Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Individual and the Collective, Part One

Alright, this is in response to Sam's desire for a logical and rational debate, to quote: "From basis of ethics to specialization in politics/government is what I would love to get into. You make some statements I don't know how you support like ones implying the only reason we don't all have plenty now is because evil people are taking it away from us or keeping it from us. Or your statements against free markets. I would like to see your development of those positions from first principles."

So, let's start from "First principles."

Principle 1: Humanity is an animal. As an animal it is driven by primal instincts. These instincts can be viewed as 2 separate interacting drives. The first drive is to survive. The second drive is to reproduce. These two interacting drives underlay all human activity, and together can explain the majority of human activity.
Principle 2: Both survival and reproductive instincts are necessary, desirable, and vital to our continued existence, and evolution as a species. However, they are currently uncontrolled due to humanities denial of Principle 1, and because of this, have also lead to the majority of human conflict, suffering, and misery.

Principle 3: As man is a "thinking animal" able to analyze both itself and its actions, and react as a rational being with some degree of free will, it has the ability to harness it's instincts into primarily beneficial actions, and minimize harmful actions both on the individual and collective scales.

Those are the starting principles. Everything else is derived from this.

Survival is a basic drive for any animal. It directs us to daily seek out the resources needed to continue one’s existence. To survive, we need food, shelter from the elements, medical care, education, and security.

Let’s use a wolf pack as an example. It hunts for food, creates a den for shelter from the elements, follows certain hygienic practices to maintain its health, teaches it’s young, and surrounds itself with a group to increase the security of every individual.

It makes it very easy to see how a lack of any of these basic needs could jeopardize the wolf’s survival, no? If he can’t find food, he’ll starve to death. If he can’t find a den, he can’t shelter from the elements, meaning every storm could kill him, every blizzard freeze him to death. If he doesn’t take those basic hygiene steps (i.e. grooming, etc) his health will suffer, he could get sick, and die. If his parents hadn’t educated him, he wouldn’t have survived his first day in the wild and died. And if he’s all alone, he has no help to defend himself against fellow predators.

Examining the needs of animals provides us with a very clear understanding that any animal thus has five basic requirements that together constitutes “Survival”: Food to eat, Shelter to live in, Healthcare to prevent illness, education to cope with the environment, and security to be free from threats.  By forming packs, wolves thus self organize into a collective where every member can contribute and share responsibility for provision of these five NEEDS. This is known as division of labor. Each wolf divides the total labor of any one wolf in proportion with the number of wolves in the pack. If one brings down a large animal, they all share, reducing the burden of each wolf towards hunting. Some can stay and watch pups while others go hunt. Some can stand guard while others sleep. The healthy can share with the sick. Etc.

By forming an organization, wolves thus create a system which A: Controls the Collective actions, B: Controls the Shared resources of the Collective, and C: Allocates shared resources to benefit the Collective as efficiently as possible.

We can see the same self organization in a primitive tribe as well. The tribe works together to ensure the tribes survival, using division of labor to multiply the efficiency of each individual, and thus provide the five NEEDS to each individual at much reduced cost in individual effort. In a prosperous tribe, it might be possible to acquire all needs for a week with just a few hours of combined effort by all individuals.

This is what makes such organization a strong survival trait. Any animal which forms such an organization will have a much higher survival chance than those which do not form such organizations. Because such animals will have a greater likelihood of having all five of their basic NEEDS met, promoting species growth. Thus, we form groups not because it is 100% necessary we form them, but because groups improve our overall chances of survival enormously. Without groups, an individual can survive. They can provide the five basic NEEDS of food, shelter, healthcare, education and security for themselves.  However, the amount of effort necessary to do so is vastly higher than in a group in which resources and labor can be allocated efficiently. We know instinctively that co-operation, in general, provides more NEEDS for less effort. 

In humans, we can increase this beyond just providing for basic NEEDS though, because we have created systems which can not only allocate resources efficiently but which can do so across time as well. A resource collected today can be stored for use at a later time, thus enabling human labor to produce far more than just the basic NEEDS. This excess becomes stored for later use, and as the “storehouse” grows, it enables the group to provide for more people, who contribute just that much more to the “storehouse” in an endless loop of improvement.

Now, as we gather into groups, we spontaneously organize hierarchical systems to control the allocation of group resources, labor, skills, etc. This organization is a "Government." How this system is organized is not important. The system itself  governs how communally shared resources are used, and because it "governs" the system, it is a "government" I am making this point to clarify that when I use the term government I am defining it as "any system of organization established by a community to establish order and allocate division of labor and shared communal resources." How it is organized, whether it has a monopoly on "force" etc. is not relevant to the definition of "Government."  It can be voluntary, it can be coerced, it can be democratic, it can be tyrannical, it is still "A GOVERNMENT." I cannot make this any simpler than this.

So, to restate. We as humans form collectives, which spontaneously generate hierarchical systems to allocate and organize the use of labor, resources, and all other shared items for the communal good. I will make no effort at this point to define "communal good". Whatever system is created, from the family unit to corporations to nations, regardless of size or complexity, the very fact that the system will exist makes it a "government". The only way a "governmentless" society can exist is if it consists of a single individual. Any form of collective, even one of two individuals, will create a system to allocate co-operative effort, and thus be a "government."

The reason I am going to such lengths to clarify this point is to illustrate that any argument for a "governmentless" system is engaging in semantic obfuscation, attempting to present a system of preferred government under the guise of it "not being a government" when it is still a system intended to allocate co-operative resources, while demonizing an undesirable system as "government."  The very existence of any system to govern must categorically be understood to be "A Government." Even animals exhibit the basic principles of self organization within a group, because this system of organization is a survival positive behavior. It is an emergent phenomena that is inherent in every form of life that exhibits collective survival strategies. Call it a flock, a herd, a village, a church,  a corporation or a nation, it is still a "Government." Even this forum has a "government" in the form of "moderators."

So, what exactly is the reason this system is so beneficial to survival? In order to illustrate, I would like to have you imagine you are suddenly deposited on a deserted island. On this island is every raw resource needed to recreate the exact same level of technological civilization that we live in right now, but you are completely alone.  Even if you are immortal, would you be able to completely recreate modern technology? Could you, alone, rewrite every classical book that has shaped society, recreate every invention, rebuild your own mini industrial revolution? Could you even manage to recreate the Iron Age?

Every item you likely use daily is a product of collective effort. The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, even the computer you are reading this post on, was made by someone else in the vast interlocking series of collectives we call civilization. Through co-operative effort, humanity has done far more than simply "survive." Collective organization allows for a diversity of effort, diversity of effort insures that multiple pathways to any given problem are explored, and thus allows for the possibility of greatly magnified "benefits" provided to each individual that would otherwise be impossible for the individual to acquire on their own. This makes each individual in a collective a potential source of benefits to every other individual in the collective. It also means that every individual in the collective contributes to the well being of the collective, and that no member of the collective is without value to the collective. Any member of the collective allowed to fail deprives every other member of the collective of whatever contribution that individual could have made had the collective invested the proper resources needed to allow that individual to become a positive asset.

If all things were equal, it should be obvious that this survival strategy is a positive sum game when all "players" participate equally, and which provides a orders of magnitude reduction in any individuals "effort" necessary to provide for all NEEDS, thus enabling a surplus to accumulate able to provide for larger and larger collectives to come into being, as well as providing every individual with benefits above and beyond basic needs that the individual would never be able to provide for themselves, such as creative works, insights and various other intangibles produced by the synergistic interactions of the collective.

But... all things are not equal.

The reason all things are not equal is that second little instinct we humans have. The reproductive one. Unlike basic survival, reproductive strategies are competitive, not co-operative.

Now, in order to compete, reproduction does tend to collect us into groups as well, because the larger the group, the more chances of reproductive success there are. The difference is where mere survival encourages co-operation in order for all members to benefit equally, the competitiveness of reproductive strategies encourages the creation of status tiers, also known as pecking orders, the social ladder, social classes, etc. It called by many names but it comes down to the fact that we tend to arrange ourselves into a hierarchical systems due to reproductive instincts as well as survival instincts. 

The problem is that the hierarchal systems of survival are an organizational and efficiency tool, intended to make co-operation easier, more effective, and more efficient, while the hierarchal systems of reproduction are designed to select "best genetic material" and they encourage competition. They don't care about making things easier, or to be blunt, survival, so long as they can reproduce prior to failing to survive. Survival is about the organism. Reproduction is about the gene. Your genes don't care if the organism itself dies so long as the genes have successfully reproduced. Anything goes so long as the goal of reproduction is met. Lying, cheating, stealing, killing, you name it, so long as it results in reproduction, it's a successful tactic. Understand that. Genes know no morality.

Neither does survival. co-operation is not based on morality, it's because it's an effective survival tool. It enables each contributing member to do less to get more, and as such it is entirely a selfish act. Both of these instincts make us create hierarchal systems, but their focus is different. Survival uses a long-term strategy, while reproduction uses a short-term strategy. Nothing I am about to discuss is based on morality. It is entirely based on how these two strategies interplay to create human society. The reason I stress this is to illustrate that morality is an artificial system imposed by a system of belief about how the world "Should Be," while what I am discussing deals with the world "As Is."

Now, back to status. As I discussed above, the reproductive instinct encourages competition, which leads to "ranking." This is not a "male" or a "female" specific trait, regardless of what you might believe. At the genetic level the human animal is not monogamous. The typical male strategy involves mating with as many females as possible, while the female strategy is not as simple. While it involves multiple mates as well, the strategy is to acquire the genetic material of a "superior specimen" while securing the services of a "less superior" specimen to assist with nurturing and child raising. Note, you can disagree all you wish, I am simply reporting on what the most basic level of programming is. We've created more complex behaviors on top of this, but this is still what is we evolved as. (Marriage, monogamy, and all the various rules regarding sexual interactions are essentially various strategies we have tried to reign in the "reproductive" instinct, and control some of it's more negative aspects. )

The result of this interplay is a complex game of "Status", determined by a wide array of "markers," such as physical prowess, appearance, and various other traits. However, as all humans are not equally "genetically blessed" numerous other "markers" exist as well, most markedly, the accumulation of material wealth. Why? Because as a general rule, humans seek to gain the most benefits for the least amount of effort.  As we form groups, the effort needed to survive drops. The greater the resources available to any given member of a group, the less effort must be expended to survive. A surplus of benefits basically means negative personal expenditure, you can pay "others" to gather the resources needed to survive.

So basically, when you add the reproductive "short term" strategy to the survival "long term" strategy, what you get is a system that begins to take the "commonly shared resources" created by the collective, and begins sharing them based not on the amount of contribution made by each individual, but on status. In other words, the long term strategy of equality becomes replaced by the short term strategy of "status" and introduces a weighting system into the resources collectively created. This weighting system effectively forms a pyramid in which the top status tier expects to work far less while gaining far greater rewards than the masses at the bottom of the pyramid does, with those rewards being justified as a tribute to the "superiority" of the top tier. This is because we are programmed to react to status this way, viewing those of higher status positively, while viewing lower status negatively.

Now, in a small tribe, this is not really all that bad a thing, because the community will prevent it from going to excess. As the entire tribe is aware of each individual's status, and aware of what all members contribute, status will still be fairly closely tied to the individual's contribution to the collective. The best hunter might get the best cuts of meat because of his skill, the Chief might have more resources than any individual, etc., but this will usually not be so excessive that any individual will be denied sufficient recompense for their contribution to meet their NEEDS. This is because SECRECY is not really possible in such a limited society. Any member of the tribe actively seeking to cause harm to the other members of the tribe for their own individual gain will quickly be dealt with. That hunter had better stay the best hunter if he wishes to keep his status, the chief who mistreats his tribe isn't going to stay chief long. The system is accountable, with the individuals accountable to the collective, as well as the collective answerable to the individuals. Or to clarify, the individuals who represent the collective are held accountable to the individuals of the collective they have been chosen to represent. The "collective" is just the system, a tool. It has no will or sentience, so cannot be "held to account" for the misdeeds performed by the individuals who abuse the power granted by the collective for individual gain.

And note, this is the generalized "ideal state" of the collective/individual relationship. The "government" of the "tribe" exists to provide a structure to manage and control the collective assets created by the collective. Individual status may vary, but since each member of the tribe contributes to the collective, each shares in the benefits of being a part of that collective. And individuals who refuse to participate in the collective will not long receive benefits from that collective. At this scale, it should be quite obvious how the entire social dynamic works. At a smaller scale, we call it a "family", at larger scales a "nation". The scale doesn't change the dynamic. Nor does separating the provision of NEEDS among multiple collectives. Every subcollective will still exist under the overarching collective, and will still control various subsets of the total "shared resources" of the entire collective, so all subdividing does is complicate the structure without changing the basic relationship of individual to collective. Even Corporations are collectives providing commonly shared resources for the collective, derived from resources collectively harvested. Thus by studying the dynamics at the scale of a simplified "tribe" it's easier to see exactly how the individual and the collective interact.

So, let's look at this further, shall we? If we assume the role of "the Chief", what are our duties? We have been entrusted with the management of the tribe, and a failure on our part to do so properly will obviously spell doom not only for the tribe, but ourselves as well.

Obviously, our first duty is to ensure the basic needs, no? We have to make sure our tribe has enough food. This will involve assigning hunters, farmers, gathers, herdsmen, etc. It would make very little sense to assign those whose skills don't match a particular job to do that job, correct?  But how do we find out who is suited to each task? Obviously, some research is in order. If no-one in our tribe has any knowledge of how to do any of these tasks, we must educate them. If we educate all of them in every task, at least to start, we should be able to assess who has an aptitude for each profession, and who actually likes to do any given specialization. We could certainly assign the jobs at random, which is the quick and easy solution, the "short term" solution, but then we will likely deal with people resenting the work they are doing, and likely sabotaging the job in ways, reducing the benefits created, and thus leading to fewer resources available to the tribe. So, it behooves us as Chief to find jobs for each of our individuals that best suit them, so that they will be happy at what they do, and thus, be at their most productive. As chief, we cannot settle for short term benefits which use our resources less efficiently, but need to use the longest term strategies which have guaranteed returns on investment. Why? Because it is in our own best interests to do so. The better choice will always be the one which is more certain to produce benefits to the entire collective, instead of one which maximizes returns to one group at the expense of the other groups, because failure to do so is almost certainly going to end with a piking by the groups harmed by such a strategy.

This same logic applies to Shelter, Healthcare, Security, and even the education process itself. These are all needs that must be met for every individual, in order to make the collective run smoothly and in order to maximize the resources generated so that all members of the tribe can prosper. It makes very little sense to force a subset of the tribe to work to exhaustion while allowing another subset to idle about doing nothing of worth to the collective, no? While you can run the tribe this way for a time, it should be obvious that the subset forced to work will resent the subset doing nothing, as well as you as Chief for allowing this to occur, no? In other words, while such a pattern of behavior might confer some short term benefits ( the group getting the free ride will certainly appreciate you ), it is a strategy that in the long term will do nothing but harm the wellbeing of not just the tribe, but yourself as well. You will likely find yourself removed as Chief if you mismanage your tribe this badly.

The same goes if you decide to deny a section of your tribe any benefits for being a part of your collective. The group that you decide is "undeserving" is not going to be happy at your decision, no? In fact, they might be SO unhappy, that they will rise up and mount your head on a pike to show you how unhappy they are. So, if you value your own head, it would probably be a better idea to ensure that all members of your tribe benefit at least to the extent of having their basic needs met.

You see, you, as chief have to understand one fact, every single member of your collective has one goal. Their own personal self interest. They are part of your collective because they are expecting to receive benefits from being in your collective. Specifically, they are expecting to have to work less to receive their basic NEEDS by working with your collective, and to actually achieve more benefits by doing so than they can receive by working alone.  Got that? Every individual is a selfish, short sighted, and unreasonable animal. They don't care about "the big picture", nor can they see it, because they are not in the privileged position that you have as chief. Additionally, you have to understand that every single individual who is NOT PART of the collective is a threat to the collective.  Any individual that you fail to include in your collective will have a vested interest in providing for their own needs with the minimal amount of effort, which makes the resources collected by your collective an obvious target. Since they have no stake in the well-being of your collective, any damage inflicted to your collective by their predation will not be their concern.

There is no morality to this. No "good" or "evil". It's all about self interest.  The LONG TERM self interest of the collective dictates that every member of the collective must both receive the complete meeting of their NEEDS, and that it must include everyone, because any individual who is denied a part in the collective is a Predator that threatens the safety of the collective. While some might argue that it is the individual's responsibility to provide for their own needs, this argument is invalidated by the very purpose of joining a collective, which is to reduce the individual effort needed to provide for individual  needs. Unless the individual is receiving their needs from the collective, there is NO BENEFIT TO THE INDIVIDUAL for being a member of that collective. In order to prevent an individual from losing their stake in the collective, and therefore becoming a threat to the collective, it is in the best interests of the collective to provide all of the basic NEEDS at a minimum, and to exceed this minimum if possible.

Simply put, I ignore arguments about "morality", "non-aggression principles" and any others that assume the human animal to be "nobler" than any other animal when put into a survive or die situation. Experience has proven that given the choice between death and doing whatever is necessary to survive, the higher impulses, such as "morality", give way to the animal instincts to survive at all costs. I'm a cynic. I have to view the human animal as an animal, and to believe that they will always put their own self interests ahead of the collective. Thus the ONLY way to ensure that the individual is not a threat to the collective is to ensure that the individual's self interest is aligned with the collective's interest.

It's at this point a lot of people will make the mistake of assuming that this means that the collective is entitled to trick, con, or force what it sees as "the common good" on individuals within the collective. But this is a false assumption based on the historical idiocy that has done this numerous times. The truth is that the "common good" is something that the individuals within the collective determine for themselves, and it is the role of the "chief" to enact their desires. The problem is that the "common good" is very dependent on the "status game".  You see, depending on "status", various groups of the collective will desire very different things. What might be "good" for one group may be absolute "evil" for another. And when you have "Chiefs" who view themselves as members of one "status tier" or another, you often find short term thinking making some very bad decisions that tend to end up with the other status tiers sharpening their pikes to mount the Chief's heads on.

From studying history, it's easy to say what is NOT the duty of a "government", because these actions are things that lead to very poor short term thinking and actions that ultimately result in heads on pikes. For one, it is not the government's job to promote one status tiers interests over another, but it is their job to promote all status tiers equally, and to curb actions by any given group that causes harm to any other group. It is not the government's job to promote and protect any given religion, but it is it's job to prevent any given religion from causing harm to any individual or group.  It is not the government's job to tell you what you as an individual can or cannot do in a general sense, but it is it's job to prevent you from actions that cause harm to any other non-consenting individual.

In other words, it is the job of government to be a true neutral arbiter, the ultimate referee who insures that all members of the collective both have their needs met, and cannot actively cause harm to any other individual in the collective. Any activity beyond this, and it risks turning large sections of the collective into either predators on the collective, or parasites on the collective.

And here is where you have to get down to defining terms. Predators are easy. These are individuals or other collectives who view the collective as "lunch". The defining characteristic is that the predator exists OUTSIDE the collective. They are dangerous precisely because they are not part of the collective.

Parasites are exactly the same thing, only they exist inside the collective. They still view the collective as lunch, and are every bit as harmful as predators, but they are harder to deal with. The biggest trouble is that of actually understanding which parasitical behaviors are the most harmful. The easy answer is obvious. They cause harm to the overall collective. But often times that harm is not noticed. The problem is that parasites are very good at hiding the harm that they cause in SECRECY, or excuse it as the privilege of status.

And as you recall, the very reason I am using small scale tribal structure to illustrate the functions of government is because secrecy cannot really exist in such a small structure. However, as we have expanded past the size of tribes, secrecy has become the primary defense of parasites. They are aware that if the other members of the collective become aware of their activities, then out of self preservation, the collective will enforce penalties on the parasite, up to and including death in an effort to prevent the parasite from causing further harm.

To be blunt, a parasite is actually far more harmful than a predator, because of the fact that they are inside the collective, and disguise themselves. They can come from every level of the social tiers, but the amount of damage they can cause to the collective goes up exponentially with status. A low status individual, regardless of how clever, is very limited in the damage they can cause to the collective as a whole. But High Status actors, because of the roles they play in the overall collective, have the ability to inflict massive harm on the entire collective as a parasite, and there is no argument that can be made to dispute this.

The reason for this is because we are programmed to defer to higher status and to expect deference from lower status. There is no rationality to this, it is hard coded. It is an instinctive response that requires rational objectivity to overcome. And this is something that a Chief, or any representative of a collective that intends to represent the whole collective MUST overcome, because failure to do so will always result in short term thinking. It cannot do otherwise, because Status is a short term strategy based in the reproductive instinct.

As an example, let me discuss a situation you might have at least a passing familiarity with, your car.  Your car is likely the single most valuable item you own, in the sense that without it, your day to day life is likely going to be much more difficult.  You can probably survive without it, but for most of us, it's a "necessity".

Now, we can of course make an investment in our car, perform regular maintenance, oil changes, tune ups, all the basic things which keep that car in excellent shape, and which ensures that the car is going to be as reliable as possible. This is the "Long Term" behavior. Those of us who take such care of our cars are expecting that such small expenditures will reduce or even prevent much more expensive expenditures , or even loss of our car, while simultaneously expecting such actions to provide benefits both now and in the future in the performance and reliability of the automobile.

Then there's the "Short Term" behavior. Hey, who needs oil changes, or tires? That's money to buy beer with! It's idling rough? I banged up the fender when I was drunk? I'd rather have a few more dollars to spend on cigarettes and fast food. What's that? My Ox is starving to death while my grain silo is overflowing??? Let me go kick it a few times and make it keep going till it dies!

Yes, that last little bit was a deliberate reference to a parable, intended to basically illustrate that the vital difference between long term thinking and short term thinking has always been the same, regardless of where we are in history.  Short term thinking is ALWAYS about the moment. It ignores all future consequences. Even when we are FULLY AWARE of the long term consequences, short term logic is always that now is all that matters. It is "Instant Gratification" thinking.  And as my little illustration showed, it usually leads to long term bad outcomes, no matter how "successful" it might be in the short term.  Like Russian roulette, you might win five times in a row, but that single loss will cost you more than those five wins gained you.

By the same token, as a chief, you can certainly use short term strategies that have large immediate benefits for a section of your tribe by taking those benefits away from other members of your tribe, but eventually it will catch up to you in the form of a nice sharp pike.  You can certainly treat parts of your tribe as worthless and disenfranchise them, suppress them, etc., but sooner or later, that pike will be waiting.

The simple fact that I am trying hard to make here is that any stance from you as the chosen representative of the collective other than perfect neutrality, and any actions you take other than those which benefit all members of the collective is a long term failure. Every individual is part of your collective ONLY because being a member is beneficial to THEM PERSONALLY. Remove that benefit from any portion of the collective and you turn that portion into dangers to not merely other individuals in the  collective, but to you personally as the representative of the collective.  Produce a large enough group of disenfranchised, and they are likely to remove not only you as head, but the group you showed favoritism to as well, then redistribute resources and reform a new collective system, while your head makes a nice trophy on a pike.

And this logic works on every scale. From a tribe to a corporation to a nation to a society and even to a planet spanning civilization.

So, to get down to brass tacks, at its most elementary it is the role of a collective to provide for the needs of the individuals who comprise that collective.  And ONLY their needs. The collective can ONLY be responsible for needs that are universal in scope, and it cannot show favoritism in provision of those needs. It cannot and should not be responsible for the "morals" and "beliefs" of the individual, but it MUST prevent any group from harming any other group in the collective in its role as neutral arbiter. This also applies to business. The subcollectives MUST have a master collective which acts as neutral arbiter, and which prevents any subcollective from harming the overall collective. Above all else, the chosen representative of the collective MUST BE ACCOUNTABLE TO EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN THE COLLECTIVE in order to ensure that it continues to use long term strategies for the good of the entire collective, and is incapable of enacting short term strategies which selectively benefit only members of a sub collective.

This should be quite clear here at the tribal level. The problem is that once you grow much beyond tribal size, we encountered a serious error mode.

What that error mode is, and how it affects everything, I will discuss in the next post.     


  1. It's been two years since your last post Val, hope we don't have to wait so long for Part 2 ;)

  2. yeah, I also sent this to IEET,

    Been working on getting back to writing regularly.

  3. Although I did of course greatly enjoy your acceler8or postings too

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.