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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Superiority of Self Organizing Systems

Various aspects of life, society, and other complex systems can be, are, or are thought to be organized by Omniteleological1 forces or alternatively along self organizing lines. In other words, those integrants can be controlled by a centralized entity or instead be open-ended processes, where creativity, enterprise, and/or random forces, operating under predictable rules, generate change and/or progress in unpredictable ways. Systems organized (or believed by some to be organized) according to Omniteleological principles include The Creation, Intelligent Design, many organized religions, and most forms of Statism including Socialism and Collectivism. Systems organized (or believed by some to be organized) according to self-organizing principles include Evolution, democracy, and free market economies.

In some cases, like economic organization, societies can choose between Omniteleological Statism and self-organization (or what Virginia Postrel
calls Dynamism2). In other cases, humans aren't involved in setting up the systems. For example, the processes underlying the ecosystem are not a result of human activity. Then, instead of a choice, it's a debate about whether those processes are Teleological or self-organizing. The Creation is the teleological version. Evolution is the self-organizing version.

There is, of course, no reason the processes can't be based on a mixture of Omniteleological and self-organizing principles. For example, an economic system often has free-markets (self-organizing) with State interventions (e.g. taxation) and support (central banks and other institutions). Though, even in this case, the interventions and support organized themselves over time.

Whenever there is a choice, my personal preference tends towards assuming and/or using self-organizing principles. Thus, the big bang, Evolution, democracy, federalism, and free markets are all appealing to me. Each is based on decentralization and distribution of information and processes. I believe that such processes are inherently much more robust than centrally designed and carefully controlled processes. They are able to respond and adapt to a much wider range of stimuli.

An interesting conundrum (to me) is the use of Omniteleological methods (Statism) in order to support self-organizing principles. Examples include using the federal government to limit religious activities or to enforce teaching of subjects that include self-organizing principles (e.g., Evolution).

While I think that it is important to keep the State from suppressing self-organization or the teaching thereof, I think that strengthening the State for the purpose of weakening other centralized processes (religion, etc.) is counterproductive. In the end, there will be more entrenched Statism, and it just isn't worth it.

Because of the superiority of self-organizing systems, there's also no reason to use the levers of State power to protect them.

(1) Thanks to Hey Skipper for his suggestion of the word teleological in the comments of another post. I feel that teleological is most commonly used to describe (divine) order in nature and doesn't necessarily refer to social systems. As a result, I decided to add the prefix "omni" (all) to it to refer to any centrally designed and/or controlled system. I realize it's a little rude to add a Latin prefix to a Greek root, but hey, I'm American, and we do things like that.
(2) From The Future and its Enemies.


Hey Skipper said...

Very interesting post. Like you, I prefer self-organization, but I suspect there has to be some "statism." After all, what would be the counter to say, La Cosa Nostra, if the state wasn't available?

Language is another example of an extremely complex self-organized system (and has a descent morphology indistiguishable from natural history).

Regardless, the French are trying their best to be Omniteleological with their language.

Quite comical, actually.

Bret said...

Nozick shows (in Anarchy State Utopia), if we were to suddenly descend into anarchy, why we would naturally evolve back to at least a minimal State, basically via La Cosa Nostra style "protection". There's really not that much difference between a small scale monarchy and a godfather, if you think about it.

The French are the French are the French and they're killing their beloved language. Oh well. Long live English!!!!

Brit said...

Perhaps we need to complicate this further – can apparently omni-teleological systems actually really be meta-self-organising systems?

That requires some explanation.

As is often the case, we have to distinguish between is and ought. Language and evolution just are self-organising systems – that’s a brute fact, whether we like it or not.

Favouring free market economics over statism is a matter of applying an ought judgement. I don’t think that there’s much of a link between preferring capitalism and accepting the brute facts about evolution and language – otherwise more Americans would be Darwinists and more socialist Europeans would be Bible-bashers.

Having said that, I do prefer capitalism to socialism. But not completely laissez-faire capitalism. I’m in favour of a certain amount of wealth redistribution, a certain small amount of business regulation and a certain amount of taxation for public services.

But here’s the twist – I also think that eventually all capitalist societies will settle on an appropriate level in each of these. So at the meta level, I think that societies will, by self-organising processes, end up with a little bit of omni-teleology.

The communist revolution in Russia was the result of a build up of numerous forces, not controlled by a single, central figure. (So was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the gradual introduction of democracy and capitalism to its former countries.) So you could argue, in an ‘End of History’ sort of way, that omni-teleological Stalinism was actually self-organising at the meta level.

Interestingly, Karl Marx was a self-organisational philosopher. He thought the revolution by the proletariat was inevitable and would happen by itself.

Bret said...

Brit wrote: "...can apparently omni-teleological systems actually really be meta-self-organising systems?"

Sure. I agree with your explanation and it's pretty much by definition that all social systems are self-organized, so any with an omniteleological bent would be meta-self-organizing.

Brit also wrote: "I don’t think that there’s much of a link between preferring capitalism and accepting the brute facts about evolution and language..."

Maybe not. But it may be that humanity has a deep need to have at least something be omniteleological. Since Americans have God and religion, they have less of a need for Statism.

Brit also wrote: "So at the meta level, I think that societies will, by self-organising processes, end up with a little bit of omni-teleology."

I think that's generally OK as long as the societies end up with some omni-teleology via self-organizing processes rather than totalitarian revolution (e.g., Fascism, Stalinism). However, even here, I think it's important to be careful as Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" warns. When in doubt, I ignore getting in touch with my inner Statist!