Sunday, April 12, 2020

Stray thoughts about the aging mind — glitching, scripting, boxing (and Fox News):


Friends of mine have raised concerns that a mutual friend is showing signs of cognitive deterioration — little lapses and glitches, plus unusual crankiness and dismissiveness. I’m not so sure; he still seems normal enough to me.

But this has led me to wonder about what characterizes the aging mind. Which has further prompted me to wonder about Fox News and its primary audience, oldsters.

Standard signs of an aging mind are mostly about mental glitching — e.g., forgetting this or that. They show up mostly in memory lapses, involving all three of the mind’s cardinal cognitions: perceptions about social space, time, and agency — as in not realizing who or what is where (spatially), when something happens (temporally), or how to get something done (agently).

I see this glitching all around me now, including in myself, but not to serious degrees. Yet I’m also noticing two more signs of aging minds that, to my knowledge, do not figure in standard diagnoses: thought-scripting, and brain-boxing.

As for thought-scripting, oldsters’ thoughts appear to congeal around increasingly set scripts that they run (and voice) over and over. Of course, everybody likes to tell the same story again and again, particularly when reminiscing about good old days. But, if my observations are correct, this goes beyond that. It’s more reactive and programmed, like pushing a button or pulling a lever and out pops a set script, positive or negative. And if it’s an arguable script, it’s unlikely to be changed through argument. As a friend once said, people don’t change as they get older; they just get more so. Perhaps, as people’s arteries harden, so do their scripts. I don’t mean this as necessarily a bad thing — some people run marvelous scripts — just that it may be another sign of the aging mind (including in myself?), a pattern that may become evermore set with advancing age.

What I mean by brain-boxing (or thought-boxing, or mind-boxing) is that an oldster’s thinking about the world gets increasingly boxed within a frame. What they think, and how they think, about the world — their world — gets increasingly fixed, enclosed, boundaried. Their scripts run within that frame, those boundaries. The well-boxed brain rarely goes looking for new ideas and topics to think about; it prefers reassurance and reinforcement about what’s already in the box. It’s another way oldster's become set in their ways. The aging mind may not exhibit brain-washing, but brain-boxing is another story.

In sum, mental glitching, thought scripting, and frame boxing are the three major ways that cognitive deterioration shows up in the aging mind. Of course, there are ways to limit, avoid, and counteract them. Glitching, if it’s serious enough, can be treated with medications and therapies. Scripting and boxing can be side-stepped by thoughtfully making sure to engage in diversified activities, not getting stuck in ruts.

But there are also ways to worsen them.

Which leads to an observation from now-and-then watching Fox News and its prime-time triad, currently Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity (not to mention particular Saturday and Sunday hosts). If you don’t care about letting your mind grow older, faster, then watch Fox News, and only Fox News, all the time. More than any other media source, it seems to work away at thought-scripting and brain-boxing.

For decades I’ve heard conservatives say they are for individualism, whereas liberals and progressives are for collectivism. Yet, Fox News seems to work harder than any other news media at constructing collectivized thinking, indeed a rigid cult-like following. It’s one thing to feed your own political bias, but quite another to let your mind be ‘Pavolv-ed and Potemkin-ed’ into scripted, boxed enchantment (to make an oblique reference to those progenitors of Russian information operations — Ivan Pavlov for his psychological work on reflexive “Pavlovian conditioning,” Grigory Potemkin for his deception and disinformation operations that resulted in “Potemkin villages”).

Of course, running reactive and proactive scripts, and trying to frame and box people’s thinking is occurring all around us in these tribalized times, on both the Left and Right. But I’m sure I’m far from alone in wondering about how Fox News in particular may take hold of aging minds.For example, here’s what another observer found and wrote:
“Dozens who responded to my piece talked about the sad lonely twilight of their parents’ or grandparents’ lives, having been spurned by, or having disowned much of their families over political disagreements. Older people, recent studies have shown, are much more likely to share misleading information online, but the anecdotes I was hearing seemed to indicate this behavior wasn’t limited to the internet. Young parents wrote that they don’t want to bring their children to visit aging Fox-brainers. “The worst is when my children go to spend time with their grandparents and come home with Fox News talking points coming out of their mouths,” one told me. “I have to decontaminate them every time.”” (From https://nymag.com/intelligencer/amp/2019/04/i-gathered-stories-of-people-transformed-by-fox-news.html)

[First posted on my FaceBook page, March 20, 2020]

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Slouching toward cyberocracy — #2:


The previous post was about surveillance capitalism, Shoshanna Zuboff’s concept. Today’s post concerns surveillance electioneering. Yet, here too, the emphasis on surveillance isn’t quite enough, for far more than surveillance is going on.

In this article, NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall shows how “Trump’s Digital Advantage Is Freaking Out Democratic Strategists: Left and right agree on one point. The president’s re-election campaign is way ahead online.”

The article is largely about “geofencing” — “a technology that creates a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a cellphone enters or leaves a particular area — a church, for example, or a stadium, a school or an entire town.”

But geofencing is “just one of the new tools of digital campaigning, a largely unregulated field of political combat in which voters have little or no idea of how they are being manipulated, in which traditional disclosure requirements are inoperative and key actors are anonymous. It is a weapon of choice. Once an area is geofenced, commercial data companies can acquire the mobile phone ID numbers of those within the boundary.”

Other new techniques in this field include “mass personalization, dark patterns, identity resolution technologies, dynamic prospecting, geotargeting strategies, location analytics, geo-behavioural segment, political data cloud, automatic content recognition, dynamic creative optimization” and micro-targeting.

The 2020 Trump campaign remains multiples ahead of the Democrat’s in grasping and applying these new technologies and techniques. Indeed, “Trump rallies are providing a gold mine of data for the 2020 election” according to manager Brad Parscale.

And the Trump campaign gains a further advantage from this asymmetry: “First, when Trump says something, Fox repeats it. When a Democrat says something, The New York Times and the rest of the MSM knock it down if it’s false or debatable.” Thus, “Trump benefits enormously because of the Right’s aligned network of media properties (i.e., Sinclair), Facebook properties, YouTube influencers and bots/sock puppets. This kind of amplification network barely exists for Democrats/progressives.”

Part of what alarms me here is that the powers on the Right are moving forward in these techniques in order to move our society backwards. At this point, I’m quite sure that a 2020 vote for Trump will prove to be a vote for increased cruelty and inequity, mostly by people who would not countenance cruelty and inequity in their personal lives.

SOURCE: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/opinion/trump-digital-campaign-2020.html

 [Re-posted from my Facebook page posts a few weeks aago.]

Cyberocracy is gaining ground, alarmingly: #1


I mostly read about how the information age is affecting particular actors and activities. Here I read how the information age is reshaping everything for everybody, in faster, deeper, darker ways than I’ve fully grasped. Privacy in increasingly a goner, and mass manipulation and herding are becoming ever easier. Liberal democracy is being eroded so extensively that it is already giving way to the rise of illiberal cyberocracy (a concept I fielded in the early 1990s that may be worth revisiting).

In this article, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff warns that “You Are Now Remotely Controlled: Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth.” Accordingly, “surveillance capitalism” is spreading so rapidly, and so uncontrollably, that while people initially celebrated free new digital services, “now we see that the surveillance capitalists behind those services regard us as the free commodity. We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us. We barely questioned why our new TV or mattress had a privacy policy, but we’ve begun to understand that “privacy” policies are actually surveillance policies.”

One result is a fraught new kind of inequality — “epistemic inequality” — that reflects people’s knowledge and power. People are being massively, unsuspectingly scanned, monitored, manipulated, and maneuvered to such an extent that leading firms, using their “computational factories,” are converting what we have long regarded as privacy into proprietary goods.

A further result is “a new ‘instrumentarian’ power … to manipulate subliminal cues, psychologically target communications, impose default choice architectures, trigger social comparison dynamics and levy rewards and punishments — all of it aimed at remotely tuning, herding and modifying human behavior in the direction of profitable outcomes and always engineered to preserve users’ ignorance.”

Yikes — this has advanced farther and faster than I’ve known, and her suggestions for constraining it do not give me much hope. For as she warns, “surveillance capitalism has turned epistemic inequality into a defining condition of our societies, normalizing information warfare as a chronic feature of our daily reality prosecuted by the very corporations upon which we depend for effective social participation.”

SOURCE: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/opinion/sunday/surveillance-capitalism.html

[Re-posted from my Facebook page post a few weeks ago.]

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

New draft on "Whose Story Wins: The Noosphere, Noopolitik, and the Future of Statecraft"

Some of you may be interested in a new draft of our paper on “WHOSE STORY WINS: THE NOÖSPHERE, NOÖPOLITIK, AND THE FUTURE OF STATECRAFT” (Draft, November 2019). John Arquilla is my co-author. It supercedes a 2018 draft I put here back then.

Reading and writing have consumed enormous time and energy (one reason I’ve been so withdrawn from this blog). I had hoped the paper would be published by now. But it looks as though that prospect is still months away, and will involve further revisions and updates that I already want to make for a third round. 

So, for now, I’ve posted this second draft online at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), just in case matters take even longer. Here's the URL:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3523885

You can take a look there. To download, it will ask you to register, but if you don’t want to, just look on the right side for the place to “Download without registration.”

Abstract:

Two decades ago, we proposed noöpolitik as a new concept for adapting American strategy to the information age. We urged strategists to rethink the concept of “information” and recognize that a new realm is emerging that will profoundly affect statecraft: the noösphere, a globe-circling “realm of the mind.” As it expands, conditions will lessen for realpolitik strategies based on material “hard power,” and increase for strategies based on noöpolitik and its preference for ideational “soft power.” Thus, the decisive factor in today’s and tomorrow’s wars of ideas is bound to be “whose story wins” — the essence of noöpolitik. 



This latest discussion of our ideas clarifies the origin, nature, and spread of the noösphere concept, and illuminates how America’s adversaries are deploying dark forms of noöpolitik against us, quite effectively. In addition to proposing better ways for America to fight back, we also find that the future of the noösphere and noöpolitik may depend on what happens to the “global commons” — a construct that has long had strong support in environmental-science and social-activist circles, as well as in military-strategy circles. To improve the prospects for the noösphere and noöpolitik, U.S. policy and strategy should, among other initiatives, treat the global commons as a pivotal issue area, uphold “guarded openness” as a guiding principle, and institute a new requirement for periodic reviews of our nation’s “information posture.”

Here's the hot link:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3523885

Onward.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Toward a new sectorism — #3: an attractive but flawed “fourth sector” proposal?


I’ve come across a proposal I should have found years ago: a forward-looking call for recognizing and developing a “fourth sector.” It’s from Heerad Sabeti and associates in the Aspen Institute’s and Kellogg Foundation’s Fourth Sector Network, created in 1998. This is the first I’ve heard of Sabeti, currently the head of the World Economic Forum’s Fourth Sector Development Initiative and CEO of The Fourth Sector Group (4SG).

This is all news to me. Is anyone here familiar with Sabeti’s “fourth sector” proposal? Any comments about how it’s regarded? I’d like to know more before I continue.

Here’s why it’s of interest: TIMN theory forecasts the rise of a fourth cardinal form of organization: the +N or info-age network form. TIMN further says a brand new sector of society will take shape around it. Remember, the rise and consolidation of the T/tribal form millennia ago led to what is now known as civil society, along with a confusing surfeit of names for its sector(s) — e.g., civil sector, nonprofit sector, voluntary sector, etc. Ages later, the rise of the +I hierarchical-institutional form resulted in governments and what we now call the public sector. Next, a few centuries ago, the rise of the +M market form led to what we now call the private sector. Today, we’re just a few decades into the rise of the +N network form, and it’s not yet clear what new sector will result from it — but there will be one.

I’ve previously mentioned my own deductions from TIMN regarding this next/new/fourth sector. I’ve also kept my eyes open for other forecasts, and mentioned them before too. But what about Sabeti et al.’s proposal? How does it compare?

SABETI’S CONCEPT OF A FOURTH SECTOR 


According to Sabeti (2018), “The emerging Fourth Sector is fundamentally comprised of organizations that pursue social purposes while engaging in business activities.” Thus, he/they view the Fourth Sector — a term they coined in 1998? — as “a new economic space at the intersection of the three traditional sectors (public, private and non-profit).” In their view, the “non-profit sector” is also the “social sector” (a term they borrow from Drucker’s usage a few years earlier?). Its key actors will be for-benefit organizations.

What I discuss here is derived mostly from Sabeti’s paper “The Emerging Fourth Sector: Executive Summary” (2018 — see link at end).
“Stripped to its essentials, its thesis is as follows: a new class of organizations with the potential for generating immense economic, social, and environmental benefits is emerging — and this sector can be consciously developed and expanded through broad recognition and engagement.”

 ATTRACTIVE OVERLAPS BETWEEN THE FS AND TIMN FRAMEWORKS


His/their Fourth Sector (FS) framework overlaps well with the TIMN framework, in that both rest on the following observations:

• Our society is in transition from a three-sector to a four-sector system. Whereas FS calls them the social, public, private, and fourth sectors, TIMN is headed toward calling them the home, public, private, and commons sectors.

• Boundaries are blurring among the sectors, and new kinds of hybrid organizations and partnerships are forming, in ways that indicate a fourth sector is already taking shape. Today’s non-profit and for-benefit organizations, including collectives and cooperatives, seem best suited, in terms of ethos and structure, to enabling its emergence.

• Eventually, entirely new organizational forms and models will have to be designed explicitly for the fourth sector. But whereas FS favors for-benefit designs. I’m not sure about TIMN yet. This is partly because, unlike Sabeti, I am sure the fourth sector won’t be a primarily economic and business-oriented sector — see below for clarification.

• Information-age network structures are crucial for the development and performance of this new sector, not only for individual parts but also across the entire sector. Both FS and TIMN lead to requirements, in Sabeti’s words, for “new networking structures that enable collaboration and coordination” among individual actors, as well as “new models of networks … that enable large-scale, cross-sectoral, cross-disciplinary collaboration.” But TIMN implies extending this far more than FS does — see below for clarification.

• To take hold and endure as a distinct separate sector, vast supportive infrastructures will have to be created: laws, regulations, services, associations, etc. FS is way ahead of TIMN in specifying this “ecosystem” — as Sabeti notes, “Social entrepreneurs, funders, non-profits, businesses, employees, members of the public, associations, policymakers, academics, lawyers, accountants, consultants, and others all have vital roles to play”. I’m aware of this, for comparable infrastructures help explain the cohesion and power of the earlier public and private sectors — I just haven’t written much up for TIMN yet.

• Even though evolutionary dynamics will eventually induce the rise of a fourth sector, it is advisable to start making concerted efforts now to construct and define it. In Sabeti’s words, “The Fourth Sector is an idea whose time has come. … The counter-forces of inertia and sectoral constraints stand in the way, sharply reducing the odds that it will develop in an accelerated and coherent manner. The evolutionary process needs to be facilitated by the addition of a layer of conscious support — not to control or shape the process, but to enable those involved to develop a shared framework of effective design principles and supportive infrastructure.” That’s pretty much my view for TIMN as well.

SHORTCOMINGS IN THE FS FRAMEWORK — ADVANTAGES OF TIMN 


So, there’s plenty of agreement between the two frameworks — somewhat better than TIMN has with other forecasts about a future sector. However, the FS framework does not track well with TIMN in other respects, largely because the two have different theoretical underpinnings. FS is based mostly on observations about current economic trends, whereas TIMN is based on observations about long-term social evolution.

• Sabeti et al. view the fourth sector as a new economic sector, albeit one that operates for social-benefit rather than private-profit purposes. He, like most everyone I’ve found writing in this future-oriented area, foresees not only that it will be an economic sector, but also that a key purpose/effect will be to contain and reform capitalism, particularly its negative excesses and externalities.

According to TIMN, it’s wrong to think that this next/new sector will be, in essence, an economic sector. Yes, the rise of this sector can be viewed from economic perspectives (as can all the other sectors). Yes, it’s emergence will have profound economic effects on all other sectors, and on society as a whole. Yes, it will alter the nature of capitalism. And yes, the fourth sector’s functioning will involve new kinds of business organizations. Yet, according to TIMN, this new sector will be as different from the older three sectors as they are from each other. It will be a distinct and separate sector. And it will function according to its own ethos and logic, as do the other sectors. The challenge, for TIMN at least, is to identify what may make this next/new sector that distinct and separate.

• As Sabeti et al. see matters, the fourth sector consists businesses that serve social purposes. That sounds worthwhile, but it’s awfully vague. The FS framework is also vague and open-ended as to exactly what types of actors and activities will define the sector. Sabeti lists a hodge-podge of organizational types (non-profits, cooperatives, etc.) that are currently in business for social purposes; and he expects new types of for-benefit organizations to supersede them. But there is no specification of what, or even whether, particular problems or issues will/should be the sector’s principal focus and strength. Seemingly anyone who engages in business for social benefit belongs in the fourth sector — the more the better for the future of society, no matter the issues and problems at stake. (P2P theory is like this as well — seemingly any actors who subscribe to pro-commons beliefs belong in a future commons sector.)

In contrast, TIMN implies an evolutionary logic for deducing/predicting the next sector’s nature. This future sector will arise and take hold according to the same logic that has characterized the rise of the three old sectors. In brief, (1) sectors take shape based on the TIMN form of organization that is finally coming into its own at the time — in our time, this means the +N/network form. This future sector will thus operate far more according to information-age network (+N) principles than according to the kinship (T), hierarchical institutional (+I), or market exchange (+M) principles that, in turn, drove the rise of the earlier three sectors — the civic/social, public, and private sectors. More to the point, (2) each sector in turn, as well as the organizational form behind its rise, emerges in ways that enable a society to address and resolve a crucial problem whose importance and difficulty has grown as that society has advanced, outgrowing what it could accomplish by using its existing sectors. Thus, the civic sector still serves, as it did ages ago when societies were basically tribes, to address problems related to community identity and belonging; the public sector, problems of large-scale administration and endeavor; and the private sector, problems of wide-ranging trade and commerce. So, the question looms, what about the next sector in this progression?

• While the FS framework doesn’t (can’t?) specify exactly what actors and activities will define the new sector, it behooves a TIMN-ista to try to do so by using the evolutionary dynamics noted above. My own deduction is that this next sector will form around what have become the most critical complicated matters our society faces today — problems that have grown so serious it’s increasingly evident they cannot be resolved long-term by relying on the old public-private framework, nor even by adding the older civil sector back into it; problems also for which the network form seems more relevant than the civic-kinship (T), hierarchical-institutional (+I), or market-exchange (+M) forms.

So, exactly what matters are these? Best I can tell, they’re education, health, welfare, the environment, and related insurance matters — matters that, in aggregate, concern collective and individual care, broadly defined to include social, economic, cultural, and environmental care; in short, people care, life care. Indeed, these matters bundle well together as an interrelated set when viewed from a societal care perspective, in contrast to how they are viewed and treated quite separately within today’s economistic public-private framework.

For decades these matters were manageable enough to fit into our old public-private policy framework, and/or be left to individuals, families, communities, and related civil-society associations. This is no longer the case — these matters have grown too large, too complex, and too interconnected for standard solutions to work. America’s decades of progress have brought us to a turning-point for resolving care-centered matters. They have outgrown that two-sector framework in ways our politicians and policymakers don’t perceive yet.

• The FS framework is correct to emphasize cooperative network principles and designs for the fourth sector’s growth and performance. However, TIMN implies going farther than FS in this direction. This new sector will be able to emerge and grow precisely because the information age has enabled massive network forms of organization to finally take hold as the latest of TIMN’s four cardinal forms to arise. The network form, not the other forms, is what will glue this sector together, undoubtedly in ways we’ve not detected yet.

I have a few tentative speculations: Compared to the earlier sectors, this next/new sector will be structured very differently, woven together by means of collaborative network principles. Constituent entities will be non-profit and for-benefit, committed to the common good. Many may be organized as cooperatives, collectives, collaboratives, trusts, platforms, and other networked associations; none will be allowed on the stock market. They will be constructed as belonging to a mutually shared and boundaried commons — indeed, they’ll form a commons sector. As befits a commons, pooling of information and financing will occur across all sub-sectors and the entities that move (or are moved) into this fourth sector: health, education, welfare, environment, and related insurance (including social security). If some entities acquire excess earnings, these may be shared across all sub-sectors, as needed. Funds to pay for the sector may still have to come from the usual sources — government, business, philanthropy, membership — but, presumably, the sector itself will generate new savings and earnings, compared to the current mess. I’m unable to discern what new array of laws, rules, and regulations may be required to foster and protect such a new sector — not my bag — but they will surely have to be quite different from those pertaining to the other sectors. In any case, this new commons sector would be about the kinds of “assurances” — that’s right, assurances, not entitlements — that an advanced next-stage society can and should be able to warrant for the common wellbeing of its people.

N.B.: These are speculative notions, so preliminary and tentative that I’m barely willing to field them here. Advice and comments invited. But if I’m making mistakes, I’m sure my overarching point will remain valid — this sector will be characterized by new and unusual organizational designs. I’ve read many times that better education is essential to improve people’s health, and that better health is essential to improve people’s education. But I read this only in specialized writings, not yet in strategic overviews about systematically bundling health, education, welfare, and the environment into its own sector — a commons sector governed by collaborative network principles. According to TIMN theory, as I understand it, it’s time we start thinking this through.

• The FS framework depicts its fourth sector visually as a small circle sitting atop and growing at the intersection of the three major sectors (the social, public, and private sectors), which are depicted as large circles. Those three are shown as touching but not overlapping, whereas the FS sector sitting atop overlaps them all. This looks appealing and communicative to the eye — it surely helps convey the FS message — but it is inherently inaccurate. (See Venn-like FS diagram at https://www.fourthsector.org/)

A TIMN visualization would/will be quite different: All circles depicting the four realms and their sectors would be sized equivalently and in the same plane (though the fourth would be smaller for now). Moreover, all circles would overlap somewhat to help depict that the sectors all interact, and that hybrids of two or more sectors may exist in those overlapping areas. This is easy to depict in a pretty Venn diagram if there are only two or three circles. But a Venn diagram of four or more circles is difficult (impossible?) and even ugly to draw, if it is to capture all possible intersections and interactions. What’s needed is a three-dimensional molecular visualization — unfortunately, I’ve not done that yet.

WRAP-UP COMMENT


• Many discussions, whether from the Left or the Right, discuss care-centered matters — health, education, welfare, the environment, etc. — as though they are about people’s rights and/or entitlements. FS does not delve into this. But TIMN dynamics indicate that responsibilities and assurances may be as important as rights and entitlements, though the former rarely figure as much in contemporary policy analyses and debates.

According to TIMN, each sector’s rise across the ages has advanced the responsibilities and assurances that a society can and should provide its people in the long march toward an evermore civilized complexity. The next sector, presumably a care-centered commons sector, may well reflect that dynamic even more than the earlier sectors. As envisaged here, it would be bound to advance individual and collective responsibilities as well as provide assurances of greater wellbeing for society as a whole, and for individual people. Doing so may well be essential for civilizational progress.

A care-centered “assurance commons” could build in that direction better than would an economy-oriented “fourth sector.” From a TIMN perspective, then, the best that can be said about FS is that it aims to develop an array of socially-minded hybrid actors and activities which, if properly oriented, may help foster the transition to the full-fledged four-sector system implied by TIMN.


Here’s the principal statement about Sabeti et al.’s fourth-sector concept:
https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/pubs/4th%20sector%20paper%20-%20exec%20summary%20FINAL.pdf

Also see:
https://www.fourthsector.org/
https://www.ie.edu/cgc/research/the-fourth-sector/

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Toward a New Sectorism — A Way to Rebalance Our System and Its Politics: #2

Continuing where I left off in #1, in the hope I’m headed somewhere new and useful, and knowing I have sections to go yet:

TIME TO RETHINK: RECOGNIZE FOUR SECTORS, NOT TWO


So, how true is that two-sector public-private framework? It wasn’t true in the past. It’ll be even less true in the future. For it neglects that there are two other sectors — one very old, the other so new it’s barely recognizable so far. Not expanding the framework to include them will prove evermore pernicious for politics and policymaking.

The first sector to remember is embedded in civil society and is thus far older, more foundational, less formal, and harder to assign a name, partly because it represents more a cluster of sectors than a single sector: what is often termed the “civil sector” or “civil society sector” — our country’s original base sector of families, communities, and related associations; the sector that Alexis de Tocqueville lauded, without naming it, in Democracy in America (1835) as the source of America’s strength and uniqueness. Its actors and activities are defined primarily by kinship and similar associational dynamics, not market incentives. And its activist groups — e.g., nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), civil-society or community-service organizations (CSOs) — tend to be voluntary, non-profit, charitable, small, and service-oriented, by choice. Most strive to alleviate local health, education, welfare, and environmental problems, including via poverty- and disaster-relief. Thus, terms like “nonprofit sector,” “voluntary sector,” “independent sector,” “community sector,” and “social sector” are often applied. The term “third sector” was in vogue for a while as well.

By one name or another, this informal sector, or cluster of sectors, used to receive wide recognition and acclaim, notably for its actors’ abilities to supplement government and business initiatives at local levels. But not today. Now, whenever our political leaders can’t resolve an issue via the public and/or private sector, they may just toss it off to burden people in this community-oriented home-based sector, without acknowledging it as a crucial sector that deserves far better recognition, treatment, and involvement.

Myriad social philosophers, theorists, and other analysts have called for greater attention to family, community, and other civil-society matters, while also lamenting their neglect by government and business in recent decades. Currently prominent voices who lean Left include Gar Alperowitz, Amitai Etzioni, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Eric Liu, Roger Putnam, and Michael Sandel; and to the Right, Arthur Brooks, David Brooks, Rod Dreher, Yuval Levin, Charles Murray, and Roger Scruton. A recent entry is Raghuram Rajan’s new book The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind (2019) — a telling title indeed.

But their luminous efforts to revive viewing society as a threefold combination of civil society, government, and a market economy have had no noticeable effects on the two-sector policy framework. It remains entrenched, particularly in Washington political circles. One explanation may be that the above efforts have not been cast in terms of sectors per se. They’ve rarely called for viewing civil society as embodying a sector (or set of sectors), and none has yet explicitly called for making that sector — whatever term they use — as much a part of the policymaking framework as are the public and private sectors. Nor have they called for recognizing the emergence of a next/new /fourth sector. Those calls have come from elsewhere (see the next section).

Meanwhile, rarely noticed, a separate new sector is slowly emerging — initially termed a “social sector” (Peter Drucker, 1994), later a “fourth sector” (Heerad Sabeti, 1998?), and lately a “commons sector” (David Bollier, 2008). Views differ as to what its name should be, whether its time is truly at hand, how distinct and separate it will be from the other three sectors, what imperatives and impulses will define it, which actors and activities will move (and be moved) into it, how to formalize it in practice, and where its funding will come from. Forecasting the formation of this next sector is still so unusual that, so far, only a smattering of theorists on the Left have done so, mostly treating it as a new kind of economic sector (erroneously, in my view). No one on the Right has noticed or warmed to the possibility, except for Drucker decades ago (and he fit more in the Center than on the Right). All of which I shall detail in the next section.

To preview my own sense, derived from an ongoing study of social evolution, this next sector will form around what have become the most critical and complicated matters our society faces, problems that have grown so serious that they cannot be resolved long-term by relying on the old public-private framework, nor even by adding the older civil sector back into it. And what matters are these? Specifically, education, health, welfare, the environment, and related insurance matters — a set of matters that, in aggregate, concern collective and individual care, broadly defined to include social, economic, cultural, and environmental care; in short, people care, life care.

For decades these matters were manageable enough to fit into the established public-private framework, and/or be left to individuals, families, communities, and related civil-society associations. This is no longer the case — these matters have grown too large, too complex, and too interrelated for standard solutions to work. America’s decades of progress have brought us to a turning-point for resolving care-centered matters. They have outgrown that two-sector framework in ways our politicians and policymakers don’t perceive yet.

In short, there are four cardinal sectors, not simply two. Our politics would benefit if our politicians and policymakers would return to recognizing the sector(s) associated with civil society — i.e., reinstitute a three-sector framework. Even better will be when they start to recognize that a new/next/fourth sector is emerging — auguring a four-sector framework for the decades ahead.

But doing so won’t be easy. Our politicians and policymakers, not to mention others, are deeply invested in and committed to the two-sector framework, for that’s where most of the power, privilege, and money reside. Furthermore, difficulties naming and defining the other two sectors pose big conceptual and practical problems, a source of chronic confusion and hesitation. Ways must be found to maneuver through that.

Toward a New Sectorism — A Way to Rebalance Our System and Its Politics: #1


I’m aiming to draft a new paper under the above title. It should be easy enough to finish, but most everything these days is proving more difficult than I anticipate. What would help spur me onward are comments that aim to clarify/improve statements I make, or that point me to additional source materials I’ve missed along the way.

What I like about the sectorism concept is that it may enable me to deploy TIMN and my ideas about quadriformism without sounding too theoretical, jargony and abstract. Or so I hope.

Here’s my lead-off section, the first of maybe 5-7 sections:

EXCESSIVE RELIANCE ON A TWO-SECTOR POLICY FRAMEWORK


Every day I’m told our society, our system, has two sectors: the public sector and the private sector — the former referring to government and its agencies, the latter to the market system and its businesses. I’m also told that one sector or the other, or both in partnership, say as a public-private hybrid, offers the best way to deal with this or that domestic policy problem.

Our politicians, policymakers, and media commentators constantly rely on this public-private framework when they talk about fixing America’s health, education, childcare, housing, welfare, infrastructure, energy, communications, and environmental issues. Some proposals call for broader government programs; others urge more privatization; a few recommend improving public-private collaboration.

Meanwhile, our society has become so tribalized that Democrats and others on the Left have become overly identified with public-sector solutions, Republicans and others on the Right with private-sector solutions. Political tribalism has made it all the more difficult to agree on mixed public-private solutions. Yet all sides continue to rely on this binary framework — they’re quite unable to see beyond it.

Indeed, so much effort goes into upholding this binary view, especially among libertarian conservatives, I’ve even seen it argued that “the market” means more than just private business — it extends to all that revolves around individual choice and enterprise: family, religion, philanthropy, voluntary activities (Tucker, 2019). What a gross expansion of the market concept!? What an erroneous way to view civil society, ideologically absorbing it into the market realm!? But that’s what can happen when binary side-taking becomes an entrenched feature of partisan political dialogue.

Not even a sensible corrective effort by libertarian-conservative voices at the Niskanen Center (Brink Lindsey et al., 2018) has helped much. They’ve tried to tender “a whole new way of thinking about policy … one that sees government and market not as either-or antagonists, but as necessary complements.” Though not new, their argument for a balanced collaborative relationship between government and market does indeed break with conventional libertarian-conservative views that remain intently anti-government and pro-market. Nonetheless, their sensible re-envisioning tends to reinforce rather than move us beyond the binary public-private framework. What’s needed is a radical break from that framework.