Ostensibly the goal of the democratic political process under the social contract is to ensure the government is run in such a way as to create an environment of stability, safety, and equal opportunity in which (relatively) free individuals can thrive and reach their full potential as human beings. The election season gets the layperson engaged with friends and co-workers in debates about wide ranging subjects that directly or indirectly affect quality of life and freedom of opportunity, from foreign policy to crime statistics, to moral and ethical fundamentals.
These debates generate a great deal of frustration at the perceived enemies of human progress and prosperity as the political process fails time and time again to deliver satisfactory results. Typically these failures are thought to have roots in stupidity or immorality. And lately, as we have entered the golden age of conspiracy theories, deliberate deception and obfuscation from a network of secret societies, clandestine services, and other puppet-masters are increasingly fingered as the root cause of the failure of the political process.
Although I am a yuuge advocate of conspiracy theories, in this post I would like to focus on the underlying cause of the failure of all political systems: the sociopath filter known as hierarchy.
Human history can be roughly divided into two eras: the era of tribalism and the era of hierarchy. Before there were governments and cities, there were tribes – close-knit small groups of people living close to nature and depending on one another for survival. Possessions were limited to what one could carry and there was little privacy or individualism. Social cuing and a high degree of accountability maintained a certain amount of uniformity among the tribesmen. Yes, there was somewhat of a social order with elders and a chief and shaman, but on the whole the hierarchy was fairly flat and egalitarian with nothing going on beyond the view of anyone else. In some ways this tribal living was Eden, the age of innocence and simplicity. Although most modern humans wouldn’t dare trade off technological achievements, power, comfort and wealth to go back to tribal living, there is nevertheless a deep longing, frustration, and sense of alienation at having left the tribe and having walled ourselves off from nature and from one another.
As agricultural technology developed two things happened: a larger population could be supported in a smaller area leading to the formation of cities, and it became possible to accumulate possessions beyond what one could carry. This led to new forms of structure both physically in the form of large shelters and infrastructure as well as societal structures. The ability to expand the population and accumulate possessions led to inequality and individualism. This led to increased jealousy and competition which led to fighting. Groups of people then began to band together for common protection against outside enemies who would take what they had accumulated.
Enter > hierarchy. Hierarchy became the most efficient system of structural organization towards a common goal. The need to defend a group (or raid and conquer other groups) meant that the most successfully organized groups would win. Hierarchy as a martial system of organization defeated all other systems of organization. With every victory, a hierarchical organization would acquire more people, possessions, and territories.
There was a problem, however, with these growing pyramidal hierarchies of human structure: they only worked if the people that composed the larger base layers could get on board with the goals of those at the top. In order to keep the people in the pyramid working in line with the goals of those at the top, they had to be convinced it was in their best interests to do so (or have the true goals occluded and be told a story they would believe in). If the people were not convinced to work towards the common goal, the pyramid became unstable and those at the top would be overthrown or the group would be conquered by another more efficiently organized and better led group.
As soon as agriculture made wealth and hierarchy possible, a new element of human nature also entered the dynamic: the sociopath. In the Genesis story of creation, it is Cain that is the father of agriculture, the founder of the first great cities and… the first sociopath who murders his shepherd brother (perhaps a symbol of the nomadic tribal ways) out of jealousy. In the tribal system, what is good for the group is good for the individual – this developed within humanity the quality of empathy. Empathy, the ability to feel the pain or pleasure of others, is generally what works on the conscience to produce moral actions. Those without empathy, the sociopaths, do not feel the pain of others and sometimes perversely get satisfaction out of causing pain to others.
The problem with human hierarchy is that it is a filter for sociopaths. Any hierarchical group, even those founded with the noblest of intentions – city-state, government, religious organization, corporation, political party, home owner’s association, and book club – will always degenerate as those with low empathy and high desire for control filter their way to the top. Those with high empathy don’t want to step on or control their fellow man while those closer to the sociopath end of the spectrum relish the opportunity to do so.
It is human hierarchy combined with the spectrum of empathetic capacity that sets up the cycle of history. A group bands together for common purpose or common defense against an oppressor. The group chooses a leader. The group is successful and grows. Eventually the sociopaths work their way to the top and the group that was formed for common defense against oppression now oppresses. Under increasing corruption, the pyramid becomes unstable and collapses.
Until relatively recently there were natural barriers limiting the growth of a human hierarchy. All the layers of a hierarchy must be bound together by a common narrative so communication and propaganda is crucial for the continued life of a large hierarchy. Today technology has eliminated most of these barriers making it theoretically possible for a single pyramid to conquer the whole world.
There is however, a new challenge to the supremacy of hierarchy as an organizational structure and that is networking and crowd-sourcing empowered by the internet. This could be a potentially enormous diversion from the thousands of years of rule by hierarchy. In evolutionary terms this is like the first feathered birds surviving the post-meteor dinosaur apocalypse while T-Rex dies out.
As long as humans have a spectrum of empathy with a few of us having none, hierarchies will be dangerous. The formation of the first one will begin with a single murder out of jealousy and ultimately lead to an arms race culminating in M.A.D. (mutally assured destruction).
The organizational structure of the network is the only possible means I can fathom of defeating the hierarchy. A few decades ago we thought bacteria were the enemy, but today we realize it is only a few bad bacteria that are the enemy while our bodies teem with thousands of good bacteria that keep the balance from turning over to the bad. In the same way, networking and crowd-sourcing has the potential to put a check on hierarchies.
We obviously cannot eliminate all hierarchies, nor do I think we should do so. The first nation state to disband itself would immediately be conquered by another. Similarly, if we decide to boycott government as anarchists we will be conquered by the better organized hierarchies. If we try to reorganize our societies in the tribal way, we will go the way of all the other world’s tribes – ending up either dead or on a government controlled reservation.
So disavowing hierarchy outright and promoting a direct jump to anarchy or tribalism obviously will not work. But what We The People can do is promote networking in parallel. This is what the rising alternative media is already doing for us. It is the narrative that enables large hierarchies to survive and networking can return the power of the narrative to the people. This in turn forces the hierarchies to align their goals with those of the people rather than the other way around. In time, the hierarchies having lost much of their power will become less relevant.
In the mean time, we should recognize that the larger the hierarchy, the more dangerous it is. “World Government” is therefore supremely dangerous. Communism was sold as a sort of return to all the benefits of communal living that we long for from our tribal roots, but on a large scale and with an immensely powerful hierarchy ruling over it. Obviously it failed and can never achieve the utopia promised. The larger the hierarchy, the fewer its powers can be. The only legitimate purpose a world government could have would be to break up hierarchies that are too large. The U.S. Federal government was designed to be as weak as possible with progressively more powers residing with progressively smaller state and local governments. A major and proper function of the U.S. Federal government was to bust up trusts and corporations that had grown so large as to threaten the general welfare of the people. Today corporations have grown so large as to entirely subvert and control the government.
Already the established power structures are presenting many challenges to the restoration of narrative control to the people. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others engage in censorship and their content filtering algorithms force users into echo chambers and content ghettos that stifle diversity of perspective.
In the 1990’s Matt Drudge revolutionized the alternative news landscape and prophesied that traditional media outlets would soon be dead. He was right. A battle is won, but not the war. New and innovative ways must be found of breaking out of the echo chambers and content ghettos created by the social media and networking giants. This will ensure the controlling hierarchies continue to lose control over the narrative with the eventual goal that they are forced to break up into smaller and less dangerous creatures.