An observation in exosociobiology; a lesson in how to destroy a nation
There are rules that all technological civilizations throughout the Universe, regardless of the nature of the individuals in it, must follow to avoid collapsing into chaos. Obeying these rules leads to further development. Ignoring them results, in time, in deterioration of the culture. Whether we speak of humans, intelligent carrots, intellectual fish, wise bags of gas – it doesn’t matter. These rules apply everywhere in the Universe, because the Universe works on complexity, and complexity demands these rules be obeyed.
Why? Because the Universe is a highly complex system, and the cultures of self-aware, intelligent beings are more complex than the Universe. Such cultures, composed of any kind of being, will act in accord with the observations of complexity. Complex systems, such as the human brain, cultures of any sort anywhere, and the Universe as a whole, are by definition systems in which order arises out of the interactions of individual units whose actions are limited only by the nature of those individuals.
Here’s the most important aspect of highly complex systems and how they are organized. Allowed to work out their own relationships over time, the effect of all these local negotiations can be a high degree of order and productivity – but when such a system is subject to hierarchical ordering, even the ‘right’ ordering, both order and productivity fall. This is always true of all highly complex systems; order and productivity rise or fall by the degree to which such systems are, or aren’t, allowed to work out their own relationships, limited only by the natures of the individual parts therein.
Consider a meadow here on Earth. All the individual parts of it have evolved to play a role that natural selection has fitted them out for. It’s in the nature of a fox to chase down and eat smaller animals, like rabbits; it’s in the nature of rabbits to run like crazy from danger. A particular fox may or may not chase a particular rabbit; a fox won’t spread its wings, fly through the air and swoop down on a rabbit, because that’s not in the nature of a fox. The order we see in a meadow is created from just such interactions; beings in it have evolved to have a place in that system, and though they can evolve to fit better into that system, they cannot act in ways that are outside of the space they’ve evolved to fit. A caterpillar can change into a butterfly; it can’t change into an owl.
It’s a bit confusing to apply these observations to the cultures of intelligent beings. Conservatives tend to see culture as being composed of inherently vicious animals whose viciousness must be limited by laws. This is untrue. They see the ‘individuals’ of a human culture as if it was composed of wild animals; but a culture is composed of political units. It’s in the nature of wild animals to obey only their own interests expressed through instinct. It’s in the nature of intelligent beings to want to live at ease, to not be harmed by others, and when they feel safe, to extend that same respect to those around them. I don’t kill others not out of fear of being punished – when people do kill others, it’s always in a situation where the fear of punishment has been overwhelmed by the immediate situation, so punishment is never actually a limiter of behavior. I don’t kill others because I’m self-interested in living in a culture where nobody else kills me. Thus the ‘nature’ of the individuals in such a culture is not the animal, but the political unit.
Whatever might be the nature of the individuals in any particular culture, however productive or unproductive, orderly or disorderly that culture may be, that productivity and order has arisen from the interactions of the members of that particular culture. The global is simply the noise made by the local, multiplied over the whole culture moment by moment and situation after situation.
A gangster culture, such as Russia has, will tend toward disorder and unproductive behaviors because the individuals in it feel but scant connection to others, and express little interest beyond selfish behaviors regardless of impact on others; because of its ugly, vicious history – a people who have never ruled themselves but have always been ruled by a hierarchy – it has never developed a strong sense of community. A decent culture like ours tends to create an inherent, even if unstated, sense of connection; I don’t steal from others because of my interest in living in a culture where others don’t steal from me. This idea doesn’t, and never will, apply in all situations; certainly we have members of our culture who don’t feel this connection strongly enough to curb their selfishness, but such exceptions are usually limited to the criminally insane (a very tiny percentage of the population, no matter that you greatly enjoy watching entertainment in which those very few are celebrated), the desperate poor, and the very rich and their corporations. But the difference between our culture and Russian culture is a question of percentages; most Russians feel antagonistic to the interests of others, whereas most Americans feel supportive of others, even though most of us limit that unstated, hidden support to those we feel are like us.
This leads to a universally true factor in the study of the societies of all advanced cultures in the Universe – that is, in exosociobiology. Successful cultures work within the limits of complexity – that order and productivity increase with the ability of the individuals in that culture to act in their own interests as defined by the individuals themselves, and decreases when order is imposed on those individuals. It doesn’t matter if that imposed order is a desirable order; the imposition even of ‘good’ order is as destructive of cultures as ‘bad’ order, and the imposition of order by a dictator is no more damaging than the imposition of democratically ordained order. It’s the imposition that must be avoided for a technologically advanced culture to continue to advance – and a technological civilization must continue to advance, or it will fail to constructively deal with the unintended consequences of that advancing technology.
Thus the three rules that all technologically advancing cultures in the Universe must obey, if they are not to choke on the results of their technology. Since I’m personally interested in order and productivity on Planet Earth, I will use ‘people’ as the applicable example.
Fisher’s First Law of Exosociobiology:
You Can’t Tell People What to Do
This rule confuses almost all Americans. It’s the evil that has been done by our addiction to violent entertainment, and by our worship of law enforcement. Since the days of Jack Webb’s Dragnet, Americans have become more and more addicted to the police procedural, to the extent that network evening programming now has little else, and even public broadcasting depends on these centralized-control-worship indulgences. This has happened because over time more people have felt alienated by the culture and threatened by others; and that alienation has occurred because we have become steadily less a voluntary society and increasingly a command society. It’s a vicious cycle; we feel disconnected due to choice being replaced by demand, which increases our angst, and that feeling of disconnection results in more pressure to control others, which results in more support for imposing order on others and thus even more personal choice limitations.
This leads to the absurdity that, in a culture in which actual criminality has steadily fallen for hundreds of years, most of us see murders and muggings and fraud day after day, and soak ourselves in degradation and filth. You yourself might certainly have experienced victimization at the hands of criminals – but statistically, probably not; yet murder and death and robbery are a part of your world every single day of your life. Gosh, can’t you see it? Don’t you believe your own eyes? It’s right there on the Television Machine! So of course you imagine it to be endemic in the culture; if this is the way you live your life, your memory contains vast criminality, you see it everywhere, and so there’s no way I or anyone else can convince you otherwise.
Thus most Americans, and apparently other ‘advanced’ nationalities, have become convinced by endless repetition that order depends on law. Questions of criminality are said to be ‘Law and Order’ issues. This is clearly, unquestionably backwards. Law has never, can never, and will never create Order; but Order tends to create Law.
How could it be otherwise? If there is an absence of order in a community, out of what structure would ‘law’ arise? Before there can be a lawmaker, there must be some kind of social structure in which that law can be created; there must be a king or a priest or some kind of hierarchical structure. How could Law even be expressed without someone to express it, and a structure to impose it? Can’t be done. The very existence of a Law implies both a Lawmaker and a Law Enforcer, which requires an already-existing Order.
We see this when we compare the legal traditions of the West with those of a dictatorship like Russia has always had, or that has been cruelly imposed on North Korea. Those are both cultures in which order is imposed – but unavoidably, it is a low, vicious, highly unproductive order which grinds the individual to dust, and which produces little of value. It cannot be otherwise; the more the culture depends on centralized control, the meaner and more unproductive that culture will be. This is always true, in all places and at all times; I submit that it is true throughout the Universe. When the parts of a complex, highly random system are allowed to interact with each other limited by their own natures as political units, a very high degree of order and productivity self-arises; that culture will then codify the arisen order as Law, and even if those individuals imagine that the Law the culture creates is the source of Order, in fact Law will be used not to impose order but to formalized the ways that culture deals with criminality.
Laws can’t prevent you from killing me. If you want to do me harm, there is no ‘Thin Blue Line’ that will stop you from doing so. But if you do me harm, the culture we live in will begin a process of judgment; thus ‘Law’ is a reaction, not a preventative. The preventative exists, but it’s internalized (or not) in self-interest; you don’t want to be robbed, so you don’t rob others, even if in your own mind you imagine it’s your fear of punishment that limits your actions. When emotion or desperate need or addiction or, in the case of the very rich, unbridled greed do motivate criminality, fear of punishment disappears completely. In fact, in our culture, the very rich have little fear of punishment, and yet the vast majority of even the richest of us are still decent, loving people.
Thus, telling others what to do is in every case destructive of order. But I know you don’t believe this, which leads to –
Fisher’s Second Law of Exosociobiology:
You Can’t Tell People What to Do, Even If You’re Right
This rule confuses almost all Americans. Our politics is divided into three roughly equal parts; people we pretend are conservative who want to tell others to do things because God!, people we pretend are liberal who want to tell others what to do because Think of the Children!, and those who, having no interest in telling others what to do, pay no attention to politics. And that’s pretty much it; Liberty has no naturally occurring support, and the people who most use that word actually mean their own personal freedom to do whatever they want, especially with guns, without fear of repercussion, of being held responsible for their own actions.
Thus the most common, nearly universal American statement is this: “I don’t need Government to tell me what to do, because I know Right from Wrong; but that guy across the street, the lady down the alley, I’m not so sure of them, so Government needs to write rules for them. And those people who are different from me, with a different religion, or an accent, or speak some other language, or have a different skin color – boy, you’d better keep an eye on them, because they could do anything!”
And the guy across the street, and the lady down the alley, and the people who are different, all think the same thing: I don’t need to be told what to do and what not to do, but those other people . . .
So we get a country where two-thirds of the population vote in law after law, control after control, out of fear of what others might do, and never see the damage that does because they don’t think any of it is aimed at them – they know Right from Wrong, but fear that you have some different definitions, so you need to be watched, to have your choices limited. And the other third, just as passionately believing that ‘government’ automatically means ‘telling others what to do’ and not wanting to tell anyone anything, assume it all has nothing to do with them and thus don’t participate.
It’s an addiction, a sick dependence, on believing themselves to be right – because their own personal God says they are, or because terrible things might happen, or because, gosh, if we let you make your own decisions you might make a mistake and do something we just know is wrong – and that being right gives them the wisdom to guide or limit other people’s actions. Every headline, every atrocity, every bad thing that happens, every act of ungodly or simply accidental behavior begets a new law. I put it to you that every headline in any newspaper in America results in new legislation to attempt, quite uselessly, to prevent such terrible things from ever happening again – none of which actually prevents anything.
And I also put it to you that you can search as much as you care to through the debates that surround such legislation. These debates never, never anywhere, never on any account involve whether such a problem is in fact best addressed through law; pragmatics are sooo boring. What little debate we have is limited to deciding whether a problem exists. We all simply assume, without question, that Law is the appropriate solution to any and all problems.
So our political debates are limited to this and this only; are we right? Is this in fact a problem? Is the triggering event really a bad thing?
Consider global warming. Why do conservatives doubt the clear evidence of it, preferring to twist logic and reality into a pretzel, to invent impossible, insane conspiracy theories? Because they are as dedicated to every real problem demanding State action as progressives are. They don’t want new laws and restrictions on their behavior, but assume without questioning that of course if it’s real there must be such laws and restrictions – so it can’t be real! Problem solved!
And why is the Left so passionate about global warming? The evidence is beyond debate – but it isn’t the reality of the threat that motivates them. They know they’re right; so of course there must be law, there must be limits on other people’s behavior. This is ridiculous; mankind’s disruption of the carbon cycle doesn’t happen on the level of governments. It isn’t created by only the big things big organizations do – it’s all of us, each of us, making purely local choices every moment of every day. It happens on the level of granularity of individual actions, individuals making their own good or bad choices, and one of the cardinal rules of complexity is that a highly complex system can only be affected on the level of granularity upon which it has been created – which is the true meaning of the Butterfly Effect. It isn’t a question that can be dealt with by telling others what to do, it’s entirely a question of what you do, dealt with or avoided by you personally, through your own actions and multiplied by the number of individuals who do, or don’t, individually change, or avoid changing, their own actions. Government can help or hinder – but a solution will, or won’t, come from you, multiplied by 7 billion other ‘you’s every second of every day.
We can’t stand that truth; we want to solve problems by telling others what they should do. It’s just too hard and too scary to change ourselves. We prefer to demand that others change. So no debate ever includes any assessment of whether or not we really need a new law, whether or not Law is actually appropriate to a given problem, and especially whether the answer might actually be our own acts and not the actions of others. American politics is entirely limited to belief – is this a problem or isn’t it? – and the side that believes most passionately (or has the most money) wins. That there will be a law is a given; the only question we ask is ‘who’s right’, but that there will be Law is never challenged.
That leads us to –
Fisher’s Third Law of Exosociobiology:
You Can’t Tell People What to Do, Especially If You are Right
This rule confuses most Americans. The only American debate is which side is correct that a problem exists; nobody pays any attention to the damage done by forcing others to change their behaviors at the threat of law, of arrest, of imprisonment. But what happens when you take so much choice away from those individuals who may believe otherwise, to force a behavior, or the avoidance of a behavior, that others may not see the rightness so manifestly obvious to you; who may not believe in your God, or want something different than you do for their children?
I consider the paradigm of this – the example that demonstrates the concept – to be the laws that will punish you for not wearing a seat belt. That seat belts save lives is clear; only a fool refuses to buckle up. Yes, you can, if you so desire, imagine situations where the wearing of a seat belt causes problems; but for every such situation, there are literally hundreds where lives were saved. There are in fact many situations where the wearing of a seat belt has enabled the driver to stay in control of a car, and its lack has caused drivers, by being physically thrown away from the brakes or the steering wheel, to turn a minor skid into an accidental death.
But what happens when the driver is wearing his belt not because he thinks it’s the wise and safe thing to do but because he fears being ticketed? A person who believes that seat belts are dangerous would be quite wrong, quite foolish – but people have the right to be foolishly wrong. If such a fool feels he’s being forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, especially if he is so stupid as to think he’s being endangered, he won’t feel protected – he’ll feel that society is demanding his endangerment. This will engender resentment, detachment, a sense of estrangement from society, a sense that our culture is demanding he put his life at risk because of the delusions of others. He’d be wrong, of course; but does it matter that I think so, or that you think so, or even that clear evidence demonstrates he’s being protected and not endangered?
No, it doesn’t. Multiply that by intrusive rule after intrusive rule and you get an enormous pool of resentment. People think what they think, believe what it comforts them to believe. We are not really logical beings, as much as we may want to think we are. The very best of us, the very wisest, lives yet in an ocean of conflict and emotion tugging us this way and that. Our personalities are a negotiation of opposing forces, of emotion, experience, assumption and prejudice; every possible position, and many an impossible one, is held by someone. Inevitably, on some subject and likely on many, you are a fool. And so am I.
So you can demonstrate all the statistics you want to that prove that the fool should wear his seat belt. But what statistic demonstrates the damage done? How many acts of road rage are driven by seat-belt laws? That’s not so easy to demonstrate. Again, add all the uncountable rules and regulations, even the wise ones, each one of which discounts and disconnects a few. It adds up to a lot of disconnection.
That’s the biggest problem with telling others what to do – that it destroys the good that it purports to serve. More and more people feel more and more disconnected, and anger grows and grows and grows, to the point that a great many people no longer feel that society is worth protecting. Is there any question that this is why a manifestly incompetent and talentless man is about to become President? It’s an act of destruction, committed by a Party of the angry, the disconnected, so furious at having their own interests denied and dismissed that they choose, like Samson, to pull the Temple down rather than endure more torment. I’m sure you don’t believe this – after all, you know that people should wear their seat belts; so you simply will not credit that anyone could possibly resent it, or that it matters if they do.
It matters. This massive disconnection is now the only thing that matters. It’s destroying us.
Year by year, law by law, over many decades, instance upon instance, control after control; an abscess of resentment and anger and fear has grown, and you haven’t seen it – because how could anyone resent what your rightness has done? So decade after decade we have seen the Safety Net frayed, public schools under-financed, bridges decaying, reactionary politics chasing thought and respect from the public debate. The sense of community on which our Democracy depends has frayed to the breaking point.
And who’s at fault in this? You.
You, because you know that you’re right. You, because to you, being right is the only limit to your telling others what to do. You dismiss the damage done, so deeply do you believe in your own rightness, and thus in your own right to tell others what’s right.
But don’t worry. Your punishment awaits you; the most powerful nation the Earth has ever known is on the verge of being lead into madness by a madman. Condign (adjective); well-deserved, appropriate, fitting, as in condign punishment – a penalty that is perfectly fitted to the crime. The snorer who is forced to sleep next to a train track; the pickpocket who loses his hand; every person who voted in all those laws in their hopeless efforts to perfect our union through force watching their country fall into fascism.