Sunday, August 14, 2016

David Sloan Wilson — Why Groups Fail (Hint: For the Same Reasons that Nations Fail)

To solve the problem of abuse by power-hungry leaders, the first step must be the adoption of a worldview that makes it obvious.
When leadership fails, the whole group is dragged down. An elite may not constitute the operational leadership but rather is the dominant subgroup that selects or controls the leadership of a group.
To solve the problem of abuse by power-hungry leaders, the first step must be the adoption of a worldview that makes it obvious.
One such worldview is evolutionary theory, in particular Multilevel Selection (MLS) theory, which has an extraordinary range of applications in the biological sciences and is only beginning to appear on the radar screen of the human social and behavioral sciences2. Evolution is relentlessly relative. It doesn’t matter how well an organism survives and reproduces in absolute terms, only relative to others in its vicinity. Against this background, individuals who strive to maximize their relative standing in a group, even at the expense of the whole group, aren’t surprising. They are at the core of the theory. The main puzzle is to explain how individuals evolve to behave for the good of their group in ways that might decrease their relative advantage within the group.
The solution to that puzzle is a process of selection among groups in a multi-group population. Once again, the logic is relentlessly relative, which means that a group can sabotage a multi-group organization as easily as an individual can sabotage a group. MLS theory doesn’t make everything nice, but it does specify the conditions required for any group to function as a corporate unit (reminder: the word “corporate” is derived from the Latin word for “body”). If the group isn’t organized to prevent disruptive self-serving behaviors from within, then fuggedaboutit.…
The current institutional structure breeds toxic leaders, not by genetic evolution of course, but by the selection of social strategies in behaviorally flexible individuals. The only solution to this problem is a change in the institutional social environment.…
Our psychological immune system evolved in the context of small groups with a relatively even balance of power and did not prepare us for the larger societies that emerged with the advent of agriculture. These societies therefore became despotic, ironically more like chimp societies than small-scale human societies. Fortunately, cultural evolution is a multi-level process, no less than genetic evolution, and the largely cooperative mega-societies of today a product of ten thousand years of cultural group selection, largely but not entirely in the form of warfare4. Once again, MLS theory doesn’t make everything nice. It specifies the conditions under which groups of any size evolve—or fail to evolve—into corporate units. It is up to us as policy selection agents to make things nice with the insights provided by MLS theory.…
A final point is that the relentlessly relative logic of MLS theory is scale-independent. It applies to nations, multinational corporations, and global commons issues such as the climate and world economy, no less than a single business or imaginary groups of four people working on a verbal problem-solving task. Compare Case and Maner’s elegant experiments on why groups fail with Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s big history book on why nations fail. You will see that when it comes to Multilevel Selection, all the world’s a stage.
Must-read. I've just hit the highlights.

Why Groups Fail (Hint: For the Same Reasons that Nations Fail)
David Sloan Wilson | SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University and Arne Næss Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo

See also
The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory, first developed by the German sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties.[1] It claims that rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is inevitable as an "iron law" within any democratic organization as part of the "tactical and technical necessities" of organization.[1]
Michels theory states that all complex organizations, regardless of how democratic they are when started, eventually develop into oligarchies. Michels observed that since no sufficiently large and complex organization can function purely as a direct democracy, power within an organization will always get delegated to individuals within that group, elected or otherwise.
The Power Elite is a 1956 book by sociologist C. Wright Mills, in which Mills calls attention to the interwoven interests of the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society and suggests that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of manipulation by those entities.
The Power Elite

The Iron Law of What Again?
Darcy K. Leach

Consortium News (April 2014)
The Iron Law of Oligarchy Returns

1 comment:

Matthew Franko said...

"that emerged with the advent of agriculture."

You mean we didnt have plants to eat at one time?

I think he means agriculture that resulted in a surplus...

The Indians planted corn.... they probably only planted what they thought they would need... didnt want to plant more than necessary in order to sell the surplus for "money!"....