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« Human social organization governance and sapience | Main | What if we tried to solve the wrong problem? »

March 04, 2008


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Charles Justice

I've read about six of your posts so I think I've got the gist of what you are saying about democracy, the market, and complex systems. Your understanding of biology, physics and cybernetics appears to be sound. However, your approach to politics is flawed. You appear to be pushing for some form of technocracy, or rule by experts.
The exchange of ideas and information requires an open society, that is, a society that allows a myriad of conflicting and contrasting ideas to be heard.
There are various means of working out consensus: the scientific method, participatory democracy, etc. All of them require the free flow of ideas. And they all require the active participation of many people.
Ideas must be interpreted, shared, and made workable to fit all the many local conditions that exist. There is no shortcut to this process. attempts to dictate what people should do from the top down oversimplifies and chokes off human initiative.

The problem with human political systems is that political leaders can be mistaken about reality but still be sucessful in leading at least temporarily. That's partly because what we say about reality can influence what people believe to be reality. And it's also because rulers can get their way by force. (eg., might makes right)

The more that people are able to participate in political decision making through democratic processes and active volunteering the more effective society is as a whole.
Scientific experts are essential to assist and advise in the governing of modern societies. But rule by experts leads to the stifling of free speech and the muzzling of informed criticism. Technocracy is not unlike theocracy, which has a similarly stifling effect on free thought.

I recommend reading Karl Popper: "The Open Society and It's Enemies" and "Conjectures and Refutations". Also George Soros: sorry can't remember the titles, but his latest book will do. Please visit my blog: My latest posting, a criticism of evangelical thought, touches on this subject. And I have other postings on Popper and Soros in my archives.


George Mobus


Thanks for the comment.

You said: "You appear to be pushing for some form of technocracy, or rule by experts."

In fact I am not calling for technocracy. Experts, scientist, engineers, and social scientists I would think would play a part in a hierarchical cybernetic governance process, particularly at the tactical and logistic level of coordination. But I am NOT advocating "rule" by experts.

If you read further back, perhaps, you will discover that my critique of democracy and governance is based on a fundamental weakness of Homo sapiens that makes in infeasible for humans to form a global-scale (or even a nation-scale) government with sufficiently wise (meaning good moral judgment) people operating in the strategic level. My claim is that there is ample evidence in many developed countries to show that politics (the conventional view that you espouse) is failing to produce a stable social milieu. And this after literally centuries of experience and presumed learning from history.

I claim that if the populace were sufficiently wise (and here I mean had a sufficient level of sapient brain power, if you will) then democracy would work in the sense that wise people would recognize the wisest among them and elect them to govern. Strategic decision making could be left to the wisest (structurally I envision this as a council in the executive role and a congress in the representative legislative role). They would select the goals and directions based on a deeper understanding of the needs and desires of the constituencies and balanced against the needs of the rest of the ecos.

What I describe is, of course, a utopia based on the premise that all humans are sufficiently eusapient so as to manage their own lives and local affairs wisely. Since that condition doesn't exist, namely humans are not eusapient, democracy is guaranteed to fail. As we look at the degradation (surprisingly fast) of governance in the US where sufficiently many people voted for GWB, for instance, and continue to elect not only foolish, but idiotic fools to congress I think I'm standing on a solid premise.

This isn't politics as much as it is neurobiology and evolution.

Evolution works by selection mechanisms operating on a variable population set of traits. Sapience is one such trait (or actually a family of brain functions that produce holistic judgment capacity in individuals). What I actually advocate might more properly be termed evolutionary neuro-politics. Or in other words, a government designed in the image of all other natural autonomous agent control systems, and a form of selection that recognizes high sapience for participation in that government.

This is quite far from the ideas of technocracy, which assumes so-called experts can make the right decisions based on their expertise. In fact, if you go far enough back in my blog you will find my critique of specialization and expertise as precisely contrary to the notion of an integrated social milieu (note I did not say uniform or homogeneous milieu!). I do not subscribe that expertise makes one capable of making choices in 'wicked' problem domains.

I hope this helps clarify my position and assuages your concern that I advocate something that we all agree would not work. We probably still are apart on the nature of what might work since it sounds as if you accept the conventional view that this species of human is the end of the line evolutionarily and therefore whatever will be will be based on the psychology of this species.

My vision is of a time when humans have, in fact, evolved further along (if they evolve further!) and are better able to think strategically and systemically. In such a time I think democracy will find its proper milieu and it will provide stability. But in the meantime we have to find something that will work for the current species and, hopefully, guarantee survival of enough of us to seed future generations that will develop along those evolutionary lines.

I will take a look at your blog.



Charles Justice

Human beings are capable of incredible things when they work together for an overreaching cause. Think of how American society was transformed into a war economy once the U.S. entered the Second World War.

Before that , everyone was going in different directions. The economy was in bad shape. Most Americans believed that they shouldn't get involved. A significant minority actually supported Hitler.

But after the war government, business, and the public came together, and everybody pitched in to help fight the war. The US economy went into warp speed. Everyone grew vegetable gardens in their back yard and recycled goods for the war effort. They all put up with rationing and other privations.

The same thing could happen again but this time focussing on the problem of global warming. All that's needed is a critical mass of people and some leadership on this issue. It could happen right after Bush leaves the White House. Who knows.

It's easy to think that things aren't happening fast enough. But if you look back on the last two years it's amazing how far American and Canadian society has come in recognizing and beginning to deal with the problem in spite of abysmally poor leadership.

The other thing I would say in reply is that you are too narrowly focused on American politics. Look at Scandanavia. Their political system works well and it's amazing what strides these societies have made in terms of cutting automobile use, developing renewable energy, etc.


George Mobus


The narrowness of my focus is based on the fact that the US is the premier exemplar of the source of problems. It leads the world in over-consumption and lack of wisdom! In fact, whatever success has been achieved in Scandinavian countries is fairly small and isolated. Look at the rest of the world. The choices being made in China and other developing nations are still far from optimal.

The first part of your response seems a bit hyperbolic to me. Perhaps you are overstating the case for human cooperation to solve a common problem simply to drive a point. But the history of the period of which you speak is not all consensus and roses.

Finally, your assertions are based on what may turn out to be a false premise. The recent studies in psychology and brain science seem to be showing that there is hardly homogeneity among people with respect to how they 'can' see the world. As I have mentioned in another post, we may actually be looking at a sympatric speciation process going on before our very eyes. We may not all be the exact same species any longer!

In my next posting I will be discussing the idea that we might not even be looking at the right problem, let alone trying to solve it. Global warming is a symptom of the problem. Perhaps a much deeper dig into the whole picture might reveal that we haven't even understood the disease, let alone know how to treat the symptom.


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