Monday, January 18, 2016

Awaiting the emergence of a +N sector (Part 2 of 3) — a nod to Darwinian dynamics

TIMN purports to be a kind of theoretical framework for describing, explaining, and analyzing a lot about social evolution across the ages, primarily from an organizational perspective. +N is viewed as the next stage in centuries-long processes of innovation, variation, selection, and adaptation, shaped in part by how people go about their struggles to compete and cooperate — indeed, to out-compete by out-cooperating.

Darwinian dynamics behind TIMN

Thus, TIMN is rather Darwinian. And indeed, an old chart comparing the TIMN forms contains a line tentatively comparing biological and social evolution, which I explain as follows:
“The next row observes that each form corresponds to a different aspect of anatomy: tribes to a body’s skin or look; hierarchical institutions to a musculo-skeletal system (as Thomas Hobbes implied); markets to a cardio-pulmonary circulatory system (as Karl Marx noted); and networks to a sensory nerve system (as Herbert Spencer thought, and many writers still suppose today). These are only analogies and metaphors, but they help impart the distinctive nature of each form.” (source; also here)
Furthermore, in a collection or propositions about TIMN dynamics, I included several that seem quite Darwinian to me. Here’s one that claims that incomplete adaptation may be best:
“Imperfect adaptation to a form may be optimal for continued evolution: The task of getting a form “right” does not mean that exact adaptation (or adaptedness) to its environment is best for a society’s potential for further evolution. Incomplete adaptation may provide for flexibility. Each form may well have an ideal type in theory and philosophy; yet, in practice, none operates fully according to its ideal — nor should it. One reason may be the presence of other forms, and the importance of having to function in relation to them. Another reason may be that imperfect adaptation may allow for opportune, innovative responses to environmental changes.” (source; for more, see 1996, p. 34)
And here’s another that has Darwinian aspects, for it insists on the evolution of regulatory mechanisms that enable the TIMN forms to work properly together:
“Successful combination depends on the development of regulatory interfaces: As societies progress in TIMN terms, the forms and their realms increasingly intersect and interact, such that a society’s functioning depends not only on which forms are present, but also on the nature of the interfaces between the realms. Regulatory mechanisms (laws, policies, agencies, etc.) enable realms — e.g., the state, the market — to function well together. Regulatory interfaces also help keep those realms separated and in balance, preventing one from overwhelming another. They provide a needed kind of connective tissue.” (source)
Even so, I am years behind in trying to lay TIMN out in Darwinian terms (I’m no expert on Darwin anyways). But I’d offer a couple points and snippets here that may help with thinking about the emergence of +N, at least abstractly.

Pertinent points and snippets from Darwinian thinking

A crucial initial point may be to note that Darwin’s work is about the evolution of “species” — but the TIMN forms do not correspond to species. They correspond to something higher from a taxonomic viewpoint. According to Wikipedia, “The best-known taxonomic ranks are, in order: life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.” I’m not sure which of these equates best to the TIMN forms, or to their mono-, bi-, tri-. and potentially quadri-form (T+I+M+N) combinations. But I am sure that the TIMN forms and their combinations are not “species”; instead, they generate myriad and varied species of societies. Deeper consideration, more than I can do now, may reveal that the fields known as morphology and phylogeny are more appropriate than speciation to understanding TIMN.

That said, lots of deliberately Darwinian concepts and dynamics look very applicable to TIMN. Here are two snippets that recently caught my attention — one about general dynamics, the next about an advance in speciation.

Regarding the general dynamics of selection and adaptation, David Sloan Wilson writes (a bit controversially, I gather) about an “iron law of multilevel selection”:
“The iron law of multilevel selection is: “Adaptation at any given level of a multi-tier hierarchy of units requires a process of selection at that level and tends to be undermined by selection at lower levels.” The reason that unsustainable practices are so common is because they benefit lower-level units at the expense of the higher-level good.” (source; also here)
This looks pertinent to TIMN. I see no reason why TIMN cannot be articulated in terms of multilevel selection. Besides, Wilson’s point about lower-level selection undermining higher-level selection matches a point I often make about the tribal/T form. It is the first and forever form; no society can do without it as a basis. Yet, it is not an easy form to get right. Its bright sides (e.g., family, community) can reinforce the other TIMN forms. But its dark sides (e.g., gangs, cronies) can corrupt and distort them. Indeed, TIMN offers a way to analyze corruption that I’ve not seen before: Basically, TIMN implies that corruption arises, and persists, because of the strength of the T form in societies where the TIMN forms are not properly separated and shielded from each other — notably where T and +M forces penetrate and corrode the +I sectors (e.g., Mexico, Russia). It’s a Darwinian dynamic that cuts across all the forms.

Also of interest here is an article on “Our Transparent Future” by Daniel Dennett and Deb Roy (drawing on Andrew Parker’s In the Blink of an Eye, 2003). They use the biological evolution of eyesight in the Cambrian era millennia ago — plus the ensuing revolution in “transparency” and the “arms race” between perception and locomotion — to forecast an organizational revolution for our own time. Accordingly, “Parker’s hypothesis about the Cambrian explosion provides an excellent parallel for understanding a new, seemingly unrelated phenomenon: the spread of digital technology.” (source)

In drawing parallels between past biological evolution and future social evolution, Dennett and Roy conclude that we should expect “a massive diversification of species of organizations” in the future:
“The tremendous change in our world triggered by this media inundation can be summed up in a word: transparency. We can now see further, faster, and more cheaply and easily than ever before — and we can be seen. …
“The impact on our organizations and institutions will be profound. … the old interfaces are losing their effectiveness. …
“By analogy, we might expect organizations to respond to the pressure of digitally driven social transparency with adaptations in their external body parts. …
“Small groups of people with shared values, beliefs and goals — particularly those who can coordinate quickly in a crisis using ad hoc channels of internal communication — will be best at the kind of fast, open, responsive communication the new transparency demands. To draw a contrast with large hierarchically organized bureaucracies, we might call these organizations “adhocracies.” As the pressures of mutual transparency increase, we will either witness the evolution of novel organizational arrangements that are far more decentralized than today’s large organizations, or we will find that Darwinian pressures select for smaller organizations, heralding an era of “too big to succeed. …
“A final implication of our Cambrian analogy is that we should soon witness a massive diversification of species of organizations. It has not happened yet, but we can look for early signs. … Time will tell, but it appears that we might be at the cusp of a radical branching of the organizational tree of life. …
“Most sheltered from immediate evolutionary pressures are systems of government. … Yet even here we should anticipate significant change, because the power of individuals and outsiders to watch organizations will only increase.” (source — h/t Dick O’Neill)
I like that; it expresses Darwinian principles in ways that coincide with TIMN. There’s nothing new in their observations about the digital information revolution — indeed, they seem to be playing catch-up. But I've not seen anyone else draw close parallels between a specific phase of biological evolution and a prospective next phase in social evolution. Their emphasis on “transparency” — personally, I think “illumination” would be a more apt term — fits with the parallel I noted up front between +N and the biological evolution of sensory systems.

Thus I agree with their evocations that “we should soon witness a massive diversification of species of organizations”, and that “we might be at the cusp of a radical branching of the organizational tree of life.” That is very TIMN-ish of them. Even so, their projections are quite conventional, for they tout already-widespread ideas that the digital information revolution will empower non-state actors and individuals, thereby resulting in new organizational species. But according to TIMN, more than new species — possibly a new genus or phylum? — should be expected from +N, along with new kinds of networked actors.

Potential proving grounds for a +N sector

Wrapping up this post — both as a follow-on to the prior post (here), and as preparation for the next post in this three-part series — one conclusion I draw is that Darwinian ideas can help with developing and presenting TIMN. Something is to be gained theoretically from going in Darwinian directions. Moreover, something may also be gained practically, if the ill rep of Social Darwinism can be superceded.

For example, I take heart in the above regards when I see prominent pro-commons P2P theorist-activist David Bollier write about the prospects for organizing a commons sector — “its aliveness” —in a way that is almost implicitly Darwinian:
“It means breaking down some of the dichotomies that we take for granted, such as between public and private, between collective and individual, between rational and nonrational. In the commons, they start to blur. You have to start talking about the commons as this organic whole, and not as this machine you can break down into parts or dissect. It’s a living organism and that’s precisely what needs to be studied: its aliveness.” (source)
To end this post, I’d call attention to two prospective proving grounds.

One may be what develops organizationally around the vast new sensory apparatuses that are being created. I’ve alluded to that in both this and the prior post. I’ve also discussed it in other posts scattered across this blog. For this post, I’d just add an apropos quote I spotted not long ago. It’s by Alex Pentland, Report for the World Economic Forum (2008):
“These distributed sensor networks have given us a new, powerful way to understand and manage human groups, corporations, and entire societies. As these new abilities become refined by the use of more sophisticated statistical models and sensor capabilities, we could well see the creation of a quantitative, predictive science of human organizations and human society. At the same time, these new tools have the potential to make George Orwell’s vision of an all-controlling state into a reality. What we do with this new power may turn out to be either our salvation or our destruction.” (source)
Another proving ground may be efforts to create Chambers of Commons that can give guiding impulse to +N efforts, while also countering the purportedly +M (but actually quite distortive) roles of the Chambers of Commerce. More on that in the next/third post (about a week or two from now, since I don’t have much of it drafted yet).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Awaiting the emergence of a +N sector (Part 1 of 3) — an update

I continue trying to track and verify this implication of TIMN. Accordingly, the rise of +N — i.e., information-age network forms of organization and related philosophies, technologies, and activities — will eventually lead to the creation of a +N sector, alongside the established +I (public) and +M (private) sectors. Then, quadriform (T+I+M+N) societies will take shape and supersede the world’s aging triform kinds of (T+I+M) societies.

Recapitulation of basic T+I+M+N dynamics

As for how a new form arises and takes hold amid earlier forms, here’s a reminder drawn from an old briefing slide titled “General Dynamics — Which Should Recur Anew With Spread of +N Actors”. What’s below is deduced from looking for general dynamics that recurred in the progressions from T, to T+I, to T+I+M types of societies across the centuries and around the world. If TIMN is correct, these dynamics will recur anew with the growth of +N:

— With rise of any form, subversion precedes addition
— Addition brings creation, consolidation of new realm [i.e., sector]
— Combination restructures, strengthens overall system
— Combination depends on regulatory interfaces, norms
— Balanced combination of forms/realms is imperative
— Combination improves comparative advantages
— Each form has both bright and dark sides
— Each form has — but cannot realize — its ideal type
— Control must eventually give way to “decontrol”
— Incomplete adaptation may be best for evolution

For discussion, see the pertinent sub-section in the overview I presented in 2009 (here).

By now, I think I have other points to add, scattered around this blog, but I can locate only one readily. It’s about differences between tribes and networks. And it stems from constant outside comments that the tribal T and +N network forms seem awfully similar, so much so that there may be only three cardinal forms, not four. While I have a long answer about this, the only observation I want to make right now is about system-change dynamics.

My observation is that every TIMN form has a tribal tone at first. This goes without saying for the tribal/T form. Next, it is true for the hierarchical institutional/+I form, for it grew out of clan-based chiefdoms and hereditary claims to rule, long before it became a professionalized form of organization. It appears to be true as well for the market/+M form; for many early trading, banking, and craft enterprises were family-based and kin-biased. Therefore, it makes sense that many +N proponents act today as though they belong to special new tribes, bound by memes rather than genes. Decades may pass before this nouveau-tribal tone dissipates among +N actors, and the +N form’s deep nature, systemic significance, and professional standards become fully evident. For elaboration, see an earlier post (here).

Seeking a name for a +N sector

As for what a +N sector might be called, I’ve collected the following. All say that a new sector is emerging alongside the established public and private sectors, and that it consists largely of non-profit civil-society NGOs: Peter Drucker (1993) calls it an autonomous “social sector”. Lester Salamon (1994), Jeremy Rifkin (1995), and Ann Florini (2000) prefer “third sector”. William Drayton used “citizen sector” (acc. to Bornstein, 2004). Paul Hawken (2007) deems much of it a global humanitarian movement that has no name and does not yet know it is a movement (much less a sector). Paul Light (2008) added “social benefit sector”. David Bollier (2008) proposed “commons sector” — a concept promulgated by Michel Bauwens as well.

Lately I’ve spotted new additions to this compilation: Henry Mintzberg (2014) calls it “plural sector”. Ina Praetorius (2015) suggests “care sector”.

Other terms include “public-interest sector” and “civic sector”, as well as “nonprofit sector” and “voluntary sector”. Actors defining them are sometimes said to be “social entrepreneurs”, some manifesting as “benefit corporations” (“B Corps”).

Meanwhile, John Keane (2008, 2009) has proposed that “monitory democracy” is a key implication. But he has not specified that a “monitory sector” is coming into existence.

My own hypothesis remains what I’ve long said: Aging contentions that “government” (+I) or “the market” (+M) is the solution to particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to new ideas that “the network” (+N) is the solution.

For now, I think that commons sector is the most promising of the foregoing ideas. Even so, I remain uncertain what a +N sector may end up being named, what its key purposes will be, and what actors will define it. But I have some inklings, as discussed below.

Seeking a purpose for a +N sector

From a TIMN perspective, the T form is mainly about maximizing dignity or pride in one’s tribal / familial identity. The +I form is mainly about maximizing hierarchical power and authority. And the +M form is mainly about maximizing profit through exchange. (Note the prevalence of terms starting with the letter “p”; I admit that this plays into my penchant for alliteration.)

What then will be the key purpose / motivation for +N? What will it seek to maximize? I can’t tell for sure. But the pertinent NGO networks around which this new sector may revolve seem especially suited to addressing social equity, care, custody, stewardship, sharing, monitorial, and/or justice matters that state and market actors have tended to downplay or been unsuited to resolving well. This has occurred partly because the successes of these +I and +M actors have generated the very problems that now need resolving in advanced T+I+M societies, often in the form of “negative externalities”. (I think all four TIMN forms generate negative externalities, and that another system-change dynamic waits to be identified in that regard — a topic for another post someday. Meanwhile, for an engaging discussion of market-system externalities and system change, see post by John Michael Greer here.)

In wondering about additional new terms for identifying +N’s overall purpose, I’ve noticed that +N may turn out to be mainly about maximizing prosociality or providence or provisioning. My main source for “prosociality” — David Sloan Wilson, writing a synopsis of Chapter 8 of his new book Does Altruism Exist? (2015) — defines it as “any attitude, behavior, or institution oriented toward the welfare of others and society as a whole” (souce). But his view is broadly evolutionary, spanning all four TIMN forms. That information-age network (+N) forms in particular may enhance prosocial behaviors is more explicit in Yochai Benkler’s The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest (2011) — e.g., where he states that “When we design systems of cooperation, we can use that tendency as a way of encouraging people to choose prosocial behaviour” (p. 145 — h/t Jean Levien summary; also see Wikipedia page here).

Personally, I think “providence” or “provisioning” have more potential for identifying +N’s key purpose. I’ve seen “providence” defined as "timely preparation for future eventualities” (source misplaced), and as “divine guidance and care” (Merriam Webster online). That is indeed what many pertinent NGO networks’ activities seem oriented toward maximizing. The term “provisioning” is often used in posts at the P2P Foundation blog (e.g., here) to express what commons-oriented P2P networks seek to maximize. It too suits +N’s likely nature, in my view.

Accumulating strength around +N’s growth

Whatever the exact name and purpose, +N actors appear to be growing. The issues they care about — environment, rights, privacy, health, poverty, consumer protection, disaster relief, information policy, insurance, etc. — are intensifying. The roles they play — as heralds, monitors, sensors, watchdogs, advocates, recruiters, knowledge and service providers, etc. — are expanding, as are their abilities to affect the agendas of state and market actors. These +N actors also have a longer reach than ever before; instead of standing alone, the usual case in the past, many now operate in sprawling multi-organizational collaborative networks that are said to represent the rise of “global civil society” and “monitory democracy”.

Despite setbacks and counter-currents in recent years, optimism remains especially among social activists in liberal democracies who believe that a new sector is emerging that can bring radical change. In some enthusiastic accounts, civil-society NGOs could serve collectively as a “second superpower” to counter American power (Moore, 2003); and they could merit their own representative body in or alongside the United Nations (Attali, 2005). But according to other accounts — the ones I prefer — this new sector’s potential as a counterweight to aging political and economic actors will be less significant than its potential as a new complement and collaborator with other actors in new modes of governance that learn to include +N.

Current sources of impulse and articulation for +N

As for who is presently thinking about these slowly-unfolding matters, my observation is that mainstream conservatives generally don’t recognize or understand +N, while mainstream liberals don’t know what to make of it yet. This is evident in the debate rhetorics of the presidential candidates for both the Republican and Democratic parties. While I still believe that America will be the first to achieve a +N transition and next-stage society, the current presidential campaign rhetorics have muddled my hopes, as well as stoked my apprehensions that, if a Cruz or Trump wins, +N will be put on hold or suppressed for a long while.

The cutting-edge energy behind +N is mostly located farther on the Left, especially among theorists and activists grouped around P2P and pro-commons ideas. Many of their ideas (e.g., for “platform cooperativism”, and for “Assemblies of the Commons” and “Chambers of Commons”) look promising for the development of quadriform societies. These proponents also keep coming up with solid critiques of what I’d call nouveau-triform notions (e.g., for “conscious capitalism”) that don’t really engage +N. For example, see recent overviews about The Top Ten P2P Trends of 2015 (here), and What the P2P Foundation Did in 2015 (here).

Yet, to my eyes, many (though far from all) P2P and pro-commons writings and activities seem heavily oriented to economic and business matters — they seem more about radically reforming +M than distinctively building +N. There may well be good tactical and strategic reasons for this. But my view of TIMN is such that their emphasis on economic and business matters looks somewhat off-course strategically. They may be on-course from a neo-Marxist perspective, for many such writings are from the Left and concern P2P’s potential implications for creating alternatives to capitalism. That is to their credit. But if I’m right about TIMN, that is ultimately not the central matter.

Capitalism will be radically altered by +N, but the market system (+M) is here to stay, albeit in modified form. The main arena for +N will be about other matters (some noted above, such as the commons) that, to my eyes, are more social than economic in nature, and more suited to being separated out and organized into a distinctive new sector.

Or so my view of TIMN goes, in part because TIMN is far more Darwinian than Marxist. Darwin provides a better guide than Marx for thinking in TIMN terms. Which I shall discuss in the next post, before drawing some general conclusions.