witness the emergence of what we start to recognize as civil governance, a hierarchy of authority evolved to maintain the fitness of the group (village, town, city, state, etc.)
Any human group that has a purpose has a need to have an explicit governance structure. Humans, as eusocial creatures, have reached their current level of group dynamics through natural selection by group fitness. And what makes humans so successful has been the degree of adaptability that groups of cooperators have. Humans were able to spread out of Africa and adapt to many different environments by working together. Cooperation, however, is insufficient when the group gets large. Hence the hierarchical authority structure/function emerged.
The nature of the hierarchical cybernetic governance subsystem (more below) is not only applied to social groups but to artificially organized groups such as organizations, like corporations or NGOs. The layered distribution of decision types, and the attendant information channel infrastructure supporting them, is the most natural way to manage the organization so that it is maintaining its capability to perform properly to maintain its purpose. This pattern of governance organization is found in living groups, designed organizations, and in combination, in large territorial groupings, states and nations.
History has recorded a plethora of groupings and organizations (e.g. religions) that have all followed the pattern. Today we have nations and international corporations/NGOs that all follow the pattern still. There are, however, two problems with the way governance is evolving so far. First the architecture and implementation of the governments of nations are poor shadows of the kind of architecture we find in natural systems below nations and states. The impetus to have a hierarchical cybernetic system is there because of the way such systems auto-organize. But the organization process is still in its infancy for this scale of complexity. The second problem has to do with the decision-making competence of the component decision processors operating in every node of the subsystem. We human beings are not yet evolved enough in our sapience to base our decisions on wisdom as opposed to self-interests and ideologically biased concepts.
The United States of America, Russia, China, India, are all very large countries in terms of population and geographic size. They are the antithesis of everything I have covered above. But, in reality, most countries are too big, too complex, and too diverse to manage as single units using current political and governance theories. The reason is the latter are based on trial and error explorations of how to decide how to manage and how to implement said management (auto-organization in process). And they are all wrong (so far). Or rather I should say they are all very partial understandings of what a large social system requires for harmonious and equitable (to its citizens) management. In other words, all of the current government models being followed in the world today are simply not up to the task.
What makes me so sure of this claim? It turns out the answer is quite simple. Every single governance theory that has been advanced throughout history, and the political process theories that enact them, are pale shadows of systems theories of governance; they are but explorations of the evolutionary space of possibilities. Systems theories of governance are generalized theories that apply to all systems regardless of complexity. They are abundantly exemplified in nature and their principles are clearly identified in living systems from cells to groups of organisms [some “organizations” such as corporations, small businesses, and the military have implemented many aspects of the hierarchical cybernetic theory]. But no actual government, historical or current, has managed to implement them fully. What one can see, I think quite clearly, is that all societies have been undergoing evolutionary processes toward such implementation. There is little doubt in my mind that, for example, the current form of representative democracy in parliamentarian and congressional systems is an evolutionary step toward a governance structure that fulfills the requirements of a natural hierarchical cybernetic governance system. All of these experiments have properly segmented decision types and functions within the hierarchical layers into executive (execute the decisions), legislative (make the decision), and judiciary (monitor the execution and provide corrective decisions when needed). Given more time to experiment with governance (and political processes) I suspect humans might discover more successful forms. Unfortunately time is up now.
The essence of a governance system is the hierarchy of decision types that constitute managing the work processes of the system as a whole. Above I covered the market subsystem that mediates communications between work processes. This is the basic matrix of communications, but is subject to many distortions (including outright lying by human, less-than-sapient agents). A governance system, or hierarchy of authority and management is required in order to mediate complexity. As social systems grow in size and complexity they require coordination in order to compensate for weaknesses in cooperation. The latter are inevitable, as noted above, as distances in social space between agents increases.
The governance subsystem provides levels of coordination to the market substrate. Within living systems additional layers of control are provided so that the simple markets do not fail. For example, in the ATP example given above, cells have more elaborate checks and balances through enzymatic processes that monitor the ATP/ADP proportions relative to other energy demands (anticipated demands) and can modulate the normal regulation if needed. This pattern of supra-regulation can be found throughout metabolism and multicellular physiology so we know it is a requisite mechanism. Unfortunately this has not yet been recognized at the level of governance of whole social systems. [Part of this problem is the abysmal lack of knowledge of people who study law and politics of the laws of biology. Lawyers and politicians tend to see the world through very limited lenses in my opinion. And that is what we have to change!]
There is an additional consideration to take into account regarding governance subsystems. The larger and more complex a system, like a nation, the more resources are needed to support the governance infrastructure itself. That is, more overhead has to go to governing by expanding the coordination level, in particular. This means increasing the number of logistical and tactical coordinators (span of control problem) but also increasing the depth of the layers with coordinators of coordinators (middle managers). The cost of all this extra governance (management) can possibly grow nonlinearly with the size of the operational layer of the society. It is why countries that are complexifying need to continually up the tax rates. Complicating this is the fact that more complexity means that the average citizen has less visibility into the workings of government and thus do not understand exactly why governance costs so much more. Tax revolts are common for large nations (and states). As an example of this in the animal world, the brain is the core governance structure for the body. In reptiles the brain consumes not much more than about 2% of the energy consumed by the whole animal, for most mammals and birds it goes as high as 8%. For great apes it goes to something like 13%. Humans' brains, however, consume roughly 20-25% of the total energy. This is because our brains are doing a lot more information processing than even our closest animal cousins. The human brain is larger and has a lot more work to do.
Aside from the ignorance of the populace to understand the overhead issues generated by more complex societies creating problems for governments raising revenues to cover the increased costs, if overall resource inputs to societies are constrained or diminishing then it is physically impossible to maintain a level of governance infrastructure needed to manage the social system. If the citizenry of a country are feeling the pinch of declining free energy per capita, for example, then they are even more inclined to rebel against tax increases. Governments, and Greece is an excellent example, are forced to go to outside sources for loans just to operate let alone increase their functionality. [This is essentially Joseph Tainter's argument in Collapse of Complex Societies.]
The current state of affairs with respect to humans as decision agents is the second major problem for well functioning governance structures. We humans are still motivated as much by animal spirits as by rational thought. We are still capable of serving our baser needs serving ourselves before others. We are still enough individualistic and manipulative that when making decisions that impact other members of the group we are likely to consider our own benefits before those of the group. At least, there are enough members of our species who are of this ilk that it creates significant problems for a well functioning governance system. The rest (which may be the majority) are followers and, it pains me to put it this way, too ignorant to question the decisions made by those in government. In much of the world today the self-serving, narcissistic personalities have invaded the halls of government and corporations (think CEO pay). They have been successful in their takeover of governance because the rest of the population sits passively by and lets them get away with it.
That is where the higher level of consciousness comes into play. Without it, human civilization is doomed because the current forms of governance with ill conceived architectures and incompetent decision agents cannot make human civilization fit for survival in the Ecos. What proof do you need? What is your understanding of global warming and climate change? What is your understanding of biodiversity loss? What is your understanding of population density effects? If you have any understanding at all of any of these you will also understand that there is abundant evidence that our governments are failing horrendously. They are failing to lead the citizens toward non-destructive behavior. Or they failed to do so, or even recognize the situation, back when it could have been possible to do something that would mitigate those destructive behaviors. Of course a few of the countries or regions that are directly experiencing the threats of climate change already, such as Tuvalu a small Polynesian nation that is disappearing beneath the rising sea levels, have come to recognize the threats directly, so are turning attention to the problem. Twenty years ago their main concern was how to grow their per capita incomes like everyone else.
The Ecos is starting to show us just how unfit we are as a subsystem. The purpose we have been working to fulfill is not that of the Ecos (what can we contribute to the whole world), but rather how can we exploit whatever we want from the Ecos since we have generally viewed ourselves as above nature? That view came from the epitome of ignorance. It was reinforced by our cleverness allowing us to invent what we needed for convenience and speed. We lacked wisdom to question whether our collective view represented reality or not.
The Age of Systems Awakening, if it is to come about, will need the majority of the population to become sufficiently savvy about governance to practice a true democracy. What we have now is a sham. The blind are being led by the dishonest. Unless we can come to realize that we will need a much better design for governance and find a way to assure that the decision agents are superior in terms of sapience we are doomed to being selected against, as individuals, as a species, and possibly as a genus.
And in Conclusion...
Hence the big question. Can human beings as they are presently constituted rise to the level of consciousness needed to enact these kinds of changes? My research into sapience suggests not. On the other hand, the human brain is an evolvable system. Through the process of learning it is capable of changing its set of beliefs. It is capable of learning new beliefs. Is it possible that the average human mind can come to hold beliefs that are more in accord with reality? This I honestly have to say I do not know. The evidence I have looked at so far suggests not. Yet I am strongly motivated to hope that there is some part of our humanness that is capable of transcending these mundane beliefs. There are those humans who are able to cognize the reality of what our condition really is and they might lead the transition to a more sapient society.
What we do know about human learning suggests that even something as complex and deep as a world view can be changed by trauma. Existential challenges are known to cause a few people to completely change their understandings and motivations. So, perhaps, that is what it will take for humanity to chart a new course. As I have written for several years now, I see the path as winding through a complete collapse of civilization — a very traumatic experience for any survivors — and an evolutionary bottleneck. With some luck and a little bit of foresight the survivors might be higher sapients or better capable of attaining higher consciousness through learning. Let us hope that a surviving human population has the capacity to adapt not just to the conditions of a very different world, but to the needs of organizing themselves for becoming fit in whatever environment they are in. That organization will necessarily include figuring out the real purpose that the human social system can fulfill in the Ecos. We cannot just be a population of consumers/polluters and expect these functions to provide a service to the Ecos so that we will be rewarded with a judgement of fitness. Our society needs to have a purpose that is helpful to the Ecos as a whole or it will eventually be selected against. It is conceivable that part of that purpose may be to become a strategic decision layer in the hierarchical cybernetic governance of the planet (stewardship). But that seems unlikely given the current state of the average human as decision maker.
A future, new society will have to be based on quite different principles than those that guide our current ways of living in the world. Human beings will have to abandon many current beliefs and ideologies that are popular or attractive, but for the wrong reasons. They will have to adopt many attitudes and understandings that are currently only poorly received and not at all understood properly. Do we have the capacity to learn these, or do we need to undergo further biological evolution in order to accomplish this? That to me is still an open question even though so much of my research suggests the later. I have always said, I hope I am wrong.