Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | January 31, 2010

Synocracy: The Novalia Model, Part III

In Part II of this essay, I considered the Sociocracy (Dynamic Self-Governance) model that has been so successfully applied in the business environment.  I also noted some of the difficulties proponents have encountered in applying the model to governance of existing political structures.  In this part, I shall suggest that the difficulties have arisen because of the attempt to superimpose the dynamics of the model on pre-existing structures within which the citizens are not bound by shared aims or concerns.  By and large, the citizens of cities and towns do not know each other and thus are totally unaware as to whether or not they share any common goals.

History of Sociocracy

“The idea of a sociocracy, a self-governing society, dates from the early nineteenth century”  when the French philosopher, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), often believed to be the founder of the science of sociology, advocated a type of society based on a balance of the scientific method and humanism.  Yet, despite the fact that “Comte’s thinking was highly influential on Western European thought, his [concept of] sociocracy was never more than an idea,” until…

 The concept was picked up again by a renowned American sociologist, Frank Lester Ward (1843–1913) in the late nineteenth century. Ward extolled the virtues of the “self-made individual” and the importance of universal and life-long education. He felt that these should be the basis of an ideal society, a sociocracy.

While the ideals of Comte and Ward are in alignment with contemporary sociocratic thinking, one aspect is not. They both advocated a central body of scientists that would in Comte’s case be the government and in Ward’s, advise the government. Establishing such a [scientific] body was, of course, impossible and in the end would not be self-governance. While a democracy based on majority rule also had the failings of power brokering, it still held more potential than sysems making autocratic decisions.

The creation of a real sociocracy required both inclusive decision-making and a non-autocratic structure. In 1926, Kees Boeke (1884–1966), an internationally known Dutch peace-activist and educator, began developing a set of principles that did just that — created an organization based on the equivalence of all particpants and consensus decision-making. Just before WW II, Boeke started a school in The Netherlands where he began experimenting with consensus in what soon became a community of 400 students and teachers. Boeke’s sociocracy was based on three fundamental rules.

  1. “First, the interests of all members must be considered, the individual bowing to the interests of the whole.”
  2. “Second, no action can be taken if there are no solutions found that everyone can accept.”
  3. “Third, all members must be ready to act according to these unanimous decisions.”

Boeke pointed out that there were many groups functioning by soliciting common agreement rather than voting and that if such a group voted, it would be an indication that the group was not functioning well. Many communities today still function using these same principles. Intentional communities use consensus almost exclusively. But most are small, religiously devoted, or purely social organizations. Consensus as Boeke used it, requires a high level of trust and frequent meetings to discuss and share concerns and solutions. Most organizations are much too diverse to depend on unanimity as a basis for agreement. All their members do not meet together on a regular basis and many never have personal contact. As a broadly applicable method of governing, sociocracy needed further development.

I shall leave it to the reader to pursue this further development that was brought about in the 1970s by one of Boeke’s students, Gerard Endenburg.   Suffice it to say that Endenburg developed principles for the application of sociocracy to the business environment.

In a sociocratic organization…four principles are used to form a governance structure that [includes] all its members. Everyone has a direct voice….

  1. Consent governs policy decision-making. Consent means there are no argued and paramount objections to a proposed decision.
  2. Circles are the primary governance unit. Circles are semi-autonomous…[as well as] self-organizing. Within their domain, they make policy decisions; set aims; delegate the functions of leading, doing, and measuring to their own members; and maintain their own memory system and program of ongoing development.
  3. Circles are connected by a double-link consisting of the functional leader elected by the next higher circle, and two or more representatives elected by the circle, all of whom participate fully in both circles.
  4. People are elected to functions and tasks by consent after open discussion. [Emphasis added above.]

Adapting Sociocracy to the Social Environment

A business has a pre-existing organizational structure with pre-defined organizational goals, which employees may or may not fully embrace.  When sociocracy is instituted in the business, everyone has a direct voice and thus shares in determining the day to day operation of the company.  This meets the human need for recognition, which appears, as noted in a previous post to be universal.  Thus, all employees are rewarded for working for a common goal.

Such organizational structure does not typically exist in social and political groups, which are generally organized from the top down and do not solicit equal participation of all members.  As noted in the foregoing post, to try to superimpose the principles of sociocracy on the functioning of a town or city, is to solicit failure, because the citizens generally do not know each other and may only, coincidentally, share common goals.

Thus, it seems necessary to create a Dynamic Self-Governance structure from scratch by drawing the citizens of the community together to achieve a common purpose.  Thus, the structure of the social organization must be extra-political, although its goals may be very much political in nature.  This latter thought resonates with the words of Professor John Keane who has written about “monitory democracy” as “a new historical type of democracy…defined by the rapid growth of many different kinds of extra-parliamentary, power-scrutinising mechanisms.”  Keane states: 

There is a need for a fundamental revision of the way we think about democracy in our times.  An epochal transformation has been taking place in the contours and dynamics of representative democracy.  From roughly the mid twentieth century representative democracy began to morph into a new historical form of ‘post-representative’ democracy. 

Keane continues:

In consequence, the whole architecture of self-government is changing. The central grip of elections, political parties and parliaments on the lives of citizens is weakening. Democracy is coming to mean more than elections, although nothing less. Within and outside states, independent monitors of power begin to have tangible effects. By putting politicians, parties and elected governments permanently on their toes, they complicate their lives, question their authority and force them to change their agendas.

The Tea Party Movement is one such “monitory” group on the U.S. political scene.  It was a movement originated by the “Ron Paul Revolution” in the 2008 primary election campaign and later co-opted by many rank and file Republicans in 2009.  This movement was very instrumental, it appears, in the recent Massachusetts senatorial election where Scott Brown won the senate seat held for decades by Ted Kennedy after being down by double digits in the polls shortly before the election.

However, social organizations can, obviously, come into being for more than political reasons.  They can arise to fulfill basic human needs for connectedness as I have discussed previously in regard to artificial extended families.  Is it conceivable that such family groups could double back on themselves and serve purposes that are normally regarded as the provinces of governments and private charities?  I am referring here to addressing the issues of poverty and healthcare in a society.  Typically, the ideological Left has advocated for the provision of government services, while the ideological Right has resorted to advocating that individuals and private enterprise provide for the less fortunate through charitable donations.  There can be no better illustration of the propensity for private individuals, including many big-name celebrities, to open their hearts and their pocketbooks than the recent disaster in Haiti.   But, why should it take a calamity of grotesque proportions like Haiti or Katrina to motivate such private giving?  Why do we not tap into this human tendency to support others in time of need when the conditions are oppressive but not so dire?  One simple answer is that, as the size of government has grown, so has the tendency for the “bystander intervention effect” to dominate social conscience.  It is clear that the degree to which we believe that others will step in and help determines our individual willingness to help.  In other words, we have come to expect the government to dispense not only foreign aid, but domestic aid as well.  Another far more important reason, however, is that we have never reduced the tax burden on individuals sufficiently, or “incentivized” supporting others adequately, to bring about non-governmental solutions to major social problems.

In Part IV of this essay, I explore a way in which the model of Novalian artificial extended families could guide the way to extricating ourselves from the incredible financial morass in which we find ourselves as a nation.

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Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | January 18, 2010

Synocracy: The Novalia Model, Part II

“Slapstick: Or Lonesome No More”

Were Eliza and I really a genius, when we thought as one?

I have to say yes, especially in view of the fact that we had no instructors.  And I am not boasting when I say so, for I am only half of that fine mind….

…[We] composed a precocious critique of the Constitution of the United States of America…. We argued that it was as good a scheme for misery as any, since its success in keeping the common people reasonably happy and proud depended on the strength of the people themselves–and yet it described no practical machinery which would tend to make the people, as opposed to their elected representatives, strong.

We said it was possible that the framers of the Constitution were blind to the beauty of persons who were without great wealth or powerful friends or public office, but who were nonetheless genuinely strong.

We thought it was more likely, though, that the framers had not noticed that it was natural, and therefore almost inevitable, that human beings in extraordinary and enduring situations should think of themselves as composing new families.  Eliza and I pointed out that this happened no less in democracies than in tyrannies, since human beings were the same the wide world over and civilized only yesterday.

Elected representatives, hence, could be expected to become members of the famous and powerful family of elected representatives–which would, perfectly naturally, make them wary and squeamish and stingy with respect to all the other sorts of families which, again, perfectly naturally, subdivided mankind.

Eliza and I, thinking as halves of a single genius, proposed that the Constitution be amended so as to guarantee that every citizen, no matter how humble or crazy or incompetent or deformed, somehow be given membership in some family as xenophobic and crafty as the one their public servants formed.

–Kurt Vonnegut, 1976

The foregoing quotation is taken from Vonnegut’s novel, Slapstick: Or Lonesome No More.  In this story, the narrator is a brilliant, dizygotic twin of his equally brilliant sister Eliza, who are, nonetheless, freaks of nature, having been born with six fingers and toes on each hand and foot, respectively, as well as two supernumerary nipples each.  They grew early to a height of over two meters and had neanderthaloid features “of adult, fossil human beings even in infancy–massive brow-bridges, sloping foreheads, and steamshovel jaws.”  He becomes a pediatrician and later the last President of the United States, which ceases to exist after a series of catastrophic fluctuations in the Earth’s gravity.

As I pointed out in the first part of this essay, the fictional President had introduced a system of “artificial extended families” during his tenure by giving every citizen a new middle name corresponding to:

…the name of a flower or fruit or nut or vegetable or legume, or a bird or a reptile or a fish, or mollusk, or a gem or a mineral or a chemical element–connected by a hyphen to a number between one and twenty.

Thus, having been christened Wilbur Rockefeller Swain, he later became known as Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain and was instantly a member of the Daffodil family with ten thousand “brothers and sisters” and one hundred and ninety thousand “cousins.”

Vonnegut suggests throughout the book that congenial minds which operate in synergetic proximity to one another are more intelligent than when operating in isolation, as illustrated in the following passage.

The People’s Republic of China was at that very moment secretly creating literally millions upon millions of geniuses–by teaching pairs or small groups of congenial, telepathically compatible specialists to think as single minds.  And those patchwork minds were the equals of Sir Isaac Newton’s or William Shakespeare’s, say.

Oh, yes–and long before I became President of the United States of America, the Chinese had begun to combine those synthetic minds into intellects so flabbergasting that the Universe itself seemed to be saying to them, “I await your instructions.  You can be anything you want to be.  I will be anything you want me to be.”

This notion of congenial compatibility, obviously, contraindicates Vonnegut’s simple system of random assignment of individuals to artificial extended families.  This is a consideration which the Novalia Model directly addresses and to which we shall return later.

After his sister, Eliza’s death, Dr. Swain rediscovers their Utopian scheme, created together as adolescents, “for reorganizing America into thousands of artificial extended families.  He writes:

I found it absorbing.  It said that there was nothing new about artificial extended families in America.  Physicians felt themselves related to other physicians, lawyers to lawyers, writers to writers, athletes to athletes, politicians to politicians, and so on.

Eliza and I said these were bad sorts of extended families, however.  They excluded children and old people and housewives and losers of every description.  Also:  Their interests were usually so specialized as to seem nearly insane to outsiders. 

“An ideal extended family,” Eliza and I had written so long ago, “should give proportional representation to all sorts of Americans, according to their numbers.  The creation of ten thousand such families, say, would provide America with ten thousand parliaments, so to speak, which would discuss sincerely and expertly what only a few hypocrites now discuss with passion, which is the welfare of all mankind.”

When finding himself a candidate for President of the United States after a jolt of “heavy gravity” had stripped the elevators from Manhatten skyscrapers, rendering them useless, flooded tunnels, and buckling all but the Brooklyn Bridge, thus converting the island into a “sleepy seaside resort,” Dr. Swain ran on the platform of “Lonely No More.”

I spoke of American loneliness.  It was the only subject I needed for victory, which was lucky.  It was the only subject I had.

It was a shame, I said, that I had not come along earlier in American history with my simple and workable anti-loneliness plan.  I said that all the damaging excesses of Americans in the past were motivated by loneliness rather than a fondness for sin.

An old man crawled up to me afterwards [because of the heavy gravity–ADP’s note] and told me how he used to buy life insurance and mutual funds and household appliances and automobiles and so on, not because he liked them or needed them, but because the salesman seemed to promise to be his relative, and so on.

“I had no relatives and I needed relatives,” he said.

“Everybody does,” I said.

He told me he had been a drunk for a while, trying to make relatives out of people in bars.  “The bartender would be kind of a father, you know–” he said.  “And then all of a sudden it was closing time.”

Subsequently, the President spoke of “waiting on pins and needles to learn from the computers what my new middle name would be” and then receiving a “chatty letter” from himself.

My president congratulated me on my new middle name.  He asked me to use it as a regular part of my signature, and on my mailbox and letterheads and in directories, and so on.  He said that the name was selected at immaculate random, and was not intended as a comment on my character or my appearance or my past.

He offered deceptively homely, almost inane examples of how I might serve artifical relatives:  By watering their houseplants while they were away; by taking care of their babies so they could get out of the house for an hour or two; by telling them the name of a truly painless dentist; by mailing a letter for them; by keeping them company on a scary visit to th a doctor; by visiting them in a jail or a hospital; by keeping them company at a scary picture show.

Later, in the story, the President is discussing some of the consequences of the alternative extended family program.  He writes about an article appearing in either his or his wife’s family newsletter:

There was one interesting essay, I remember…which said that families with high moral standards were the best maintainers of law and order and that police departments could be expected to fade away.

“If you know of a relative who is engaged in criminal acts,” it concluded, “don’t call the police.  Call ten more relatives.”

The Sociocracy Model of Governance

The preceding quotation from Vonnegut’s novel, Slapstick: Or Loneliness No More, provides a good segue into a discussion of the model of Sociocracy, also known as Dynamic Self-Governance (DSG), which was developed in Europe after World War II to provide a more effective, bottom-up system of management, which is similar in approach to the Total Quality Management (TQM) concept that was popular in the United States. a few years ago.  The effort has been to make a business organization more democratic by giving it an egalitarian structure.  But, this is not democracy in the sense of “majority-rule” democracy.  It is a democratic structure that operates by consent rather than by consensus, such that members of a working group or “circle” are consulted as to whether they have fundamental objections that would preclude their being able to tolerate a proposed change in policy.  This process leads to the development of what might be called a true consensus [I wish to acknowledge one of the commentators on this blog, Rev fr prof Anih, who brought the important distinction between “consent” and “consensus” to my attention.  He also provided an illustrative example of the governance structure of Scouting organizations, which appear to operate similarly to the Sociocracy model].

In the third video link above, Gerard Endenburg, the developer of Sociocracy, a resident of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, harkens back to the discussion of the seemingly universal human need for recognition pointed out by Shultziner in a previous essay on this blog.  He states that in his experience, all people are:

…thinking about the power structure that they are in.  Everyone is looking for other power structure.  It is also my need to be recognized as a human being.  I don’t like this autocratic or democratic principle…to be ignored.  So, I see that we need Sociocracy to live together with other people in a better way.  So, it is a need for me, but it is also a need for everyone.

Vonnegut’s discussion of the fading away of police departments in a society with a strong extended family system brings to mind a segment of an interview with John Buck, author of We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy, in which he discusses the difficulties involved in attempting to apply the model of Sociocracy (Dynamic Self-Governance) to the public sector, i.e., to the governance of towns.

“It is in the best interest of the police department to have criminals, because if they had no criminals, then they’d have no city budget.  And, it makes no sense that, if the police do a good job, the people who profit is [sic] the insurance companies.  Maybe the police should be selling insurance, and if somebody breaks into your house, then they pay you.  And, so we have a situation where it seems like we have an opportunity to harmonize or tune up the town, or that, that with a more…with…with a forum in which everybody’s voice could be heard or be encouraged…that there might be a much more joyful way of living. 

Over…over in India, they’ve been organizing neighborhoods.  They’ve got a hundred thousand people organized using Sociocracy to have the neighborhoods support each other.  It’s a very poor area.  They provide economic support; they provide cultural support.  And, they’re building it from the bottom up, and they’ve built a a really interesting system.  I don’t know enough about it to really cite that as an example of what I’m shooting for, because communication is really difficult with them.  But, it…there, there’s…my sense is that there’s something there, if we…if we poke at this idea that we can be kind of autonomous from each other and just sort of bumping into each other on the sidewalk as the way that we want the town to be that there may be something more, and this is very much an experiment.

In the Buck interview, the interviewer, Jim Gough, raises the point that the Synocracy model is predicated on a “common aim” or goal of the organization.  In a town, where people may have not aim in common, the situation is quite different.  He talks about his approach of dynamic facilitation for solving community problems, in which he asks what is of real concern to the individual and what does the person really want “and melding the two,” a process which John Buck regards as useful in trying to resolve the different viewpoints of people who may or may not have anything in common, which he relabels “multiparty facilitation” or “mediation.”  He indicates that this process will be useful with “multiple people who may just happen to be next to each other or running into each other….[The process] doesn’t need a common aim.”  Gough replies that ‘[this] is kind of like what happens in a democracy….In a town, people…they don’t have a common aim.  They’re just stumbling around and whatever.”  He then asks Buck, “How do you get them to have this heartfelt, creative conversation…that I think that the consent process [brings about]? But, when you do the consent process, I’m thinking that it really kind of assumes an organization that you’re walking into, that has a common aim, that has structure, that has a boss that kind of sets things up.”  Buck replies that it is a different conversation than if you happen to be people who happen to be next to each other and have a conflict with each other….I think that that’s really an important difference between being…trying to run a democracy and being a Sociocracy where we are building a structure, so why even bother might be a question–why bother to try to bring this consent process, the consent rewiring to a town?…But if you look at the way that towns are running right now, it just seems like there are just so many opportunities for improvement, because things are not aligned well.”

Gough muses that “there is no ‘We the People’ to take charge to make the changes that are needed.”  And, he wonders “how Sociocracy…could become [or create] that ‘We the People.’  Buck responds that “right now it’s not easy for people to have your voices heard.  In the physical neighborhood, you may not talk to your neighbor more than once or twice a year.  You may have a neighborhood of people that you are emotionally connected to, but you don’t do any governing that way, exactly.  And, so what if we started to organize at the neighborhood level so that…there was like economic activity based in the neighborhood going on and cultural activity, and this was coordinated on a citywide basis, so that if people had needs for daycare or they had needs for a nearby doctor or whatever and they weren’t there, [then] that could be coordinated.”

Buck’s comments sound very much like what Vonnegut was describing in 1976, don’t they?  And, they are also reminiscent of what the Friends Can Be Good Medicine program tried to accomplish in the early eighties in California.

However, Gough objects that what Buck has described is a “coordinating of individual needs.”  He goes on to say, “To me, this is a distinct thing from ‘We the People,’ where we together restructure our system.  Buck agrees and adds that “the restructuring needs to come out of a circle structure [as in business organizations employing the Sociocracy approach].

I shall suggest that the notion of “We the People,” as a force for change, can be emergent.  In other words, if one can develop a system of hierarchically-organized, artificial extended family groups, then “We the People” will emerge as a powerful force for governance on a large scale, which will truly reflect the “consent of the governed.”  This is precisely what the Novalia Model seeks to accomplish with its organization of Novalian enclaves summarized previously.  I shall take up a more detailed discussion of the social, political, and economic factors that have led to the need for such a model in Part III of this essay. 

Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | January 16, 2010

Synocracy: The Novalia Model, Part I

In the introductory post on this blog, which served to define the concept of “Synocracy” as a synergistic form of governance, I referred to the writing of Timothy Wilkin, MD in 2004.  Dr. Wilkin defined a synergistic relationship as:

…any relationship wherein the participants are more happy, more effective, and more productive than they would be without the relationship. A synergic choice is any choice that increases the happiness, effectiveness, and productivity of the participants in the relationship.  The sum of the whole relationship in terms of happiness, effectiveness, productivity, profitability, satisfaction, etc. is more than the sum of the parts – more than the sum of the individual’s ability to be happy, effective, productive, profitable, satisfied, etc. outside this relationship.

Synergy in Private and Public Relationships

An important question which arises in considering the role of individuals in relationships is: How do natural and acquired differences in power and status affect the relationship for good or for ill?  Take for example, the nuclear family in modern society.  Are families synergistic?  Are the participants “more happy, more effective, and more productive than they would be without the relationship?” Obviously, it depends on the family, doesn’t it?  Some families are run like dictatorships.  Some aspire to being totally democratic.  Others are somewhere in between.  It is clear that when children are very young, they cannot participate equally with adults in decision-making because of lack of experience and lack of the necessary cognitive development that would provide the capacity for good judgment.  And, cannot the same be said for larger groups in society?  Individuals vary in their experience and capacity for good judgment.  Yet, all are given an equal say in modern “majority-rule” democratic processes.  Such “majority-rule” voting in a family with very young children would be a disaster.  Is that not also true in the case of citizens with widely varying intellectual capacity and maturity?

Another related question is:  In the American Republic, which is structured as a representational democracy, is the relationship between a citizen and his/her representatives in Congress one in which the citizen is “more happy, more effective, and more productive than they would be without the relationship?”  If we look at the low poll ratings of Congress today, clearly the answer is a BIG NO.

Still another question which arises is:  Is egalitarianism necessary for synergistic relationships?   In the family having very young children, are the children (and the parents) “more happy, more effective, and more productive than they would be without the relationship,” if the family operates democratically?  Developmental psychology provides a clear answer.  Because of the lack of self-control in very young children, parental limits are necessary in order that the children do not feel “out of control.”  In other words, the younger the child, the more parental limit-setting is required to create family and individual stability.  Thus, to create a family in which all members are “more happy, more effective, and more productive than they would be without the relationship,” a nonegalitarian governance structure is necessary to insure stability and solidarity when children are very young.

Obviously, the structure of governance must necessarily evolve as the children grow in maturity.  And, furthermore, such flexible, evolving structure is essential in order for the children to develop increasing emotional maturity and independence.  If the governance structure does not evolve, the family relationships will cease being synergistic and both children and parents will not benefit from the relationship and will actually be harmed by it.  Such rigid, dysfunctional family structures are sadly very prevalent in modern society.  Since there is no peer group which can provide “leveling down mechanisms,” there is nothing to prevent insecure parents from increasing their control over offspring as the children grow in capabilities and the desire for independence.  This is a situation that exists in modern America, because of the deterioration of the extended family structure in favor of the isolated, nuclear family.   Not only did the extended family of earlier times provide the possibility of discouraging parents from becoming out and out autocrats with their children, but it also provided support for parents and children alike when situations became emotionally dysfunctional and destructive.

As the famed writer, Kurt Vonnegut, said to the graduating class of 1994 at Syracuse University:

I have made us, for a few hours at least, what most of us do not have and what we need so desperately – I have made us an extended family, one for all and all for one. A husband, a wife and some kids is not a family; it’s a terribly vulnerable survival unit. Now those of you who get married or are married, when you fight with your spouse, what each of you will be saying to the other one actually is, ”You’re not enough people. You’re only one person. I should have hundreds of people around.”

I met a man and a wife in Nigeria – Ibos. They just had a new baby. They had a thousand relatives there in southern Nigeria, and they were going to take that baby around and visit all the other relatives. We should all have families like that.

In another commencement address at Agnes Scott College in 1999, Vonnegut said similarly:

Let’s talk about women. Freud said he didn’t know what women wanted. I know what women want. They want a whole lot of people to talk to. What do they want to talk about? They want to talk about everything.

What do men want? They want a lot of pals, and they wish people wouldn’t get so mad at them.

Why are so many people getting divorced today? It’s because most of us don’t have extended families any more. It used to be that when a man and women got married, the bride got a lot more people to talk to about everything. The groom got a lot more pals to tell dumb jokes to.

A few Americans, but very few, still have extended families. The Navahos. The Kennedys.

But most of us, if we get married nowadays, are just one more person for the other person. The groom gets one more pal, but it’s a woman. The woman gets one more person to talk to about everything, but it’s a man.

When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex, not how to raise the kids, or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though, without realizing it, is this:

”You are not enough people!”

Vonnegut elaborated on the Nigerian story mentioned above, although the size of the extended family used as an example decreases by 400 members.  The number, of course, (600 or 1,000) is not important.  The point to be made in the story is that the extended family was quite large.

I met a man in Nigeria one time, an Ibo who had six hundred relatives he knew quite well. His wife had just had a baby, the best possible news in any extended family.

They were going to take it to meet all its relatives, Ibos of all ages and sizes and shapes. It would even meet other babies, cousins not much older than it was. Everybody who was big enough and steady enough was going to get to hold it, cuddle it, gurgle to it, and say how pretty is was, or handsome.

Wouldn’t you have loved to be that baby?

I sure wish I could wave a wand, and give every one of you an extended family – make you an Ibo or a Navaho – or a Kennedy.

Throughout his writing career, Vonnegut extolled the need for “artificial extended families” as an antidote for the isolation and loneliness of the modern individual.  Almost thirty years ago, (1982) the California Department of Mental Health instituted an educational program called, “Friends Can Be Good Medicine.”  More information on this program can be accessed here.  At about the same time, I was involved in developing an enterprise that had resulted from the falloff in my income during rather difficult times.  This enterprise started out as a for-profit, Singles Network, which was based in the ideas promoted in the “Friends Can Be Good Medicine Program,” and in ideas deriving from Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional tale of the last American President (a doctor) who had been elected with a campaign slogan of “Lonely No More,” which represented his promise to create artificial extended families in the U.S.  To implement such family development, a computer would randomly give every individual a new middle name, corresponding to:

…the name of a flower or fruit or nut or vegetable or legume, or a bird or a reptile or a fish, or mollusk, or a gem or a mineral or a chemical element–connected by a hyphen to a number between one and twenty.

Thus, my name might have become Alan Daffodil-13 Price (or Daffy for short).  So, if I happened to travel to a distant city and was desirious of companionship, I could look in the phonebook and find another member of the Daffodil family.

Vonnegut’s narrator (the former President) humorously points out one of the advantages of such an artificial family system.

“…consider how much better off you will be, if the reforms go into effect, when a beggar comes up to you and asks for money,” I went on.

“I don’t understand,” said the man.

“Why, I said, “you say to that beggar, ‘What’s your middle name?’ And he will say ‘Oyster-19 or ‘Chickadee-1’ or ‘Hollyhock-13 or some such thing.

“And you can say to him, ‘Buster–I happen to be a Uranium-3.  You have one hundred and ninety thousand cousins and ten thousand brothers and sisters.  You’re not exactly alone in this world.  I have relatives of my own to look after.  So why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut?  Why don’t you take a flying fuck at the moooooooooooon?’ “

I soon expanded the membership of the singles network to include married individuals as well as singles and began to build artificial extended family groups.  The program provided the basis for the development of a new model for social organization, which I called “Novalia” and later “The Novalian Society.”  Novalia was chosen because it literally means “new land.”

The Novalian Society

Novalia was originally envisioned as a hierarchially organized, holonic structure that would potentially expand to a national and even global organization of artificial, extended family groups.  Such groups would be organized in enclaves, comprised of groups in a given district.  District Novalian Enclaves would then be organized in Regional Novalian Enclaves, which in turn would be organized in a State Novalian Enclave, and thereupon in a National Novalian Enclave and even ultimately in a Global Novalian Enclave.  The entirety of such a structure would be called “The Novalian Society.”

Each local, Novalian family would send a representative to the district enclave and the same representational process would be repeated up the hierarchical structure.  Each level would have its respective, governance structure.  And, unlike the representation in the U.S. Congress, which is elected by the citizens of a state, the representatives at each Novalian level would be intimately connected with the groups which they represent.  Thus, synergistic relationships between family and enclave members and their representatives would be encouraged.

In Part II of this essay, I shall suggest how the The Novalian Society model might be incorporated, in a transitional way, in the current system of governance in the United States. 

Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | December 11, 2009

Evolution of Democracy, Part VI

In the five preceding installments of this essay, I have considered the political-psychological views of Doron Shultziner, Ph.D. as expressed in a paper, entitled “Evolution and Liberal Democracy,” presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 2005.  In this paper, Shultziner concludes that democracy has evolved over millenia and has been strongly driven by the human striving for recognition. 

So, what conclusions can be drawn regarding the past and future evolution of democracy?  Shultziner writes that he has presented a causal theory of democratic transitions.

The transitions of the 20th century cannot be fully understood without reference to the evolutionary forces that shaped the human mind and human societies. Evolutionary forces are pulling and shaping human societies toward more egalitarian structures, which are consistent with the way human beings lived through most of their evolutionary history. The engine of the generic historical course of democratization is the pursuit of recognition. There is no “gene for democracy” in human beings, but there are predispositions to pursue recognition and refrain from low self-esteem which are more easily satisfied in democracies. Despotic and other nondemocratic regime most often inflict a sense of low self-esteem in their citizens because of their hierarchical, brute or paternalistic character. Eventually, nondemocratic regimes violate people’s innate predisposition to pursue and maintain positive self-esteem. Democratic regimes can also fail due to environmental reasons. But the difference is that if democracy fails, it is not because of its character; democracy may fail in spite of its character.

The other part of the explanation pertains to exogenous factors. While the pursuit of recognition gives the overall direction of this historical course toward democracy, environmental factors determine the timing of democratic transitions, the setbacks from democracy, and the various shapes democracy takes. Environmental factors alone, however, are not causes of democratic transition. Only through the interaction of exogenous factors with human nature can transitions to democracy and social change in general be understood.

I also have claimed that the pursuit of recognition does not yield a unidirectional process toward democracy. Environmental factors may cause setbacks from democracy such as an economic crisis, military coup or a strong cultural influence. These exogenous factors can forestall or delay democratic transitions, but they cannot stop them from happening in an evolutionary perspective.

Evolutionary Mechanisms in the Development of Democracy

Shultziner describes two processes by which democracy evolves, viz., (1) Trial and Error and (2) Conscious Intention.

The process of trial and error reveals that some social structures are simply less successful than others. Democracies can reemerge just as nondemocracies do, but the probability of democracies to endure is much higher than nondemocracies because democracy’s building blocks of equality and freedom can pacify people’s pursuit of recognition, whilst nondemocratic logic (if there is such) cannot.

The process of trial and error eliminates nondemocratic forms because of the gradual rejection of what dissatisfies human beings [citation in original].  Those who experienced tyranny fought for the essential things they did not have from their previous regimes, basic freedoms and recognition [citation in original].  As Isaiah Berlin so vividly put it, “What I may seek to avoid is simply being ignored, or patronised, or despised, or being taken too much for granted — in short […] having my uniqueness insufficiently recognised” [citation and emphasis added in original). Primarily in this way, through trial and error, democracy gradually attained its 20th century character. Social structures and policies that satisfy recognition last; those that do not, gradually disappear….

Democracy can [also] come about in conscious and intended ways as well. Human beings are fast learners and, combined with the advanced communications and the accumulation of knowledge in the 20th century, people do not start a process of trial and error anew each time [citation in original]. Those who protested against the communist regimes in east Europe, for example, could witness and were influenced by an attractive alternative on the west side of the Berlin wall. The grass in the neighbor’s garden is indeed objectively greener for some people. This is an important environmental factor with a twofold [sic, threefold?] dimension. First, it becomes a direct measure for people to evaluate their own regimes. Nondemocratic regimes have a limited capacity to prevent their citizens from knowing about the benefits of living in a proper functioning democratic state. People who do not enjoy basic freedoms and rights may be stimulated to demand these benefits after comparing their regimes with a proper democratic regime. Secondly, the measure can easily, but not necessarily, become a standard by which institutions could be shaped or modified. Strike examples are the influence of the American Revolution on the French Revolution, the Philippines where democratic institutions were profoundly shaped by American standards, Japan after World War II where democracy was first imposed but then accepted by the people, and Eastern European countries in the late 1980’s. In other words, existing democracies can become measures and standards for citizens of other countries. This is a powerful environmental incentive for the fast expansion of democracies and freedoms. Thirdly, in the realm of ideology, no serious ideological alternative to democracy exists any more. Real criticisms of democracy are mostly restricted to ancient political philosophy. Current criticisms of democracy are actually calls for a different type of balance between equality and freedom or modifications inside liberal democracy; they are not truly posed as alternatives to democracy [citation in original]. 

One of the calls “for a different balance between equality and freedom” is represented by the work of Professor James Fiskin at the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University.  Fiskin has promoted a process called “Deliberative Polling®” which  has been carried out in venues across the world with intriguing results.

Deliberative Democracy and Deliberative Polling®

In a paper entitled, “Deliberative Polling®: Toward a Better-Informed Democracy,” we read:

Citizens are often uninformed about key public issues. Conventional polls represent the public’s surface impressions of sound bites and headlines. The public, subject to what social scientists have called “rational ignorance,” has little reason to confront trade-offs or invest time and effort in acquiring information or coming to a considered judgment….

Deliberative Polling® is an attempt to use television and public opinion research in a new and constructive way. A random, representative sample is first polled on the targeted issues. After this baseline poll, members of the sample are invited to gather at a single place for a weekend in order to discuss the issues. Carefully balanced briefing materials are sent to the participants and are also made publicly available. The participants engage in dialogue with competing experts and political leaders based on questions they develop in small group discussions with trained moderators. Parts of the weekend events are broadcast on television, either live or in taped and edited form. After the deliberations, the sample is again asked the original questions. The resulting changes in opinion represent the conclusions the public would reach, if people had opportunity to become more informed and more engaged by the issues….It is a social science experiment and a form of public education in the broadest sense.

Each Deliberative Polling® “experiment” gathers:

…a highly representative sample together at a single place….The result is a poll with a human face. The process has the statistical representativeness of a scientific sample but it also has the concreteness and immediacy of a focus group or a discussion group. Taped and edited accounts of the small group discussions provide an opportunity for the public to reframe the issues in terms that connect with ordinary people.

The weekend samples have typically ranged in size from approximately 200 in the utility polls to a high of 466 at the 1996 National Issues Convention. The process provides the data to evaluate both the representativeness of each microcosm and the statistical significance of the changes in opinion.

Each Deliberative Poll has resulted in “dramatic, statistically significant changes in views” as the participants become more informed.

Conclusion

Shultziner, thus, concludes that:

…there is a unifying factor behind previous transitions to democracy and contemporary transitions. Ancient democracies are not “noises” we can ignore; they are forerunners of a much wider and deeper phenomenon. Indeed, earlier forms of democracy do not make much sense in light of current theories of transitions to democracy; they do make perfect sense in light of an evolutionary process in which democracy gradually progressed to its 20th century form.

He goes on to say:

The theory I have outlined in this paper attempts to bridge the gap between the environment and human nature. The casual factor I have proposed, however, is not a simple independent or constant factor. Behavior and other phenotypic traits stem from interplay between genetic and environmental factors. The pursuit of recognition is no exception. The pursuit of recognition can be influenced by environmental factors, including culture, but the pursuit of recognition also pulls in a general direction towards more egalitarian structures that are more congenial to people’s positive self-esteem.

Those who are interested in pursuing Shultziner’s thinking further will find that a new, recently published book is now available.  An abstract of this work entitled:  Struggling for Recognition: The Psychological Impetus for Democratic Change can be found here.

So, knowing from whence we have come, can we now get some inkling of where we are heading?  The movement noted by Shultziner toward “a different balance between equality and freedom” reflects, I think, the natural process of achieving a balance between the “self-assertive tendency” and the “self-transcending tendency,” described by Arthur Koestler, that manifests through throughout our planetary existence, although I would prefer to speak not of “equality” but of, perhaps, “social conscience.”  Nonetheless, this process is, seemingly, a harbinger of the “synergistic democracy” (synocracy) of the future heralded by Barbara Marx Hubbard and mentioned in the first post on this blog.

To conclude, I now return the recent book written by Professor John Keane discussed in Part I of this essay.  In a related paper, he gives the following description of “monitory democracy” as “a new historical  type  of democracy…defined by the rapid growth of many different kinds of extra-parliamentary, power-scrutinising mechanisms.”  He writes:

There  is  a  need  for  a  fundamental  revision  of  the  way  we  think  about democracy in our times. An epochal transformation has been taking place in the contours and dynamics of representative democracy. From roughly the mid-twentieth  century  representative democracy  began  to morph  into  a new historical form of ‘post-representative’ democracy. The fundamental implications of this  change  for democracy  in  the  coming years need  to  be  explored. The ‘end  of history’ perspectives and maritime metaphors are too limited to grasp the epochal change – too bound to the surface of things, too preoccupied with continuities and aggregate  data  to  notice  that  political  tides  have  begun  to  run in entirely new directions. 

My claim is that our world is now living through an historic sea change, one that is taking us away from the old world of representative democracy towards a form of democracy  with  entirely  different  contours  and  dynamics.  In media- saturated societies which bristle with communicative abundance – questions about the causes and  causers  of  this  new  historical  form  of  democracy,  its  advantages  and disadvantages, have fundamental implications for media and politics, and profound implications for how we think about and practise democracy and journalism in the coming decades.

It is hard to find an elegant name for the emergent form of democracy, let alone to describe and explain in a few words its workings and political implications. The strange-sounding term ‘monitory democracy’ is the most  exact  for describing  the great transformation that is taking hold in regions like Europe and South Asia and in countries otherwise as different as the United States, Japan, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand [citation in original]. 

My opening  conjecture  is  that monitory democracy  is a new historical  type  of democracy, a variety of ‘post- Westminster’ politics defined by the rapid growth of many different kinds of extra-parliamentary, power-scrutinising mechanisms. These monitory  bodies  take  root  within  the  ‘domestic’  fields  of  government  and  civil society, as well as in cross-border settings.  In consequence, the whole architecture of self-government  is  changing.  The  central  grip  of  elections,  political  parties  and parliaments  on  the  lives  of  citizens  is  weakening.  Democracy  is  coming  to mean more than elections, although nothing less. Within and outside states, independent monitors of power begin to have tangible effects. By putting politicians, parties and elected governments permanently on their toes, they complicate their lives, question their authority and force them to change their agendas….

Thus, to conclude this rather lengthy series of posts on the topic of “Evolution of Democracy,” I shall propose a challenge.  And, that challenge is to think very seriously about the way in which our political process is floundering on the shoals of divisiveness in which the whole affair becomes something more akin to the Super Bowl of politics where we choose sides, sit in our respective bleachers, and scream insults at the other side across the playing field.  While we are, thus, “entertaining ourselves,” or probably more accurately, “being entertained,” those who promoted the contest are raking in the profits and planning more contests in the future to keep the partisan fans distracted from their attempts to undermine the natural progression of humankind toward a balance of self and other, i.e., freedom and social conscience.

Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | December 5, 2009

Evolution of Democracy, Part V

In Part IV of this essay, I reviewed Shultziner’s conceptualization of self-esteem, as manifested in the pursuit of recognition, and specifically as it relates to the development of democratic governance.  One point that I did not consider concerns the question as to whether self-esteem is a concept that only pertains to Western societies.  Shultziner has this to say about the issue.

Pursuit of self-esteem can take on different avenues pending on cultural influence. Western societies define self-esteem more on individualistic traits than Eastern societies. This difference has led some to propose that eastern societies, like the Japanese society, do not pursue self-esteem and that self-esteem is strictly a Western cultural construct [citation in original]. However, as Sedikides, Gaertner and Toguchi [citation in original] have shown in a comparative research between Japanese and American cultures, “People in all cultures strive to maintain and achieve positive self-regard.  Humans use different tactics to do so, but their goal remains the same. In a similar vein, both individualistic and collectivistic cultures permit self-enhancement, but they do so through different norms.” Indeed, it was found that also hunter-gatherers hunt to ‘show off’ and gain prestige and recognition in various ways [citations in original].

It appears, judging from the research review by Shultziner and summarized in the preceding installment of this essay, that the pursuit of recognition is a a universal, human trait that appears to serve a fundamental self-enhancing motive.  The question then arises as to what extent there may be evidence that this trait is wired-in or given at birth.  I shall now consider Shultziner’s review of genetic research on self esteem and the pursuit of recognition.

The Pursuit of Recognition and Genetic Research

Shultziner reviews research comparing identical and fraternal twins on measures of self esteem.  He reports on one set of studies that compared the influence of shared and non-shared environments on levels of self-esteem in identical (MZ) and fraternal (DZ) twins.  He writes:

[T]he findings show that “MZ twins manifested greater similarity (correlations between 0.46 and 0.67) than did DZ twins…” and “approximately 50% of the variance […] was attributable to genetic factors” [citation in original]. Moreover, the overall pattern of the studies reported [by Neiss, et al (citation in original)] suggests “that shared environmental effects on self-esteem are minimal” while non-shared environmental influences account for most variance. These findings mean, for example, that non-identical twins will have different levels of self-esteem although they are influenced by the same environment, because their different genetic makeup mediates (through different interpretations and perceptions) their level of self-esteem [Emphasis added].

In additional studies, [Neiss, et al , in press] explored the relations between the level of self-esteem (i.e. high or low), stability of self-esteem (namely, the degree of fluctuations in one’s self-esteem level) and genetic factors. One research examined 183 adolescent twin siblings’ level and stability of self-esteem with regard to both environmental and genetic factors. Once again, shared environments were not significant in explaining self-esteem, however genetic and non-shared environmental factor were significant. These studies show that environments have important influence over one’s self-esteem properties. However, these studies reveal that the environment is not the sole factor. The inherited genetic factor explains considerable variance of one’s level and stability of self-esteem. Under the same environmental conditions genetic differences produce different levels of self-esteem. This, for instance, means that properties of self-esteem–i.e. level, stability and the degree one needs to pursue positive self-esteem–are influenced by genetic composition and are not a matter of environmental influence alone [Emphasis added].  The implications of [the research of Neiss, et al, 2002]…are quite clear. Almost all theorists of self-esteem agree that in actual fact people do pursue positive self-esteem in various ways, to different degrees and in healthy and unhealthy ways. Given this fact, and combined with the recent findings that flesh out the genetic factor that influences properties of self-esteem, it is, I believe, safe to conclude that the pursuit of recognition itself is inherent to our biology [Emphasis added]. If properties of self-esteem are partly determined by our genes, then it is quite clear that the pursuit of recognition itself is also genetically determined given the fact that the phenomenon is so widespread among the population [citations in original]. 

Shultziner concludes that our genes determine not simply “the level and stability of self-esteem” but they also determine “the motivation to gain positive self-esteem, namely to pursue and to gain recognition.”  Thus the pursuit of recognition  “is part and parcel of our biological makeup as well” [Emphasis added].

Two Historical Avenues to Modern Democracy

So, how did the presumed wired-in tendencies for egalitarian social structure and the pursuit of recognition interact to produce the movement in the direction of the democratic forms of governance that exist today?

Shultziner writes:

Human beings were democratizing their regimes even before they knew what democracy or procedural definitions of democracy were. Throughout the centuries human beings were revolting and replacing regimes because they were dissatisfied with the way their regimes and rulers treated them, and with the demeaning condition of their existence. The failure of leadership to provide apt conditions of existence and to recognize and respect the populace led to legitimacy erosion, to widespread unrest, and to the overthrow of regimes. This does not mean, however, that every unrest or dissatisfaction necessarily led to democracy. In many instances in the 20thcentury and before, widespread unrest led to other nondemocratic regimes. The arrival at democratic regimes, thus, can be roughly divided into two avenues. The first type of transition is through trial and error, and the second pertains to the intentional aim of setting up a democracy [Emphasis added].

Shultziner explains the difference.

The process of trial and error is best illustrated in the unfortunate historical periods of humankind. Since the Neolithic era, human beings tried various regimes: empires, kingdoms, feudalism, communism, Nazism and fascism, military regimes, etc. Human beings created the most horrendous and despotic forms of government and social organization this planet has ever seen. None of these forms of government and social structures stood the test of history, because, as Fukuyama (1992) argued [citation in original], they all contained an inherent contradiction that led to their downfall. These regimes were based on brute force, paternalism or distinct social hierarchies, all of which entailed social practices and structure that denied recognition from significant segments of the population. The factor of the pursuit of recognition has been selecting these forms of social (or anti-social) structures as inapt to human nature.

The process of trial and error eliminates nondemocratic forms because of the gradual rejection of what dissatisfies human beings [citation in original].  Those who experienced tyranny fought for the essential things they did not have from their previous regimes, basic freedoms and recognition [citation in original].  As Isaiah Berlin so vividly put it, “What I may seek to avoid is simply being ignored, or patronised, or despised, or being taken too much for granted–in short […] having my uniqueness insufficiently recognised…” [citation in original].  Primarily in this way, through trial and error, democracy gradually attained its 20th century character. Social structures and policies that satisfy recognition last; those that do not, gradually disappear [Emphasis added].

Democracies also develop, according to Shultziner, as a result of conscious intention.

Democracy can come about in conscious and intended ways as well. Human beings are fast learners and, combined with the advanced communications and the accumulation of knowledge in the 20th century, people do not start a process of trial and error anew each time [citation in original].  Those who protested against the communist regimes in east Europe, for example, could witness and were influenced by an attractive alternative on the west side of the Berlin wall. The grass in the neighbor’s garden is indeed objectively greener for some people. This is an important environmental factor with a twofold dimension [sic? — three dimensions are later described]. First, it becomes a direct measure for people to evaluate their own regimes. Nondemocratic regimes have a limited capacity to prevent their citizens from knowing about the benefits of living in a proper functioning democratic state. People who do not enjoy basic freedoms and rights may be stimulated to demand these benefits after comparing their regimes with a proper democratic regime.

Secondly, the measure can easily, but not necessarily, become a standard by which institutions could be shaped or modified. Strike examples are the influence of the American Revolution on the French Revolution, the Philippines where democratic institutions were profoundly shaped by American standards, Japan after World War II where democracy was first imposed but then accepted by the people, and Eastern European countries in the late 1980’s. In other words, existing democracies can become measures and standards for citizens of other countries. This is a powerful environmental incentive for the fast expansion of democracies and freedoms.

Thirdly, in the realm of ideology, no serious ideological alternative to democracy exists any more. Real criticisms of democracy are mostly restricted to ancient political philosophy. Current criticisms of democracy are actually calls for a different type of balance between equality and freedom or modifications inside liberal democracy; they are not truly posed as alternatives to democracy [citation in original].  In fact, no real alternatives to democracy are even part of the international parlance. Regimes (even nondemocratic ones) speak and justify their rule in the language of democracy [citation in original]. In other words, democracy has gained ideological and moral supremacy and has become the only viable option for an intentional regime change or reform [Emphasis added].

In the final installment of this essay, I shall summarize the work of Shultziner discussed previously and the conclusions which he and I draw.

Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | December 4, 2009

Evolution of Democracy, Part IV

In the first three parts of this essay, I discussed the nature of social organization in Paleolithic hunter-gatherer groups and how environmental changes and the increase in group size affected social structure and governance in the Neolithic Age and beyond.    As social groups increased in size, social regulation changed from egalitarian, participatory “governance,” which kept the power of leaders in check, to situations in which “leveling down mechanisms” could no longer prevent power from being concentrated in the hands of an elite leader or leaders.

In modern times, as Shultziner points out:

Democratic mass elections are modern forms of a leveling-down mechanism by which unsatisfied rank and file can replace their leaders. Elections also reflect a social mechanism of reaching a consensus similar to the ones in foraging bands. And, elections are an acknowledgment in the importance of legitimacy. Almost all regimes in the world today employ elections or referendums in order to exhibit popular consent to their rule. Authoritarian and non-liberal regimes are no exception. Iran, for instance, is far from being a liberal democracy for ultimate political power is vested with an unelected religious clique; yet, elections are being held in Iran and real competition between parties and ideas exists. Interestingly, 120 out of 192 countries held democratic elections in 2000. This implies that the heritage of ancient egalitarianism is very strong and it shapes social practices and institutions not in liberal democracies alone.

Thus, we may legitimately ask: If egalitarianism has been bred into humankind, then what is the future of “participatory democracy?” What form will it take as the 21st century proceeds at literally breakneck speed to a political destiny only dimly perceived?  The exponential development of technology, with its potential for connecting every member of the human race, is arguably the key factor that will determine the future of governance in a global society.  We may ask with some degree of trepidation:  Will democracy devolve into a “One World Government” run by a small oligarchy?  Or will it evolve into a new synergistic form of governance, quite unlike the old, grammar school type of majority-rule democracy, i.e., a “World Governance” that is not under the control of a few, but operates within a nexus of a multiplicity of interdependent groups or organizations all linked for a common purpose.  To decide between these alternative scenarios, we need first to examine the difference between “government” and “governance.”  Then, perhaps, we can see more clearly in what direction the planetary society appears to be hurtling.

The Difference Between Government and Governance

 I shall use the term, “governance” essentially in the sense described by Elizabeth Meehan in a paper (2003) entitled, “From Government to Governance, Civic Participation and ‘New Politics’: The Context of Potential Opportunities for the Better Representation of Women.”  Meehan, an Irish writer from Belfast,  asks rhetorically, “What is governance?”  and, then, and attempts to answer this question.

The notion is hard to pin down, but it does seem accepted that a number of forces have converged so as to change the nature of what it means to govern: forces such as globalization…Europeanization…pressures on the traditional welfare state, and new political cultures in which traditional methods of delivering the services of the welfare state are no longer regarded as ‘empowering’. It is also accepted that there is a discernible difference between government and governance. This is not to say that governance is displacing government; merely that the two forms of activity coexist [Emphasis added].

Analysts of governance focus on a range of new arrangements and practices. These include the fragmentation or sharing of public power amongst different tiers of regulation such as the European Union (EU), state governments and sub-state governments. Secondly, they point to other arrangements encouraging policies to be formulated and implemented away from the centre; the ‘hollowing out’ of the state through the ‘agentization’ of government and the privatization of the provision of utilities and services [citation in original]. Thirdly, analysts note an increasing reliance on partnerships, networks and novel forms of consultation or dialogue that are at the heart of ‘Third Way’ thinking about policy design and delivery.

Governance is usually defined by contrasting it with what is thought of as the traditional pattern of public power in which authority is centralized and exercised hierarchically [or, pyramidally (Editor)]often called the ‘command and control’ model [Emphasis added].  Here, Prime Ministers dominate other ministers, ministers dominate civil servants, and central government dominates local government [citation in original].

Conversely, analysts of governance [see]…power as dispersed and relational and argue that governance arises from a lack of capacity on the part of governments, acting alone, to effect desired changes. Instead, public power manifests itself through increasingly blurred boundaries between different tiers of government, the public and private, and between the state and civil society….[According to this view] it cannot now be taken for granted that the loci of effective political power are national governments.  Instead, ‘effective power is shared, bartered and struggled over by diverse forces and agencies at national, regional and global levels’. It is being ‘repositioned’ and, to some extent, ‘transformed by the growing importance of other less territorially based power systems’.

Meehan goes on to make a very important point.

…it should be noted that one classical view of civil society is that it is epitomized by self-organizing networks that are independent of government–sometimes even a countervailing force (McLaverty, 2002: 304). Other analysts of civil society see it and the state as interactive, with disputed implications for democracy [Emphasis added].

Thus, according to Meehan, the idea of “governing” changes from…

…acting through vertical chains of command and accountability in a hierarchy of institutions to becom[ing] a facilitator or regulator of what goes on in [society]… in order to try to solve problems [Emphasis added]. Governance means ‘collective problem solving in the public realm’ [citations in original].

In my view, the distinction between “government” and “governance” boils down to the fact that “government” typically is used to refer to a “State,” i.e., a “what.”  In contrast, “governance” refers to a process of social organization and control, i.e., a “how.”  Thus, it should be rather obvious that one can have governance in a social group without the necessity for there being a State (government).  Thus “governance” refers to a general process, whereas “government” refers to the implementation of a specific kind of process by a State.  In this sense, to govern, then, is to organize and control social activities, be they within the jurisdiction of a State or within the purview of a company or other non-governmental organization.

Meehan cites several authors in explicating how the terms “governance” and “government” differ.   To make her points clear in the context of the foregoing definitions which I offered, I shall refer to the specific process of a State as “governing” and the process of non-state organizations as “governance.” 

What, then, characterizes the role of the State in governing?  The State is construed to be the ultimate “Authority” within a geographical region.  Stefan Molyneux defines a government (State) as “a group of individuals within a geographical area who retain the monopolistic, moral and legal right to initiate force.”  Alternatively, what characterizes the role of non-State organizations in governance?  Non-governmental organizations tend more likely than not to be concerned with activation, regulation, or facilitation of social activities.

With regard to dominant mode of functioning, “governing” is characterized by the pursuit of a common, state-defined, “national interest.”  In contrast, “governance” is concerned with coordinating and harmonizing the varied interests of group members.

What are the primary patterns of interaction under the governing mode and the governance mode?  The former is characterized by a “command and control,” and in most States today, it is based on majority rule.  The latter depends on multilateral negotiations to develop policies.

 Individuality and its Relationship to the Whole

We may justifiably ask: If egalitarianism is wired-in at birth as a result of evolutionary processes operating over millions of years, why then did we as a species develop into societies that so frequently have gone to war and have been governed by strong, dominant leaders who often dictate policy for members of their social or national groups?  I suggest that an answer may lie in the apparent parallelism between the development of the psychological organization of the individual  (individuation) and the development of the social organization of groups of individuals.  In addition to egalitarian tendencies within groups, there appears to be a strong evolutionary push toward individuality that competes with the purposes of social groups.

The human newborn is, ostensibly, without any sense of individuality.  For quite a long time after birth, the infant remains connected with the mother by “a psychological umbilical cord,” immersed in what psychologists call “psychological symbiosis.” Erich Fromm has written brilliantly about the individuation process that occurs as the child eventually begins to sense, as her brain develops, that she is separate from her mother.  This is a world shaking realization, which we see routinely manifested in what has come to be known as the “terrible twos” when the child says, “No” to everything.  She has learned that this little word has enormous power in manipulating her world.  She can get all kinds of interesting reactions from adults around her when she voices her “No.”  

However, as Fromm astutely observes, this burgeoning sense of separateness can also be very terrifying to some children and there is a desire to return to that symbiotic oneness with the mother.  Fromm says there is an urge to “Escape from Freedom,” which is the title of his marvelous and most famous book written in 1941.  The child can pursue a number of avenues or “mechanisms of escape,” including automaton conformity and sado-masochism.  Both of these two mechanisms can lead to the development of a tendency to submit to the dictates of an authoritarian leader. 

However, I would suggest that separateness and individuality are only frightening because Fromm is talking about a child growing up in a society in which the extended family of early humankind has almost disappeared in favor of the modern, nuclear family with all of its inherent social isolation and lack of support. 

It would seem that a child born into an early, egalitarian, hunter-gatherer group of 25 members, or so, probably did not go through such individuation, that is to say, if Julian Jaynes is correct.  Jaynes argues that the capacity for individual self consciousness did not exist at that time.   Individuality was, ostensibly, unnecessary, in fact, it was counterproductive to the group purpose of insuring survival.  Yet, as we observe the development of early humankind, we see an inexorable march toward individuality and all of the resulting conflicts between strong individuals competing for dominance. 

We see the same development in societies as we do in individuals.  The individual starts out submerged in a larger whole, then develops individuality, and if he reconnects with the larger whole in a positive way instead of escaping from his freedom, then individuality becomes integrated as part of the larger whole of society.  Likewise, groups started out with all members participating in the social order with more or less equal access.  Later, with the development of strong leadership in tribes and then nation states, the individual escaped from the freedom of individuality into submission to authority.  Now, in the 21st century, we are seeing a process developing on a global scale which appears to be quite similar to the positive reconnection of the individual with the larger whole of his society.  All over the world, we see groups of people attempting to integrate themselves within a global whole.  Some fear this as a potential return to the autocratic horrors of the past.  Others see an entire new and promising vista.  How we resolve the pessimistic and the optimistic views will be crucial in determining the future.  But, it appears to me that Life is impelling us in the direction of a new cooperativeness and interconnection, not to a development of the mega-authoritarianism of Orwell’s “Big Brother.”  However, the question remains whether the evolution of humankind will get shunted off the main path into an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

There is another perspective to consider which may shed some light on the development of individuality and its exaggerated perversion in the 20th century domination of the masses that occurred on a grander scale than in all of recorded history.  This different slant is to be found in the role of the human need for “recognition” as discussed by Shultziner. 

A Human Need for Recognition?

Shultziner points out that it is import to look beyond exogenous (environmental) factors in order to understand how democratic forms of government came into being.  He calls attention to the endogenous (psychobiological) factors which are involved in the development of democratic governance.

Transitions to democracy, modern and ancient, are not a result of environmental factors alone. A change in environmental conditions would not lead to the replacement of regimes, and leveling-down mechanisms would not lead to more egalitarian social structures, if human beings were not predisposed to react to environments in certain ways.

He goes on to say:

It is clear, then, that we must examine human nature (or endogenous factors) to seek a candidate for a psychological adaptive predisposition which can illuminate the generic historical course toward democracy. Democracies did not “just happen” in different places and at different times; something brought them into being. To my understanding, the proximate underlying factor which gives history its generic (sic) course is the psychological predisposition of the pursuit of recognition [Emphasis added].

Is there a human need for recognition that is just as strongly wired-in at birth as the egalitarian tendency that characterizes groups?  If so, then this would seem to be a outgrowth of the tendency toward individuation and a convenient measure of the tendency toward self assertion.  What do social psychological and genetic research have to say on this issue?

Democracy and the Striving for Recognition

To provide a foundation for his theory of the development of democracy, Shultziner links the striving for “recognition” to the social psychological research on self esteem.

Pursuit of positive self-esteem is a psychological motivation to achieve, maintain or defend one’s positive evaluation of oneself, a motivation not to lose a sense of positive self-worth. The motivation to achieve positive self-esteem is crystallized through acts that are meant to attain and maintain recognition from others. This main characteristic of the self-esteem phenomenon can be referred to as a search, a quest, or a pursuit of recognition [Emphasis added]….The level of self-esteem is defined by the contingencies [rewarding events] one subjectively deems as important to one’s life and not by objective criteria [citations in original].  In that sense, contingencies of self-esteem are not constant: they can, and usually do, change or alternate in their importance in the course of one’s life.

Some people’s contingencies [rewarding events]  for positive self-esteem are in individualistic terms such as successes in academic competence, athletics, physical appearance, god’s love, power and self-reliance [citation in original]; others’ self-esteem may depend on political and communitarian aspects such as adhering to community values for reasons of social acceptance, fulfilling and promulgating personal moral convictions, or pursuing public apology for recognition in perceived historical wrongs. People’s contingencies of self-esteem [rewarding events]  may vary but the psychological phenomenon itself is universal [citation in original]. The implications of these characteristics of self-esteem to politics are significant. People may define the way their regime treats them as a contingency[rewarding event]  of self-esteem. People may admire their royalties, kingships or religious sages (as people still do in many parts of the world) and regard their existence as important to their positive self-esteem; or, people may come to perceive certain regimes as despotic and detrimental to their positive self-esteem like they have in the past. Despotic regimes, however, cannot easily convince their populace that they are not despotic. And, once a regime is perceived as despotic (regardless of how enlightened it intends to be) it will be regarded as an obstacle to one’s positive self-esteem or even as an outright humiliation to one’s worth and dignity. This psychological predisposition to regain and defend positive self-esteem will motivate people to limit or dethrone the despotic regime by employing leveling-down mechanisms such as protests, elections or violent revolutions [citation in original].

Regimes around the world, democratic and non-democratic, are aware of the salience of being perceived as recognizing and respecting their citizens, and hence most regimes make an effort to be seen as speaking in the ‘name of the people’, as elected by the people, or at least as not disrespecting the worth and dignity of their populace. Citizens, on the other hand, can be quite sensitive to the way their regime treats them or to the policies their regime implements. Certain policies may be seen as lacking recognition or as misrecognizing people’s worth.

Shultziner proceeds to “present evidence to support the claim that the pursuit of recognition is a universal and central characteristic of human nature” and that “that perceptions of recognition or non-recognition shape politics.”

Self-esteem and pursuit of recognition are the most studied phenomena in social psychology. Although disagreements among contemporary theorists who specialize in the self-esteem phenomenon exist, one agreed fact does seem salient: almost all scholars agree that the pursuit of recognition is a pervasive characteristic of human behavior. Even those who content [sic – contest] the idea that pursuit of positive self-esteem is a psychological need and those who object that the pursuit of recognition is positive and healthy admit that in actual fact people do constantly pursue positive self-esteem in various ways, to various degrees and in healthy and unhealthy ways [citations in original].  Moreover, there is an agreement among social psychologists that positive self-esteem is a useful buffer against anxiety and that it brings about many other psychological benefits to the individual, and that the pursuit of recognition is a concept with useful explanatory power [citations in original].

What is undecided among students of self-esteem, though, is not if people pursue recognition, but rather why people do and whether the pursuit of positive self esteem is a universal human need, and whether it is a healthy pursuit or not [citation in original].

Shultziner goes on to say, regarding the human pursuit of recognition:

The universality of this phenomenon and its unique manifestations in different cultures have already been documented in a number of studies [citations in original].  Peculiarly then, social psychologists debate the theoretical origins of this phenomenon and not whether the pursuit of recognition is empirically a central behavioral characteristic of human beings.

In Part V of this essay, I shall discuss Shultziner’s review of evidence from genetic research and self-esteem and how these data illuminate “the innateness of the pursuit of recognition in an even more decisive way.”  Then, in the final installment (Part VI), I shall sum up the argument for an evolutionary perspective of the development of modern forms of democracy, including representative democracy as institutionalized in the U.S. Constitution.

Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | November 29, 2009

Evolution of Democracy, Part III

The Nature of Paleolithic Egalitarian Groups

In Part II of my essay, “Evolution of Democracy,” I discussed Dr. Doron Shultziner’s evolutionary thesis regarding the development of modern-day “liberal democracy.”  In this part, I shall look at Shultziner’s conceptualization of the way in which Paleolithic, egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups emerged and maintained their structure and functioning over thousands of years and how the mechanisms that developed were bequeathed to the democracies of the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Human societies in the Paleolithic era were quite small.  According to Shultziner

The number of people in a foraging band did not usually exceed a few dozen. In these small nomad bands the acquaintance with other people was very close due to group size. Christopher Boehm [citation in original] says that these were “societies of equals, with minimal political centralization and no social classes. Everyone participated in group decisions, and outside the family there were no dominators.” Even after several thousand years of sedentary influence, only very few nonegalitarian foraging societies exist [citation in original].  In fact, social mechanisms that maintain the egalitarian structures are so intricate and culturally sophisticated that Boehm argues that these groups created “reversed hierarchies”, meaning, leaders are actually dominated by the rank and file and not vice versa.  The egalitarian structure was, and still is, accomplished by sophisticated social mechanisms that are known as leveling-down mechanisms.

Such “leveling-down mechanisms” are in Shultziner’s words

…social practices which are aimed at controlling over-assertive individuals from boasting their success and traits (e.g. in hunting) and at containing leaders from exploiting their position….

Leadership is necessary for…internal conflict resolution, for religious and healing roles, and for decision making in times of war and peace. Leveling-down mechanisms, thus, do not reverse the hierarchy between a leader and his group; the mechanisms simply keep the social structure as close to flattened as possible. Leaders are restricted and checked as not to extend their powers beyond what is necessary by the circumstances [citation in original]….

If a leader or a would-be-chief tries to dominate other group members or misuse his leadership role, group members may tell him that he makes them laugh (ridicule tactic), they may walk away, disobey or simply ignore him. Other tactics are to remove, ostracize or expel an over-assertive individual from the group, and, in extreme cases, execution is also an option (different groups exercise different techniques, see [citations in original])….

…Sometimes, leaders might succeed in exploiting their roles and gain more power. In most cases, though, initial intentions of leaders to overstep their authority are quickly identified and prevented by group members, even before an explicit exclamation needs to be made. Boehm [citation in original] posits that many anthropologists probably were unable to observe the tacit conflict between leaders and group members because hunter-gatherers are very skillful in identifying over-ambitious leaders and keeping them checked and restricted.  Identifying these implicit yet meaningful social subtleties are aided by living in a small group whose members can more easily communicate and contain their leaders.

The benefits of individuals who resist and restrain a dominant leader are clear. Individuals are better off sharing some power than not having any power at all. This ancient type of behavior is already manifested in “chimpanzees’ politics” where lower-ranking males form coalitions in order to dethrone a single alpha male, and then share power together [citation in original].  This ability has probably evolved gradually and become more sophisticated. Each group member benefits from good leadership but not from a despotic one. Not each individual, however, is capable of facing a powerful over-assertive leader alone. Hence, the shared interests of group members, to improve their own positions while upholding their autonomy, are completely consistent with the egalitarian outcome: each individual behaves in a way that maximizes one’s position and the outcome is egalitarian nevertheless.

Changes in Egalitarian Forager Groups in the Neolithic Era

Shultziner painstakingly describes how changes resulting from the invention of agriculture correspondingly changed small, forager societies to larger, tribal communities and subsequently to civilizations and empires.

Before the invention of agriculture and the beginning of the Neolithic era, groups were of a limited size. Groups could not have grown too big mainly because resources were usually scarce or insufficient to maintain a big group of foragers, who seasonally consume the resources in their proximity and move on to a new area, and because bigger groups required harder work to sustain (e.g. for food supply) and entailed more conflicts [citations in original].

After the Neolithic era has begun, small egalitarian forager groups settled down and started cultivating plants and animals for subsistence. Boehm defines these societies as tribesmen and says that “they have continued the political approach of hunter-gatherers under radically different ecological circumstances” [citation in original]. Tribesmen persisted with their denial of strong authoritative leadership and prevented it from developing. As a consequence they were “prone to raiding, feuding, and territorial warfare” and they were pushed into forming intertribal coalitions [citation in original]. The transition from a confederation of tribes to chiefdoms and kingdoms was accelerated by the competition between tribes and confederation of tribes, and this eventually gave rise to a strong and powerful central authority. Indeed, some of these chiefdoms and kingdoms eventually became the kernels of the first civilizations [citation in original].

The transition to sedentary life had a tremendous impact on other factors, such as the growing number of group members, and the ability to have an intimate knowledge of, and communicate with, all group members. The transition from the Paleolithic era to the Neolithic era entailed far reaching changes in environmental conditions: social, institutional, technological and cultural. These changes resulted in a reduced capacity to effectively control and contain leaders and over-assertive individuals. The new environmental conditions impaired the effective and subtle communication of small groups, the usefulness of leveling-down mechanisms, and eventually enabled group leaders to enhance their powers over the group [Emphasis added].

Thus, it is clear that environmental changes that brought about the transition from the Paleolithic Era to the Neolithic Era imposed strong pressures on the social organization of hunter-gatherer groups.  However, the important question is:  Did these changes produce evolutionary changes in the human psyche and its longstanding preference for egalitarian social organization?

Persisting Preference for Egalitarian Social Structure

Shultiziner suggests that the ten millenia that have elapsed since the Neolithic era have not transformed “the innate physiological and psychological sets of human beings, which were shaped when human beings lived in small egalitarian societies.”  He argues that this period is “far too short in evolutionary terms to create any substantial changes.”  He cites the work of  Leda Cosmides and John Tooby [citation in original], two pioneers of evolutionary psychology, in support of his argument.

The environment that humans–and, therefore, human minds–evolved in was very different from our modern environment. Our ancestors spent well over 99% of our species’ evolutionary history living in hunter-gatherer societies. That means that our forebearers lived in small, nomadic bands of a few dozen individuals who got all of their food each day by gathering plants or by hunting animals. Each of our ancestors was, in effect, on a camping trip that lasted an entire lifetime, and this way of life endured for most of the last 10 million years.

Generation after generation, for 10 million years, natural selection slowly sculpted the human brain, favoring circuitry that was good at solving the day-to-day problems of our hunter-gatherer ancestors — problems like finding mates, hunting animals, gathering plant foods, negotiating with friends, defending ourselves against aggression, raising children, choosing a good habitat, and so on. Those whose circuits were better designed for solving these problems left more children, and we are descended from them.

Shultziner goes on to say:

It is necessary to understand these historical conditions in order to appreciate transitions to democracy in the 20th century or earlier. Saying that small egalitarian societies were the optimal and natural form of social structure under which human beings evolved does not suggest that it is the only type of social structure human beings can live under. On the other hand, saying that human beings can live under an array of structural environments does not imply that all institutional arrangements are just as good or apt for human beings to live under. The fact that in some circumstances human beings can adapt to living under totalitarian regimes, does not in any way mean that despotic social structures are as good as egalitarian social structures. Human evolution does not abruptly end with the beginning of the Neolithic era. Indeed, we know that in many cases human beings succeeded in maintaining their egalitarian structures into and far beyond the Neolithic period, and leveling-down mechanisms have not disappeared in tribal societies either.

Most probably, egalitarian structures remain more suitable to humans today just as they predominantly have been until 10,000 years ago. The overall historical pattern towards more egalitarian political institutions and practices is consistent with our evolutionary history. The existence of small egalitarian forager societies in many continents is a further reminder of the aptness and persistence of this social structure to human life despite the pressures of modern environments. States and nations were not part of the Paleolithic era; nevertheless, democratic states are far more compatible with ancient egalitarian societies than with despotic or nondemocratic regimes [Emphasis added].

In Part IV of this essay, I shall discuss Shultziner’s creative synthesis of historical, anthropological, and evolutionary evidence/theory with recent research and theory in social and political psychology regarding the “need for recognition” and its relationship to the social psychological literature on self esteem.  This contribution, I believe, will enable us to move toward a more synergistic democracy (Synocracy), which ultimately must recognize two very strong forces in human behavior and the need for their balancing, not only within the individual, but within the social order.  These two forces were called: (1) the Self-Assertive Tendency and (2) the Integrative (Self-Transcending) Tendency by Arthur Koestler, a journalist, who posssessed a monumental, synthesizing intellect, having been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford from 1964-1965.  Each of these tendencies is actually a collection of tendencies.  Koestler used these constructs in formulating his theory of the holon.

No man is an island–he is a holon.  A Janus-faced entity who, looking inward, sees himself as a self-contained unique whole, looking outward as a dependent part. His self-assertive tendency is the dynamic manifestation of his unique wholeness, his autonomy and independence as a holon. Its equally universal antagonist, the integrative tendency, expresses his dependence on the larger whole to which he belongs: his “part-ness.”

In a subsequent part of this essay, I shall consider the nature of the holon in political discourse, particularly as it relates to the new “synergistic democracy” or synocracy, which is the theme of this blog. 

Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | November 26, 2009

Evolution of Democracy, Part II

Origins of Democracy in Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherer Groups

A paper by Doron Shultziner, PhD, referenced in Part I of this essay and entitled, “Evolution and Liberal Democracy,”  highlights the shortcomings of definitions of democracy in the 20th century that ignore and obscure the evolutionary nature of democratic ideals.  The discussion is found in a section labeled, “Setting Democracy in a Larger Evolutionary Context,” 

Democracy at the beginning of the 21st century is a term that denotes a variety of regimes that share similar main characteristics. Democracy has a thin procedural definition and thicker definitions. The thin definition of democracy is a political system with universal suffrage and “whose leaders are elected in competitive multi-party and multi-candidate processes in which opposition parties have a legitimate chance of attaining power or participating in power” [citation in original]….Thicker definitions of democracy require effective and enlightened participation as well as human rights and freedoms beyond what is necessary for a democratic process [citations in original]. Thicker standards of democracy usually relate to liberal-democracies, namely democratic countries which are free and respectable to human rights. The two categories, however, are not necessarily synonymous [citation in original].

Defined by these criteria, however, democracy is a very recent invention that appeared only in the 20th century after women gained voting rights. The merits of these definitions have been recognized by political scientists for providing a useful analytical tool and for distinguishing democracies from other types of regimes, at least since the 20th century [citation in original]. 

Unfortunately, 20th century definitions of democracy, useful as they may be to distinguish democracies from nondemocracies at present, are not applicable to democracies prior to the 20th century [citations in original].  The famous democracy of Athens (and other Greek cities) about 2500 years ago is not a democracy by today’s definitions because not all men, women or slaves were allowed to vote or have any say about matters that influenced their lives. For similar reasons, the American democracy was lacking significant characteristics prior to the 20th century. In Switzerland, men gained suffrage as early as 1848; women in Switzerland, however, began gaining suffrage only in 1971 and the Swiss canton Appenzell Innerrhoden was forced by the Supreme Court to give women voting rights as late as 1990.  Still, it would not make much sense to argue that Switzerland became a democracy only in 1971 or 1990. 20th century definitions of democracy detach democracy from its historical roots for reasons of analytical clarity. It is not that these historical roots are not unacknowledged; rather, they are perceived to be irrelevant for the purpose of analyzing the unprecedented number of democratic transitions in the 20th century. This logic, as I intend to show in the following pages, is flawed because it fails to recognize seminal historical democracies as forerunners of a much deeper and profound phenomenon….

Egalitarian Social Structures in the Paleolithic Era

I believe that much of our ability to understand the transition to democracy is impaired by the focus on 20th century standards of democracy. I argue that shared features exist between 20th century democracies, democracies prior to the 20th century, and ancient forms of human egalitarian societies.

Estimates for Homo sapiens appearance are between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago [citation in original].  We know that all human beings lived throughout this period, known as the Paleolithic era (2 million -10,000 B.C.E), in small nomadic societies of hunters and gatherers (i.e. foragers) who were usually of an average group size of 25 people, although at times of festivals group size could reach over one hundred [citations in original].  Human beings in the Paleolithic era have [sic] had the same physiological and psychological capabilities as us (“biologically they were us” [citation in original], although their cultures and ways of life were obviously different.  These forager bands sustained their ways of life and social structures into the 20th century. Forager bands, albeit influenced to different degrees by external factors, were extensively studied around the world by anthropologists, and these studies provide valuable information regarding behavior and social structures in the Paleolithic era. 

An important characteristic of forager bands, which has become a topic of interest especially since the 1990’s, is their egalitarian social structures.  Wide agreement exists that the social structure of small nomadic societies in the Paleolithic era was egalitarian [citations in original]. Even at the present, after a long period of environmental influences, only a few examples of nonegalitarian foraging societies exist, and these too are affected by high population density and large group size, sedentary life, and other specific characteristics [citation in original]. As Boehm [citation in original] puts it, “Indeed, this egalitarian approach appears to be universal for foragers who live in small bands that remain nomadic, suggesting considerable antiquity for political egalitarianism.”  No strict hierarchical structure existed in foraging bands: decisions had to be reached through consensus, leaders usually had little, if any, substantial power over other group members, and people could come and go as they pleased [Emphasis added].

The Linkage Between Technology and Democracy

As Shultziner points out:

The Paleolithic era, however, ended with the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, human beings began to settle permanently in one place and to grow plants and animals for their subsistence. This period in human history is known as the Neolithic era. Gradually, sedentary agriculture became the dominant mode of life in most areas of the world inhabited by humans (but not in all areas). The invention of agriculture revolutionized the environmental conditions human beings once lived under, and consequently remarkably changed social structures. Small egalitarian foraging societies were replaced by larger scale sedentary settlements, some of which later became empires. As these sedentary settlements developed and grew, central authoritative power of large scale societies came into being. Put differently, the invention of agriculture resulted in far-reaching consequences on the social structures of human beings.

Shultziner aids understanding by putting the “entire time-span of human history, into an intriguing, one-day, temporal scale.

In order to put the emergence of democracy, and the transitions to democracy, in the right context, then, it would be helpful to compare the scope of this phenomenon to the entire time-span of human history, namely at least 102,000 years (if not 200,000) since Homo sapience began to dwell on the earth. A helpful perceptual scale and illustration would be to compare the relative portion of historical periods to their equivalent in a one-day scale. For more than 21.5 hours of the day (more than 90% of human history), human beings lived in small egalitarian societies of foragers. The emergence of agriculture and the beginning of the Neolithic era occurred in the last 2.5 hours of the day. The Athenian democracy briefly emerged and disappeared 36 minutes before midnight. The modern territorial sovereign state system that began to crystallize after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) was created in the last 8 seconds of that day. Democracy, as a type of regime that qualifies to 20th century definitions, emerged barely 2 seconds ago! In this context, and by 20th century standards of the term, democracy is a very recent development in human history [Emphasis added].

Shultziner goes on to state:

Although democracy by 20th century definition may be a very new phenomenon, I argue that its historical roots and causes lie in ancient times, long before the Athenian democracy came into being [citation in original].  In order to gain a better understanding of why we witness a fast rate of transitions to democracy in recent history we are required to look more closely at the egalitarian social structures under which human beings lived through the Paleolithic era.

In Part III of this essay, I shall discuss the development of these egalitarian social structures as they relate to the culture of early man and their linkage with what is known about social behavior in other species.

Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | November 26, 2009

Evolution of Democracy, Part I

The Near-Sighted, Albeit Democratic, Mr. Magoo

In conceptualizing the evolution of democracy, it is just as important to look to the past as to the future.  Nonetheless, most individuals tend to have a myopic view of democracy that regards this form of governance as static, rather like an image fixed on photographic paper.  The prevailing perspective is that democracy, as it exists today, is  basically what it has always been in the past.    However, when one adopts the farsighted view of history, nothing could be further from the truth.   Also, this near-sighted view fails to perceive that democracy has, and historically has had, many forms.

Ben Wilson, in reviewing Professor John Keane’s recently published book, The Life and Death of Democracy, for the Literary Review  has written about the historical myopia.

‘NEW, NEW, NEW,’ Tony Blair marvelled early in his premiership; ‘everything is new.’  He personified a willing amnesia that is so much part of our age. The temptation to dwell in the present, with its bewildering newness and illusion of liberation, outweighs an interest in history as a vital part of our political life. This is an age ruled by restricted definitions of what is relevant. The decline of history and the languishing state of our democratic institutions and liberty are not unrelated.

The myopic perspective prevents our seeing the forest, because our collective noses are plastered to one gigantic, vision-obscuring tree, viz., the rapidly changing NOW of the Information Age.  This NOW is compelling and distorting, simply because it prevents an apprehension of the NOW in a broader, more encompassing perspective that integrates the Past and the Future with the Present in something approaching the Eastern notion of the “Eternal NOW.”  To the modern individual caught up in the bombarding influx of information, the NOW is incredibly short, flashing by so quickly that it disallows a broader view of his/her personal involvement in the larger context of existence.  Our present moments, our NOWs become like a snap of the fingers played out in “real time,” as opposed to the same snap played out in exceedingly slow motion.

Toward a Farsighted, Historical View of Democracy

Wikipedia elaborates the compelling, myopic perspective that has been exacerbated by the Information Age.

At the core of Keane’s book is the author’s belief that history is a necessary key for understanding democracy in the present time. Keane’s worldwide perspective is an important corrective to the (mainly Western) idea that democracy has one and only distinctive form; one type of model that can be brought as a gift to peoples with different attitudes and histories. There is no such a thing as a singular form of democracy. Following the line of thinking that history is the only way we can make sense of what democracy means, The Life and Death of Democracy provides fresh details of the obscure origins of old institutions and ideals like government by public assembly, female enfranchisement; the secret ballot, trial by jury, and parliamentary representation.

Keane observes that even…

In the Greek world, democracy was not a single or fixed form: although the assembly was its core institution, it resembled an odyssey, in which different mental imaginings and various practical experiments were par for the course.

But, as Keane also points out, democracy did not originate in the Athenian Assembly as commonly believed.  David Aaronovitch in a review in Times Online  observes:

Departing from the convention that locates the birth of democracy in late 6th-century BC Athens, he finds evidence of citizen assemblies in the ancient Middle East, epitomised by how the men of Nippur were called upon to decide the fate of those accused of killing one Lu-Inanna; four fellow Nippurians, including the dead man’s wife, the euphoniously named Nin-dada, were sentenced to death.

Wilson goes on to point out that Keane also noted how India revived and invigorated democracy after it was on the verge of dying out in Europe following World War II. 

In doing so it defied limited theories of democracy.  It showed how democracy was not confined to white men and women; it succeeded in a vast country with a diverse society; and it riveted the loyalty of illiterate millions with scant knowledge of Western traditions…. Later in its development, Indian democracy incorporated many innovations to keep itself in good order: power-checking mechanisms such as people’s courts (lok adalats), participatory budgets, water consultation schemes and other grass-roots manifestations of civil society. It resembles the banyan tree, whose vast size is supported by many entwined trunks and roots.

But, even this grand display of the evolution of democracy from the historian’s perspective, developed over the course of nearly 1,000 pages, cannot do justice to the origins of democracy when viewed from the viewpoint of the anthropologist or the evolutionary biologist.  Doron Shultziner, Ph.D., currently a Post-doctoral Fellow and Instructor at Emory University, presented a fascinating paper to the 2005 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 1-4, 2005 while still a doctoral student  in the Politics & International Relations Department of Lincoln College of the University of Oxford.  The paper was entitled “Evolution and Liberal Democracy,” which reviews evidence tracing the origin of democracy  to the egalitarian structure of small hunter-gatherer groups in the Paleolithic era dating back at least 10,000 years.  Shultziner’s thesis is that “the transitions to democracy in the 20th century cannot be fully understood without reference to the evolutionary forces that shaped the human mind and human societies.”

Shultziner’s intriguing work will be discussed in subsequent parts of this essay.  It represents a creative synthesis of research in the fields of politics, anthropology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, genetics and social psychology which Shultziner uses to formulate a theory explicating the force which he assumes is “pulling towards more egalitarian structures which are consistent with the way human beings lived for most of their evolutionary history.”  Though he couches his description in teleological terms, the notion of a causal, driving force seems to work equally well.   This force he concludes is the seemingly universal, human striving for recognition, which he asserts, following the lead of others, is the motivational component of the need for self esteem [Emphasis added].

Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | November 22, 2009

What is Synocracy?

Barbara Marx Hubbard, one of the founders of the World Future Society, has long been regarded, by individuals such as Buckminster Fuller, the legendary inventor of the geodesic dome, as one of the world’s leading futurists.  She has defined the term, Synocracy, as:

…Synergistic Democracy…an emergent form of self-governance….the next stage of democracy in which each person has the opportunity to express his or her creativity for the good of the self and the whole. It is a form of governance that facilitates all citizens in finding their unique potential and where best to express it within the whole. It leads toward a cocreative society in which all people are free and responsible to do and be their best. [Emphasis added].

Synergistic is the adjectival form of “synergy” (from Greek sunergia,  cooperation).  Synergistic (synergic), thus, means “acting together,” or “working together in a creative, innovative, and productive manner” (from Greek sunergētikos).

Timothy Wilkin, MD, writing in an 2004 article, stated that “Barbara Hubbard originally coined the term Synocracy to refer to a not yet defined future system of ‘rule by the people’ in a co-Operative society.”   Dr. Wilkin also reported that Barry Carter, the author of Infinite Wealth, claimed that he had independently created the term, Synocracy.  Carter, quoted by Wilkin, wrote on his own behalf:

Barbara Marx Hubbard created the term synocracy. Having never read her book, I independently created the synocracy concept by way of mass privatization. When people are owning partners in a mass privatization organization they must participate because owners operate on profit and loss. As mass privatization communities work together we move beyond representative democracy and even beyond consensus democracy to create synergy-ocracy and synthesis-ocracy or synocracy. Infinite Wealth shows mass synocracy to be the new system of social order for the Information Age to replace representative democracy. It even replaces the notion of government with the broader notion of social order. Just as learning is driven internally where education is driven externally representative government is external and where as self-organizing mass synocracy is internally driven [Emphasis added].

Dr. Wilken observes:

In today’s world…it is assumed without question that majority rule democracy is the best way to organize humanity. To even offer a criticism…is to invite an immediate and often emotional charged attack on oneself. We are quickly asked to choose between majority rule democracy or the dictatorships of communism/fascism. We are quickly reminded that if we don’t like it here in a majority ruled democracy, we are free to leave….

Majority rule democracy in its purest form was found in the Ancient Greek city-states and Early Roman Republic, these were direct democracies in which all citizens could speak and vote in assemblies. This was possible because of the small size of the city-states almost never more than 10,000 citizens. However, even these Ancient democracys [sic] did not presuppose equality of all individuals; the majority of the populace, notably slaves and women, had no political rights at all. So even here the majority really did not rule.

In modern representative democracies we find the majority rule mechanism used to select our representatives, to make decisions within committees and to make decisions within the legislative bodies, however careful analysis reveals we really have rule by the few….

In today’s “FREE” world all political decisions are made using majority rule democracy. The the group deciding may be small—a committee faced with solving some particular problem, or large—the entire voting electorate of a nation choosing a President. Regardless of the size of the group deciding, decision is made when one faction within the group achieves a simple majority. That faction wins the minority faction loses. Majority rule consensus requires only a simple majority to force the minority—the losing voters to accept the position of the majority—the winning voters. There is no need to gain the agreement of all of the members. There is no need to prevent the minority from losing [Emphasis added].

When one looks at the evolution of systems of governance, it becomes clear that, over the course of recorded history, humankind has moved from autocratic, adversarial forms of force and control  (dictatorship, rule by one, or oligarchy, rule by a few), to majority rule democracy (“rule by the most”), and finally to modern representational democracy, which we find has devolved back to “rule by the few.”

The Relationship Continuum

According to Wilkin, “all human choices and all human relationships can be described as falling on a continuum,” viz.,

Adversity – Neutrality – Synergy

 Wilkin defines an “adversary [or adversarial] relationship” to be:

…any relationship wherein the participants are less happy, less effective and less productive than they would be without the relationship. An adversary choice is any choice that reduces the happiness, effectiveness, and productivity of the participants in the relationship. The sum of the whole relationship in terms of happiness, effectiveness, productivity, profitability, satisfaction, etc. is less than the sum of the parts – less than the sum of the individual’s ability to be happy, effective, productive, profitable, satisfied, etc. outside this relationship.

He defines a “neutral relationship” to be:

…any relationship wherein the participants are equally happy, equally effective, and equally productive as they would be without the relationship. A neutral choice is any choice that has no effect on the happiness, effectiveness, and productivity of the participants in the relationship. The sum of the whole relationship in terms of happiness, effectiveness, productivity, profitability, satisfaction, etc. is equal to the sum of parts – equal to the individuals’s  (sic) ability to be happy, effective, productive, profitable, satisfied, etc. outside this relationship.

And, finally, Wilken defines a “synergic relationship” to be:

…any relationship wherein the participants are more happy, more effective, and more productive than they would be without the relationship. A synergic choice is any choice that increases the happiness, effectiveness, and productivity of the participants in the relationship.  The sum of the whole relationship in terms of happiness, effectiveness, productivity, profitability, satisfaction, etc. is more than the sum of the parts – more than the sum of the individual’s ability to be happy, effective, productive, profitable, satisfied, etc. outside this relationship. 

Compared to the rule by the one of dictatorship,  the rule by the most  of majority rule democracy, appears to be a much fairer way. And fairness is perhaps the greatest value of our American nation.  However, it should now be clear to the reader that while Neutral political-economic systems are better for humanity than Adversary political-economic systems. Majority rule democracy is really an Adversary political-economic system pretending to be a Neutral political-economic system. In reality only lip service is given to rule by the most.

The Evolution of Democracy

Dr. Wilkin in his essay Beyond Democracy, has concluded:

What we really have in America, the “freest nation on Earth”, is rule by the few. And, while rule by the few holds some advantage over rule by the one, its advantage does not imply there is nothing better for Humanity.

If we are to find a synergic form of organization for humanity, we will have to look beyond the representive (sic) democracies of today.

Barbara Marx Hubbard has provided the conceptual underpinning for imagining the outcome of Wilkin’s “look beyond.”

The context for the evolution of democracy is the New Story of Creation, cosmogenesis, the discovery that the universe is an interconnected whole system that has been unfolding and transforming for billions of years. This unfolding is always toward higher consciousness and greater freedom through more complex order, and it continues now through us. From atom to molecule to cell to animal to human, and now to a Self-actualized humanity, we are becoming a complex planetary system, always through greater cooperation, connectivity, and synergy [Emphasis added].

This is a multi-billion year trend!  Synergy, the coming together of separate parts to form a whole system greater than the sum of its parts is not idealistic; it is a fundamental tendency in nature.

She quotes from the writing of evolutionary biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris:

Type I ecosystems are populated by aggressive species establishing their niches through intense, sometimes hostile, competition for resources and rapid population growth, while the species in Type III ecosystems tend toward complex cooperative or collaborative systems in which species feed or otherwise support each other to mutual benefit. The Type IIs generally lump together various “transitional” ecosystems. It seems reasonable to ask where the “more advanced” species that can build stable final communities “come from.” How did they evolve? Logically, there must have been a time when only pioneer species existed, yet somehow evolution led to the existence of mature, cooperative species” (Vision in Action, vol. 3, Number 1, 2005) [Emphasis added].

Hubbard concludes:

The human species as a whole has barely reached Type II.  We are in transition as a species toward greater cooperation. The growing threat of self-destruction through domination, control, and self-centeredness is a mighty evolutionary driver that is awakening millions of people within our immature species to move toward more cooperative action. Therefore, one of our fundamental efforts must be to develop processes to cultivate social synergy wherever we can [Emphasis added].

Thus, we can say that the term, synocracy represents the form of governance toward which “cosmogenesis” is slowly (at least from the human view) but relentlessly progressing.

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