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).

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