The democracy of cooperation.

In the previous blog, 2JAN12, I said:

“Our formal democracy seems at present to be pretty much blocked for us. But in all societies there is an informal democracy of communication and cooperation which is much more important and which is the foundation of the formal democracy. Societies don’t work very well without it.  Our system now depends heavily this now worldwide communication and cooperation system.”

What is this “informal democracy of communication and cooperation”?

A number of people join together in order to work toward some goal or goals together. We can call this  a human group or a human organization. The individuals in the group are cooperating, more or less. It is more or less because nothing is perfect, cooperation is rarely 100% however cooperation is measured. Cooperation requires communication among the members of the group. They must all have more or less the same goal or goals. Working together requires communication to coordinate the group members’ activities, their behavior. So cooperation can never be perfect because communication is not perfect since information transfer always has a possibility of error, and understanding of goals will never be 100% alligned. So there are degrees of cooperation.

This then is the democracy of cooperation.

Humans are social creatures. We cooperate, more or less. How did we get this way? We became what we are now through two processes of evolution: biological and cultural, genetic and memetic. The biological, genetic evolution gave us our bodies and basic physical structure. The cultural, memetic evolution gave us our thoughts and ideas. Actually it is not as clearly cut as this because each evolution affected and affects the other. Cultural evolution could only build upon the capabilities biological evolution gave us. But also, cultural evolution fed back on and influenced the biological evolution of our bodies and brains. So it is really only one evolution where the biological, genetic evolution has morphed into the cultural, memetic evolution. Cultural, memetic evolution is occurring vastly faster now than biological, genetic evolution. Cultural evolution has overwhelmed biological evolution.

So, our biological and cultural evolution led to our cooperation in groups. Through science, technology, art — all human activities — cultural evolution continuously adds information and new knowledge for us to use. So our cooperation has much more information to communicate among the individuals in a human group. In a word, our cooperation, how we cooperate, is also evolving. Consider the speed, even the acceleration, of the recent evolution of corporations.

Since in order to cooperate a group of humans must communicate with one another, the size of the group and the locations of the individuals were constrained by the means of communication. For a long time the size of a group of humans working together, cooperating, was limited to that of a family or small number of related families — a clan or tribe — because they had to be able to speak to one another. This also required that the individuals be physically near each other.

Not any more. The individuals in a cooperating human group can be almost anywhere on the surface of the earth (or near earth in space). And the size of a communicating, cooperating group is no longer limited by the distance a single human voice can go before it can no longer be heard by another person. Note the Mic check of Occupy Wall Street. Nor is the locations of the individuals limited by the necessity of being physically close to a speaker.

So every human group has its informal democracy whereby the people in the group vote with their communications, their speech, and their actions, their behavior. Other members of the group receive these communications and observe the behavior of the other members of the group, and then react in one way or another. This ongoing evolving process influences the behavior of the individuals in the group and thus the resultant group behavior toward its goals. This is legitimately a kind of democracy.

Is this informal group democracy a “one person, one vote” system. It would seem to be unless there are some rules, some structure that the members have agreed to that would say otherwise. It is also true that in many even informal groups, some individuals often have more influence than some others. This can occur if some individuals have more or better knowledge about the goals or how to attain them, of if they can communicate better, or if they have more charisma, more charm, or by whatever combination of qualities more people listen to them than they listen to others. Similarly for some copying the behavior of others. Also some individuals for whatever reason do not choose to participate as much as others.

So we have identified two ways in which groups of humans can deviate from what we may call equality of voice or one person, one vote. First there are often leaders and followers. (Notice we can’t separate the two. There can be no leaders without followers. There can be no followers without leaders.) Second, the group may have agreed on some rules, some structures which allow more influence to some members than other members. For example a teacher in a classroom is a leader, the students are followers most of the time; A coach of a sports team is a leader, the players are followers, but also sometimes a player may be also a leader that other players follow; In a company organized in a hierarchy of units (for example some number of sections organized into a department, some number of departments organized into a division, etc.) the managers of the units are each leaders (or should be) with the other members of the units being followers, but like the sports team there can be leaders within the group of followers.

In many societies, in free societies, being a follower or a leader is almost always a voluntary action, since in the absence of promises otherwise (contracts), anyone can quit the group at any time. (Being a leader or a follower is not always a voluntary action because a person may not be aware that he or she is a leader or a follower, but they can still quit if they don’t like how the group is operating or they don’t have its goals.) A teacher can quit, the parents of a young student can send the student to another school, students can quit paying attention while remaining in class. A coach can quit, players can quit. Employees can quit their company, or quit in place just like students. A person can even quit a horribly authoritarian oppressive system, at least mentally, as some concentration camp members did in WWII. To quit the group is the ultimate no vote.

We still have the freedom to form new groups: Freedom of Assembly. We can form new clubs, associations, new partnerships, new corporations, for profit or not for profit. We can form new religions. The number of people in each and their physical locations are no longer limited as they were in the past.

If our present political/economic systems are not working for us, we can form alternate or parallel systems which do work for us. This indeed is what is already happening as more and more people are excluded from participation in our present systems through unemployment of all kinds, through lack of education, through poverty. People form co-ops of every kind and legal and illegal (black) markets. People form subcultures which exclude outsiders. People “turn on, tune in, and drop out” as Professor Leary said. One way or another people make other arrangements when the “official” systems don’t work for them. There are many, many possibilities. The occupy movement with its general assemblies and its internet dispersed non-physical form is a baby to be nurtured. And if this one doesn’t work out, there will be others.



It’s not hopeless

We were examining some self-limiting beliefs. We were asking how people can get rid of such beliefs. One such belief is that “It is hopeless”. This is closely related to the belief that “It is impossible”. The difference is that the first refers more to a state of mind of the speaker while the later seems to be more a statement about the external world, the real world. But both say something about mental states and something about the real world. So what is hope? First it’s a feeling. It’s a feeling we have when we are in a particular mental state, a particular state of mind. We are in this mental state when we assess, we estimate, we guess, we have the opinion that something is possible, that something, some situation, some state of the world, which is not the present state, which may be unlikely, could still occur, could still happen. We believe it is possible. We have sayings like “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” So to say something is hopeless is to believe it is not possible.

How do we know what is possible? In our present context, how do we know what other systems besides our present system are possible? We are trying to counter the opinion, the belief, that our present system is the “best possible”. So this opinion allows that there may be other systems but they are not as good as our present system, or if there were other systems as good as or better than our present one, we couldn’t get there from here. They might say “There might theoretically be better systems than ours, but they wouldn’t work for us. Human nature would prevent them from working.”

Many times people with these kinds of opinions are imagining some kind of system vastly different from our present system but they can’t imagine how it would work. Often they can’t imagine how our present system works because they really do not understand how it actually does work to do all the things it does. Some economists might claim that they understand how our present system works, but they don’t, since they only may understand fragmentally how their models work. But their models are too far removed from reality. Actually no single person can understand in detail how our vast and interconnected human world works.

The real problem with “It is hopeless” and “It is impossible” is in the minds of those who believe this way. They lack knowledge, imagination, or both. Anthropology shows that there are and have been cultures including economic systems that seem to work as well as our present system. It is legitimate to point out that the scale of our present world culture is vastly greater than all past systems. But the existence of different systems proves different systems are possible and some of them might be better than our own in many ways.

There are more immediate ways to see that better systems than our present one are possible. First look at our immediate past. Second imagine our immediate future. In many ways the capitalist/financial systems we had 50 or so years ago were better than what we have now. And given the glaring and obvious-to-all problems with our present systems who can honestly say that no improvements can be made to our present systems. So if we can see even just a few improvements to our present system, then the present system is not the best one and it is not the best possible one either.

Those who have maximum doom and gloom, those who see catastrophe just ahead, already admit by their gloomy predictions, that great changes are possible. It is just that they are imagining negative changes rather than positive ones. It is true that complex systems on their own are more likely to deteriorate than improve. But they are not “on their own”. We can change them. We do it all the time with every new law passed.

It is not hopeless. It is not impossible. We can change our systems one step at a time to build better systems, incrementally, evolutionarily, cautiously, safely, non-violently.

You want another proof significant change is possible? Here is one: The system we had around 1970 was changed incrementally, evolutionarily, non-violently into the system we have today. The trouble is this revolutionary change (to neoliberalism) was not cautious enough in some matters. We changed some things that were working well which shouldn’t have been changed. There were bad unforeseen consequences. (There are always unforeseen consequences, and some can be good.) And some of the changes were deliberately made to improve the welfare of some classes and individuals at the expense of others — to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. It can be argued that this revolution was not completely non-violent since wars were ongoing, and there was a lot of violence in our domestic (US) society. But there was no direct force, coercion, violence used to change the laws that morphed the capitalist/financial/political systems of 1970 into the systems and institutions we have now.

Hopelessness is a mental state similar to depression. Your imagination is focused on all the negative things that could happen. Your imagination does not consider good possibilities. Depression leads to inaction, more depression, and death if it isn’t turned around. The hopelessness/depression process is a self reinforcing process, a negative downward spiral. It can be hard to stop the downward spiral by yourself. If you can’t get out of your depression by yourself, you should get help from a doctor or a therapist.

So how do we help people to get out of their hopelessness about our economic and political systems? First we can spread the knowledge and information presented above and any other rational arguments showing the unrealistic nature of the hopelessness mental state. If that is not enough, then we help them focus on their own mental state and help them understand that maybe they need professional help if their hopelessness continues for more than a month or six weeks. If their hopelessness comes and goes, during some time when they are not overwhelmed by hopelessness, we help them focus on their own mental state, help them understand it, help them recognize triggers which bring it on, go over the facts and arguments presented above, and see if this is effective in avoiding hopelessness/depression.

So the revolution must provide therapy? Well, in a sense yes. This may seem odd. But as we have been saying over and over, the revolution is about helping people change their minds about some very important things. This is what therapists do, advertisers do. To believe that our present systems are unchangeable is a serious error in thinking. It is as serious an error for us as a group — humanity as a group — as it is for an individual to believe that their life is no longer worth living.

Our task as progressives, as revolutionaries is to help people (including ourselves) make the changes in our own thinking so that enough of us change our actions, our real life behaviors, so that through politics, through our jobs, through what we say, what we write, through our art, through our interpersonal relations, how and what we communicate to all our friends and associates, how we organize ourselves into all the groups we assemble into — till enough change has occurred in enough individuals, in what we know, what we believe, and how we think, that it will be correct to say that we have changed the whole system into a better one, one that is closer to our goals of social justice.

We must not get hung up on apparent obstacles like the fact that our present political/electoral/representational system has been captured by the 1%. Yes it is an obstacle. I don’t have a detailed answer to remove or go around this obstacle. Perhaps no one does. But that does not mean we can’t remove it or go around it. All this means is we must work on it, keep working on it, try stuff, try again. And we will make progress.

Our formal democracy seems at present to be pretty much blocked for us. But in all societies there is an informal democracy of communication and cooperation which is much more important and which is the foundation of the formal democracy. Societies don’t work very well without it.  Our system depends heavily on this now worldwide communication and cooperation system. We vote with our actions.

When the US was formed there was no way a democracy could be implemented except through delegation to representatives who could gather together in one distant physical place to make decisions and pass laws applicable to the whole group. That is no longer necessary.

Today there are many other possibilities. It is not hopeless.