[#11 in a chronological series meant to update this blog with write-ups I failed to post during 2021-2022.]
Originally posted at Substack on September 27, 2022, at:
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HOW AND WHY SOCIETIES EVOLVE, SOME BETTER THAN OTHERS
[Prospective Manuscript Title]
Chapter 1. Anticipating The Emergence Of Quadriform Societies
Our society, like most societies, has three major realms: civil society, government, and the economy. How and why we came to have a society that has those three realms is a long story; but have them we do — nearly everybody says so; and nearly everybody takes them for granted, as a design we have always had, and seemingly always will have.
But here is the bottom line up front: In the decades ahead — and it will take decades — America’s future depends on achieving a major evolutionary transition from its current triform design — meaning it has those three major realms (civil society + government + market economy) — to a next-generation quadriform design with four major realms (civil society + government + market economy + a-new-realm-yet-to-unfold).
Why does a fourth realm seem likely to emerge? And, what actors and activities seem likely to comprise it? While neither question has a certain answer at this point, the why question has a clearer answer than the what.
The why is because of the emergence of new network forms of organization, enabled by history’s latest (digital) information and communications technology revolution. Across the ages, each time a major new form of organization has come to the fore, along with a new information and communications technology revolution, the result has been the definition of a new realm of activity and governance. As I shall explain later, there have been three such history-bending transformations in the past; we are now in the early phases of a fourth.
Looking ahead, the what question comes down to figuring out what mounting challenges a growing society faces that have finally outgrown the capabilities of its existing forms of organization, and thus require new forms of organization for those challenges to be effectively addressed and resolved. Best I can tell, based on a logic I shall unfold in subsequent chapters, the actors and activities that are most muddled and can benefit the most from the emergence of a new network-based realm are in the fields of health, education, welfare, and the environment. These may appear to be markedly different fields; but they are quite interrelated — improvements in one field usually benefit the others too. What interrelates them thematically is that they are all about care: not power, not profit, but care — ranging from people care to planet care, preferably for the common good.
For decades they have been treated as separate policy problems, with some pieces in the public sector, others in the private sector, while other aspects are tossed back to burden families and communities in the civil-society sector. Yet health, education, welfare, and environmental matters have become so crucial and complex, so interconnected and interactive with each other, that it is advisable to view them as a combined set and let them move, and be moved, into their own realm and sector: a care-centric net-work-based “commons sector,” separate from but also linked to our customary civil-society, public, and private sectors.
If/when this occurs, America will have accomplished a transition to a quadriform system. America will emerge stronger and better-structured as a complex society. It will be newly able to get more things done, more simply and effectively, easing and improving people’s lives better than ever. It will be better designed to resolve crucial policy problems. It will cease to face the systemic deadlock and decay it currently faces. It will become re-energized as a society and civilization.
If America cannot make this structural transition, its current two-centuries-old triform design may still be adjustable enough to muddle along. But America’s current system is close to (perhaps already over) the limits of what a triform design can accomplish well, politically, economically, socially, and otherwise. Barring a transition, America is likely to become evermore indecisive, ineffective, and grid-locked, so riven by political tribalism and policy confusion, that it may collapse rather than keep muddling along.
Triform? Quadriform? A fourth sector? Those terms may seem odd, even jarring at first sight. But bear with me — for what they mean is simple enough, and only a few paragraphs away. They are concepts that work to chart the past, present, and future of our society’s evolution.
Across The Centuries: From Monoform To Biform To Triform Societies
The reason people assemble into societies is to enable them to live better by living together. That is why, ages ago, people first clustered together in familial clans and communal tribes centered around kinship ties, structures, codes, and customs — making tribes the first major form of social organization and evolution. Then, centuries later, people began to benefit from and accommodate to the formation of states, armies, and other hierarchical institutions — making institutions the second major form of organization, which enabled large undertakings that required central command and control, undertakings that tribes alone could not accomplish well, such as constructing irrigation systems and organizing territorial defense forces. Next, still more centuries later, people transformed their societies again, this time to make room for the growth of markets based on free fair exchanges of goods and services — making markets the third major form of organization and evolution, which enabled businesses to grow and commerce to flourish, alongside but relatively free of preexisting tribal and statist constraints.
Not everybody benefitted along the way. But overall, this evolutionary progression — from tribe-centric, to state-centric, to market-centric systems — has enabled most societies to perform better, so that people lived better. Thus societies grew in complexity and capability across the ages as people learned to add and combine the tribal, institutional, and market forms of organization.
In doing so, societies gradually advanced in complexity from monoform (tribes-only), to biform (tribes + institutions), to triform designs (tribes + institutions + markets). Along the way, the tribal form morphed into becoming the core of what we now call civil society, the institutional form into today’s modern administrative state, and the market form into today’s capitalist economy — making civil society, government, and the market economy into the three grand realms of all modern societies.
The best result has been the United States of America. For over two centuries, it has been the paragon of a triform society — the epitome of a liberal democracy aglow with an energetic civil society, a strong and trusted system of government, and a thriving market economy. Indeed, after the fall of the Soviet Union (a dictatorial biform system that deliberately excluded the market form), the success of our own and other triform democratic societies inspired an optimistic belief in the “end of history” idea, whereby
“What we may witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” (Fukuyama, 1989, 1992).
However, matters have not evolved that way; and they remain unlikely to do so. The fight for Ukraine has revitalized Fukuyama’s and others’ hopes to revitalize the “end of history” model. Even so, it is essentially a trifom model, fielded not only at the moment of its greatest power and success in the late 20th Century, but also, unknowingly, on the eve of its evolutionary finitude. Belief in this supposedly final model has thus limited people’s thinking about how societies could and should be structured in the future. For this model does not recognize the emergence of a fourth grand form of organization and evolution: information-age networks.
Most nations are still trying to get the triform model right — this is not easy to do, and the world would be a far better place if they did. But other nations, America in particular, are so advanced that, even as our leaders endeavor to fix what has gone wrong in each existing triform realm, they would be well advised to at least begin thinking and planning for transformation to a quadriform model. Doing so is not on any leader’s agenda today, but it will eventually become imperative.
The rise of the fourth form — the digital-age network form of organization and evolution — will lead to a renewal of history, not its end. Indeed, history has restarted each time a next-new form has emerged to take hold in the past. It will do so again.
Emergence Of The Network Form Of Organization And Evolution
Distributed decentralized multi-node network forms of organization have existed for ages; in modern eras, some business enterprises as well as activist civil-society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were early adopters. But networks were not deemed a distinct form of organization worthy of specialized academic analysis and theorizing until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the spread of fax machines and then other new digital devices, services, and systems, especially the internet, made network designs far more feasible and attractive.
Today, networks of all kinds attract constant massive attention; they have spread everywhere, affecting everything in all realms and sectors of society. People are turning to networks wherever they can, sometimes as though networks may prove the cure-alls that earlier people used to think hierarchies or markets would be. At first it was thought that CSOs and NGOs would benefit more than other actors, but this is not what has happened so far. Indeed, dark actors from uncivil society (terrorists, criminals, etc.) have benefitted as much as civil-society’s bright-side actors from turning to information-age networks designs
Yet, the rise of the network form — along with its particular enabling technologies, organizational dynamics, and philosophical implications, distinct from those of the earlier three forms — is still in early disruptive phases. It remains unclear exactly what kinds of actors and activities — and what kinds of systemic functions — the network form may be best suited to enabling and energizing in the decades ahead.
For the time being, the rise of the information-age network form helps account for the vast loosening and questioning, both functional and dysfunctional, that has beset all three realms of our aging triform system. Indeed, none of these realms and their sectors are functioning properly. Civil society’s variously-named sector(s), the government’s public sector, and the economy’s private sector all appear to be in distress, overburdened, and out of whack, thus functioning poorly, even coming apart. Some problems — too many to list in this first chapter, but voiced everyday by people everywhere — are internal to each sector. Others pertain to how the three sectors interconnect. Some problems are now so chronic and complicated that multiple observers, from Left to Right, claim our society is failing.
Amid all the explanations and solutions being proposed, what is yet to be noticed fully is that many of today’s chronic systemic problems are largely the result of:
(1) the success of the triform model at generating so much progress across the last two centuries, for prolonged progress always creates new problems that test and eventually confound a system’s capacity for further growth;
(2) the advent of a next-new form of organization and evolution — this time, the network form — atop a new information and communications technology revolution that offers new ways to grow.
In short. the rise of this network form is shaking up the entire triform design, even as the form’s ultimate implications remain unclear, even unseen. Indeed, that is what the rise of a major new form of organization always does to societies: it stirs them to pull, apart even as it offers new ways to re-assemble — and the pulling-apart precedes and prompts the re-assembling.
Unfortunately, America’s current political, economic, and social leaders are still thinking and planning in triform ways, as evidenced by their continual proposals for public-private partnerships to resolve this or that issue, sometimes with nods to strengthening the roles of civil-society actors as well. Yet, these leaders cannot do otherwise, for the triformist design is all they have known — they are unable to think and act otherwise.
Meanwhile — a long meanwhile by now — America looks increasingly off-balance and out-of-balance, in trouble across all realms and sectors. Broken individuals, broken families, broken communities, and broken mores afflict civil society, far and wide. All areas and levels of government seem increasingly broken as well, with more and more people losing faith in its leaders, offices, and operations. Oligopolistic corporations, rigged markets, and predatory “late capitalism” keep distorting what is supposed to be a free and fair market economy. And that’s just to mention a handful of pan-systemic ailments and dysfunctions, without noting myriad others and the worsening synergies among them.
Many Americans are living adequately enough (myself included); so all is not doom and gloom. But in light of the above: No wonder America seems to be losing ground as an ideal power and exemplary model. No wonder so many Americans are angry and alienated, reverting to the earliest form of social organization and evolution: the tribal form. No wonder malignant tribalism is spreading across the political spectrum, led on by exploitive domestic as well as outside actors. No wonder cruelty and inequity are on the rise.
All sorts of cogent conscientious analyses have appeared about these matters, and myriad more are on the way — too many to comment on here. But I would hark on one crucial observation: All of them, even the most transformational analyses, presume that our society has three major realms, and that this will remain the case well into the future. The triform model is taken for granted; and networks are treated as a modifying form, not a major next-new form that may bring an end to the triform design. (I have come across one exception, to be discussed in a future chapter.)
Onward Toward Quadriform Societies (Based on TIMN)
Thus we find ourselves caught in an evolutionary quandary, peering Janus-like in two directions, facing two grand choices that we seem barely aware of:
· One is to persist with the triform system we know — the legacy of the past, the presumptive given — and keep trying to reform and adjust it.
· The other, once it is glimpsed, is to head deliberately toward a quadriform re-shaping — the promise of the future.
It is an unsettling choice, bound to bring difficulties and uncertainties no matter which choice is made. But the first option will ultimately prove futile; only the second can prove fertile.
I shall argue for pursuing the quadriformist option. And I shall rely on what I call the TIMN framework to do so. Actually, I have used it throughout this chapter; I just have not said so until now. All mentions of tribes, institutions, markets, and networks as cardinal forms of organization are based on TIMN, an acronym comprised of the first letters of those four forms. The ideas about an evolutionary progression from monoform to biform to triform and potentially to quadriform societies are also drawn from TIMN. I will lay all this out in coming chapters.
TIMN has plenty to offer regarding how to assess and address the problems our triform system currently faces. So, even if you do not accept that a quadriform system is a possibility that would work better in the future, you may still learn something new from TIMN about how to improve our current system. However, my primary objective is to call for moving toward a quadriform transformation.
This will be accomplished in the chapters ahead by conveying what appear to be three unique implications of TIMN:
• The first is that social evolution revolves around not only a core set of four organizational forms but also a set of system dynamics (rules, principles) that come into play every time a next-new form arises and matures — to wit, whenever there is a major evolutionary transition. Identifying these recurrent dynamics, which can be done by examining the transitions from monoform to biform to triform societies, can enable us to prefigure what to expect from a prospective transition from a triform to a quadriform society.
• The second unique implication is that the emergence of the network form will lead to the emergence of a new networks-based realm, with its own sector(s). It will serve to encompass and resolve complex problems that our aging public and private sectors are no longer suited to addressing, and that cannot, and should not, be left alone to burden families and activists in civil-society.
• The third implication, in keeping with the first two, is that this next-new sector will be as distinct from the prior three sectors as they are from each other. The others are defined not only by distinct forms of organization but also by their different purposes, functions, values, and motivations, as well as by their different approaches to property and finance, and of course by the different kinds of actors and activities with which we associate them. According to TIMN, the fourth realm and its sector will be likewise.
Exactly what actors and activities may comprise the next-new realm? How might we know apart from sheer speculation? As I indicated above, and for reasons I shall expand in future chapters, TIMN implies that the fourth sector, like the prior three, will emerge and take shape around a core challenge, or set of challenges, that the prior sectors are no longer suited to addressing and resolving, yet that must be addressed and resolved if a society as a whole is to keep progressing. Best I can deduce — if you have a better idea, please advance it — the challenges that most fit this criterion are health, education, welfare, and the environment.
Curiously, these matters, viewed as a set, involve a common cross-cutting theme; and that theme is care, broadly defined — individual and collective care; people care, life care, indeed the care of body, mind, and soul; political, social, cultural, and environmental care, indeed planetary care. The overarching goal is to assure that people can do their best for themselves, for their families and communities, and for the common good of society.
For decades these care-centric matters were manageable enough to fit, and be force-fitted, into various public, private, and public-private programs, sometimes with civil-society actors playing roles too. By now, however, these problems have all become so enormous, complicated, unsettled, and unsettling, that they beg for new approaches. As a set, they have outgrown the triform framework in ways our leaders do not see yet.
For America to remain on the cutting edge of human progress and social evolution, our leaders better start seeing this. From a TIMN standpoint, what seems most advisable is that this fourth sector be a “commons sector,” with health, education, welfare, and environmental matters migrated out of the existing three sectors and into this next-new one. More on that as we go along.
The Chapters Ahead
That is the argument I shall unfold in a series of chapters to be posted here. The tentative title is How and Why Societies Evolve, Some Better than Others. The chapter order I currently have in mind is as follows:
1. Anticipating The Emergence Of Quadriform Societies [this chapter]
2. Backstory: From Cyberocracy To Networks To TIMN
3. Overview Of Social Evolution: Past, Present, And Future
4. Organizational Forms Compared: TIMN vs. Other Frameworks
5. Explaining Social Evolution: TIMN’s Recurrent System Dynamics
6. Forecasting The Fourth Realm: Toward A Care-Centric Commons Sector
7. America Transformed: Implications For Theory, Policy, And Strategy
Decades may pass before anyone can know for sure whether what I am about to lay out amounts to scientific analysis or science fiction — a protopian guide to the future, or a misconceived conjecture. All I know for certain is that it is my driven duty to try to lay it out, and that I am at least ten years behind in doing so.
Surely the triform design is not the best design that evolutionary progress can offer humanity — its final stage, the end of history. That seems way too limiting, even dystopian, lacking in promise. Quadriform systems are unlikely to become utopias, but they could bring basic massive improvements to people’s lives for generations to come.
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[P.S.: I have a pretty good start lying around, beginning with my 1996 RAND paper on the basics of TIMN, and a 2007 follow-up paper on tribes as the first and forever form. You are reading a first draft of Ch. 1 right now. Ingredients for Chs. 3-6 already exist in blog posts I’ve written since 2008, but they all need revising and updating. Ch. 5 on system dynamics will benefit from the fact that my 1996 paper contains a section that identifies some dynamics, and later blog posts reported on others I have uncovered. Problem is, there are still other dynamics I have found in recent years, but at this point I do not know where I wrote them down. Much of Ch. 6 exists in blog posts I drafted a couple years ago, but never completed for posting.
As for Ch. 7 on TIMN’s implications for theory, policy, and strategy, many points already exist in prior blog posts; it should not be too difficult to pull them together in a concluding chapter. But I also have new deductions to add, notably that TIMN seems “biased” in favor of recognizing the limitations as well as strengths of each form, developing their bright sides while constraining their dark sides, keeping the forms in some kind of balance so that no single form dominates the others, and opposing absolutisms and extremisms of all kinds since they are bound to create imbalances, distortions, and rigidities. My long-range aim is to identify ways to foster the transition to a quadriform system, but my near-range hope is more practical: to identify principles embedded in TIMN for getting the triform model right too. More on this later.
I am likely to be repetitive, long-winded, halting, and tentative along the way. But hopefully that can all be corrected later, amounting to the least of my problems in trying to lay out TIMN and its implications.]
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