Imagine each individual neuron had its own moral agency…
What should such a neuron do?
Assemble several billion neurons into a human brain, and you can get surprising intelligence, but individual neurons are not very smart by themselves. They can’t guard against making mental errors merely by comparing their opinions to those of other neurons–they don’t have enough independent intelligence to conceive the opinions that ought to be formed. For example, individual neurons cannot conceive of a brain so they cannot form an opinion about whether they should participate in a brain. Most importantly, since individual neurons aren’t smart enough to design a brain, they can’t individually know how to participate in one.
Despite the apparent paradox, many individual neurons do form into brains. Inspired by that example, I teamed up with mathematician Bennette Harris to explore the possibility that we can take some intelligent steps towards forming into something better than ourselves. Specifically, we investigated the potential for individuals to apply mathematics to choose between possible ways to form teams that are more effective than individuals (e.g. what is the optimal team size and what is the optimal way to decide which individuals go on which teams).
We titled our analysis Varieties of Elitism because we realized that any such endeavor would inevitably be labelled “elitist,” yet each way of organizing society (including the status quo) is some variety of elitism. Our goal was to add mathematical rigor to the way we define varieties of elitism, so we can consider them objectively, rather than get mired in name-calling.
We have yet to produce a mathematical proof that any particular form of elitism is optimal or superior to others, but we did produce open source software that anyone can use to simulate various forms of elitism and compare their average performance. It doesn’t tell you whom to marry, but it does open a research field. The results thus far support some general conclusions:
Optimal team size depends upon the number of interdependent roles and the degree of inequality among individuals.
Majority-rules forms of democracy do not perform as well on average as forms that permit the most qualified minorities to control decisions (e.g. sociocracy, futarchy, evidence-based decision-making).
On average, measures of vulnerability (e.g. SAT, ACT, or GPA) aren’t much better for organizing society than chance. Such measures are blind to the talents of savants who have both great ability and great vulnerability.
Gains from diversification using an instrument like the GRIN-SQ are robust against imperfections in the instrument and would raise average performance by about 400%. That means the GRIN-SQ can’t be much better or worse than its major competitors for this purpose.
Of all the varieties we considered, the best-performing variety of elitism favors savants but relies on accurate measures of specific abilities. The first company to perfect and use such measures would outperform competitors by 700%+. A society that blocked such development would sacrifice a potential doubling of progress even for its average least-privileged members.
The Crito by Plato reads like a scene from a play set in the prison of Athens in 399 BC, the day before Socrates was to be executed. It is the scene in which Crito attempts to rescue Socrates, but Socrates refuses to avoid his execution. To some extent, the Crito must be fiction—Plato couldn’t possibly have overheard the actual events—yet the basic story is considered so important and historically accurate that the site of the prison has been preserved. This photo shows the foundation and three cells.
The Greeks consider themselves the pioneers not only of theater and of nearly every modern form of government but also of philosophy. Socrates taught philosophy to Plato who taught it to Aristotle who taught it to Alexander the Great who ruled an empire and established the place of that philosophy in history. Thus, Socrates was arguably the source of Western thought traditions, and reading the Crito helps us recognize deep biases inside Western thought.
Socrates had been sentenced to death over his habit of asking questions that made other people look foolish. Today, that behavior would be protected by the right to free speech, but no such right was established at the time. Socrates insisted that his antisocial habit was part of his identity, which he labelled “social gadfly.” He said he couldn’t stop being himself, much as modern people say we can’t stop having the sexual preferences we do or the neurodiversity we do. Apparently, the only way to end the embarrassment was to end Socrates.
Crito arranged to bribe the guards and send Socrates to live with friends in Thessaly. Such a rescue would have been an act of civil disobedience, a concept popularized in recent times by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. In the Crito, Crito explains this plan to Socrates, then Socrates details an argument to the conclusion that one should never engage in civil disobedience. “…one must obey the commands of one’s city and country, or persuade it as to the nature of justice.”
Today, it does not seem reasonable to condemn civil disobedience this way. If we will not condemn the followers of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., then we should count Socrates’ famous argument as fallacious, and we should examine it. We may find unsound premises in it which also appear in other parts of Western thinking.
To reject Crito’s offer was suicide. Crito claimed that Socrates would be wrong to commit suicide because Socrates would be shirking his duty to nurture his children until they reach maturity and because Socrates would be blocking his friends from fulfilling their duty to save him. Socrates dismissed the relevance of these consequences, “…if it appears [to us] that we shall be acting unjustly, then we have no need at all to take into account whether we shall have to die…” In other words, the consequences for individual citizens such as himself, his children, and his friends are trumped by the consequences for the State. This narrowed the scope of the Crito to the nature of civil disobedience.
Socrates argued that civil disobedience treats the State unjustly: “…do you think it possible for a city not to be destroyed if the verdicts of its courts have no force but are nullified and set at naught by private individuals?” Of course, the intent behind civil disobedience is not to destroy the State, but rather to save it! If a person is suicidal, then it may benefit that person to temporarily act against that person’s will. Likewise, if a State is ill, then it may benefit the State to temporarily engage in civil disobedience.
If the right sort of illness is not present, then civil disobedience would not be justified, but Socrates and Crito both believed that the State was ill in this instance. In his defense, Socrates said that a sluggish horse may need to be stirred up by a gadfly, and that the State similarly needs to be stirred up by himself. Rather than claim that the State was not ill, Socrates argued that it should be healed in a less destructive way: “we [the State] do not issue savage commands to do whatever we order; we give two alternatives, either to persuade us or to do what we say.”
In other words, Socrates claimed that civil disobedience is never justified because one should instead heal States by persuading them to change their understanding of justice. We now know of two major problems with this premise: First, persuasion might not be feasible. It is more appropriate to treat suicidal patients with drugs than with persuasion because their mental illness may render the persuasion ineffective. Likewise, the State might be too ill to be persuaded–Socrates had already failed to resolve his disagreement with the State through persuasion, and it would be insane to keep attempting what wasn’t working.
Second, persuasion could actually damage the State by diminishing the interdependent diversity of its social ecosystem. Some disagreements stem from mere ignorance. For example, consider disagreement about the answer to an arithmetic problem. It is entirely appropriate to reduce ignorance, and therefore appropriate to resolve such disagreements. However, other disagreements reflect our interdependentevaluative diversity. For example, society may benefit from including members with different thresholds for risk, and that diversity would produce disagreements about which risks to take. Resolving such disagreements would damage the State by reducing this diversity.
There are two kinds of people who reject the idea of resolving all disagreements: Corporantia and Evaluativists. Corporantia seek to preserve interdependent diversity. Rather than resolve all disagreements, they aim to maintain balance among interdependent parts of society and to discover the proper function of each part. The two most famous admonitions of Socrates and his students seem aligned with this approach: “Nothing too much” and “Know thyself.”
But Socrates died because he didn’t really practice what he preached. He was an evaluativist, someone who responds to the impossibility of persuasion by discounting those who do not share his own values. He proposed the premise: “One must not value…the opinions of all men, but those of some but not others…” Crito accepted this premise, supposedly to justify discounting the opinion of the State, but the same premise allowed Socrates to discount Crito’s opinion. Ultimately, the Crito concludes like this:
Socrates:As far as my present beliefs go, if you speak in opposition to them, you will speak in vain. However, if you think you can accomplish anything, speak.
Crito: I have nothing to say, Socrates.
Socrates: Let it be then, Crito, and let us act in this way, since this is the way the god is leading us.
Socrates leaves Crito no room for debate. He embraces evaluativism, and it destroys him.
Evaluativism typically stems from an inflated estimate of one’s own independent intelligence and ignorance about the virtues of interdependence. If the State recognized that its independent intelligence might be insufficient to understand justice, then, rather than demand to be persuaded, it would point to a more intelligent court where disagreements could be resolved, and/or it would test the sides in the disagreement by running separate social experiments in parallel.
As an example of parallel social experiment, consider Crito’s plan to send Socrates to Thessaly. If it turned out that Socrates enriched Thessaly, and that Athens languished in his absence, then this experiment would have produced evidence to support Socrates’ opinion that his gadfly behavior benefits the State.
But Socrates dismisses such a plan: “…if you go to one of the nearby cities… all who care for their city will look on you with suspicion, as a destroyer of the laws.” He never considers the possibility that the people of Thessaly might instead endorse civil disobedience because they judged that the State of Athens made an error it could not be persuaded to recognize. If we are to allow that Socrates can be a gadfly to the State, why not allow that Thessaly can be a gadfly to the collection of States?
Socrates’ lack of imagination in this scene is like that of a depressed individual who was dumped and cannot move on with his life. The Crito is ironic because Socrates’ evaluativism not only produces a fallacious argument against civil disobedience, but also dooms Socrates himself in the process.
Today, it may be most important to recognize that the argument would not have been fallacious if evaluative diversity were not interdependent. It follows that civil disobedience would not be justifiable without interdependence, and thus that every celebration of civil disobedience implies the claim that we lack sufficient independent intelligence. This is the key question which unsettles Western thought: “Should we expect to develop independent intelligence, or should we expect to develop interdependence?”
Socrates demonstrated the dangers of the former expectation. When do we learn the lesson?
In 1933, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky wrote, “people deny the presence of intelligent beings on the [other] planets of the universe” because “(i) if such beings exist they would have visited Earth, and (ii) if such civilizations existed then they would have given us some sign of their existence.” His answer to this argument against the belief in the existence of intelligent aliens is called the “zoo hypothesis.” It is the speculation that intelligent extraterrestrials are so much more advanced than we are that our healthy development requires being protected from knowledge of them, like zoo animals segregated from zoo patrons.
We are more familiar with the zoo hypothesis in the form of Star Trek‘s Prime Directive:
Nothing within these Articles Of Federation shall authorize the United Federation of Planets to intervene in matters which are essentially the domestic jurisdiction of any planetary social system or shall require the members to submit such matters to settlement under these Articles Of Federation. But this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.
Franz Joseph clearly adapted it from the United Nations Charter, Chapter I, Article 2, paragraph 7:
Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
In the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive is cited as prohibiting any contact with any alien civilization until that civilization is sufficiently advanced. However, it is also cited as prohibiting any interference in the development of that civilization. It is cited especially as prohibiting interference in the internal politics of another society, which means that any involvement with any civilization—even after first contact—must have the informed consent of its lawful leadership. Someone must decide when a civilization is ready to know about each technology, and the Prime Directive prohibits any disclosure until that civilization has established a sovereign to provide such consent.
Thus, the Prime Directive advanced by the writers of Star Trek goes beyond the simple zoo hypothesis to endorse hierarchical governance such that each civilization has a single point of contact analogous to the role consciousness plays in each individual person. Many fascinating plots have evolved from the tension that exists between requiring each civilization to achieve unity and requiring the universe to accept disunity (e.g. honoring the independence of civilizations). There are obvious analogies to tensions regarding consent under suspicion of mental illness and to tensions regarding the (imperfect) sovereignty of parents in families.
A Trekkie might bring awareness of these tensions to the topic of gun control and to a quote falsely attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” The quip seems to be evolving. Geoff Metcalf offers another version:
A Democracy: Three wolves and a sheep voting on dinner.
A Republic: The flock gets to vote for which wolves vote on dinner.
A Constitutional Republic: Voting on dinner is expressly forbidden, and the sheep are armed.
Federal Government: The means by which the sheep will be fooled into voting for a Democracy.
Freedom: Two very hungry wolves looking for dinner and finding a very well-informed and well-armed sheep.
I’d like to add to that:
Corporantia: Arms and legal process are both denied to anyone insufficiently informed to honor the necessary balance between predator and prey.
The quips poke fun at citizens and governments by comparing us to wolves and sheep, unable to master our own instincts and therefore unqualified to put forth any legitimate sovereign. Are humans really so lacking in self-awareness? Well…uh…yeah. Do you understand your brain well-enough to build someone else of equal intelligence? If not, then you are not self-aware. If you are not self-aware, then you are not a competent moral agent. Any democracy that you create would be illegitimate, like a nation of wolves and sheep.
The zoo hypothesis does not rule out the possibility that extraterrestrials are secretly active on Earth, protecting us like guardian angels, and invisibly interfering in our poorly-informed elections. That might be a good thing, but the UN Charter and Prime Directive, with their concept of sovereignty, inspire us to imagine that such interference might be immoral. The Charter probably isn’t an unbiased authority on this matter, since it was written by and for national sovereigns.
One of the architects of the United Nations, Winston Churchill, cited a now-famous quote in his address to the House of Commons: “…democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” That is clearly false. It is often a bad idea to let children have an equal vote in the finances of the family or to expect the rest of the ecosystem to vote on how it should be managed (the bacteria would have a landslide majority). The only disadvantage of meritocracy is the sense of elitism experienced by the governed, and that sense is eliminated in these cases because the governed do not understand how they are manipulated.
Perhaps there is a stage of social development when the most clever members of society are not yet clever enough to manipulate the rest without being detected. At that time, the most clever might espouse something like the Prime Directive just to throw others off their scent, but it is a pretty dumb lie when you examine it closely. If two little children were fighting, wouldn’t it be immoral for parents to grant them a right to develop or otherwise obtain deadly weapons? Wouldn’t it be just as immoral to allow immature nations to develop weapons of mass destruction? Of course the most clever should guide/manipulate the rest; the interesting question is how transparent that manipulation should be (i.e. do we need to be fooled, or can we be humble instead?)
Another interesting stage of development comes when children reach the threshold of adulthood and it becomes less clear that parents make the better rulers. In terms of the zoo hypothesis, this stage starts when the people begin to calculate the improbability of being alone. The Fermi paradox is named after Enrico Fermi for leading those calculations. If those calculations inspire people to conceive the zoo hypothesis, they may begin to test the hypothesis by trying to freeload—shirking responsibility for their own development. Something like the Prime Directive may be warranted in that case. Like a parent pushing a child to become independent, Star Fleet may need to withdraw protection so aliens can verify the real possibility of destroying themselves.
That special and temporary application of the Prime Directive is a far cry from the UN concept wrapped in informed consent. The idea of informed consent was popularized by the judges of the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. Lacking the competence to judge actions in terms of their health outcomes, the judges instead proposed to discern morality in terms of having informed consent. But modern ecosystem managers monitor the health of the ecosystem, rather than seek the informed consent of its members. Likewise, doctors act for the health of their patients and rightly question the sanity of any patient who refuses to consent to treatment. If people are not sufficiently self-aware to form moral democracies, then they certainly should not be trusted to provide informed consent.
When we push a child to become independent, it is not because the child has withdrawn consent to be parented. It is because we know, and, hopefully, our children also know, that their health requires that they grow up. We would stop protecting our children even if they asked us to let them stay immature for the rest of their lives. The relevant measure is health, rather than consent. The relevant question is “When is it healthy to become independent?”
In Pen Pals, Picard claimed “…the Prime Directive has many different functions, not the least of which is to protect us. To prevent us from allowing our emotions to overwhelm our judgment.” However, the better tool to prevent emotions from overwhelming judgment is objective health measures. In Dear Doctor, Archer suggested that the Prime Directive is a principle of neutrality, that it is about not playing God. However, it is not playing God to follow health measures controlled by God. On the contrary, to instead seek the consent of a consciousness—even the consciousness of a foreign sovereign—would be idolatry.
If we care for each other and want to protect each other, then our focus should be on improving measures of health, and this is where the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes sideways. It reads like the Prime Directive: Data that can be linked to a specific person shall not be shared, processed or even deleted without that person’s consent. Furthermore, that person shall have rights to change his/her consent: to erase the data or to examine and revise it. Imagine an accused adulterer demanding the ability to erase or revise the memories of an eyewitness! As with the Prime Directive, the GDPR forbids contact until the impossible practical puzzles of sovereignty are resolved.
The practice of the GDPR may look more like the zoo hypothesis where anyone is free to invade our privacy so long as the invader cannot be detected by the person whose privacy was invaded. We cannot testify, but we can observe and gossip. We can sell spouses evidence of adultery so long as the spouse cannot prove they got it from us. Does anyone really think relegating information to a black market will provide protection?
But the GDPR is worse than a useless distraction from our proper focus on health because it blocks us from doing exactly what is required to improve health measures: to conduct research. In order to grow-up, in order to heal, we need a more honest and accurate view of who we are. Were gay rights advanced by protecting privacy, or by bringing more accurate information about the nature of sexual orientation into the open? According to the GDPR, even if people consent to be understood, social statistics cannot be calculated without an impractical infrastructure to prove consent was obtained and to permit changes of heart. Thus, the GDPR makes truth about social health far more expensive to obtain legally, and that makes public schools less reliable than information black markets.
Why would the EU do something so stupid?
Smart people do stupid things because they are trapped by prior commitments, and the leaders of the EU are trapped by the people of the EU, who are in turn trapped by an inaccurate sense of self. Modern people easily buy into notions of sovereignty because they are insensitive to their interdependence. They believe that a consciousness can consent on the behalf of an entire person because they ignore the entanglements that blur the boundaries between persons and because they fail to empathize with the parts of a person that a consciousness fails to honor. They even believe that a government can consent on the behalf of an entire nation, despite evidence of internal diversity and artificial borders. At some level, we realize that sovereignty and consent are fantasies, but we have yet to reckon with the reality of interdependence.
I blame Star Trek for delaying that reckoning. Janet Stemwedel points out that the United States was fighting the Vietnam War when the series began and its enthusiasm for the Prime Directive might ironically have been the writers’ way of criticizing their own government. Ashley Meyers similarly points out that the Prime Directive made sense under a Cold War filter in which developing nations were “valued almost exclusively as pawns.” The GDPR likewise treats EU citizens as pawns in a tariff scheme whereby supervisory authorities are funded by GDPR fees (recall that such taxation inspired the American Revolution). It is less about letting people be themselves than about collecting money in the name of letting people pretend to be something else.
Likewise, the Prime Directive is less about doing the right thing than about always having a scapegoat: a foreign sovereign to blame. Many wonderful ideas were explored in the Star Trek science fiction series, but its implication that future generations will endorse the Prime Directive may relegate the series to history’s catalog of political propaganda. The GDPR is one way that propaganda has now influenced situations far beyond the 1960s and far beyond the safety of fiction.
“Corporantia: Is moral consciousness above individual brains/robots?” has been peer-reviewed and published in Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics. It is open access, so you can click here to read it.
While many other consumer electronics designers were inviting customers to help co-create new technologies, Steve Jobs famously advanced the philosophy of elite design: “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”
He didn’t say, “So close that you can tell them what they need…” If you know what your customers need better than they do, then Jobs recommended giving them no other option. Rather than sell people what they think they need, he recommended selling them only the best.
To clarify: The concept of elite design starts with the worldview that people ultimately face some real nature beyond their fantasies such that designs which better align with that real nature really are better, even if they align less-well with customers’ fantasies. In other words, goodness is not merely a matter of opinion, so the customer is not always right. Some people will be better at design than others because they have greater talent and/or experience, and inviting customers to design their own world will not be as good as having these elite designers design it for them. Inferior designs should not be implemented, even if most customers would be willing to pay for them or the majority of the electorate would vote for them—in short, elitism leaves serious problems of political philosophy open.
But those problems are for another article—this article focuses on interpersonal issues. When some designers participate in (what they perceive to be) inferior design, they experience anxiety strong enough to prevent them from thinking straight. Their response may range from rage to withdrawal. A similar response should prevent people from committing crimes—a bell-in-the-mind should warn “This is wrong!” and should be so distracting that crime cannot continue. Such bells can cause people to obsess over grammar errors, errors of calculation, errors of logic, factual errors, moral errors, or missed opportunities to improve quality. Whether we criticize the people who experience such anxiety for lacking flexibility or praise them for having conscience, the bottom line is that their interpersonal relationships must accommodate their special anxiety.
This may sound all well and good when dealing with engineers of iPhones, computer systems, skyscrapers, rockets, or movies, but the special accommodation seems more burdensome when dealing with social engineering. We expect to be able to co-design our nation, our church, our family and especially our marriage. When someone insists on his/her own designs for society, we call him/her a “narcissist.” Some of us avoid such people; some apply special rules and boundaries to such people as though dealing with a child; some sacrifice their own mental health to stay in the relationship.
Is there no other way to treat such people? Is there no hope of healthy social relationship with elite social designers?
Notice that we are not necessarily talking about accommodating people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. We are talking about accommodating people who do not recognize what we consider to be our rights, whether that is because the person has narcissistic personality disorder or because that person is simply immature or because that person is gifted (or any combination of causes). Our inability to have healthy relationships with people we call “narcissist” is something we need to address, regardless of whether we correctly diagnose those people or not.
What is at stake in facing this challenge of interpersonal-skills?
Corporantia are people who form into a body. Not a mere colony, but a body. That means relinquishing independence to accept an assigned role in a shared design for social functioning, much as neurons accept the role of neuron and bone cells accept the role of bone. Cells are not all invited to modify the design of the body, and any co-creation that ever occurred to produce the design in the first place surely occurred long before the parts differentiated. Thus, the corporantia rely on elite social design.
For example, although the tagline of the GRINfree.com website is “How to let people be themselves,” it does not describe processes by which people express their own fantasies of who they ought to be. Rather, it explores evidence of a real world beyond our invention—it invites people to discover their nature, rather than invent it. Much like a narcissist doubting the competence of his or her victims, the website even explores evidence of common human biases (e.g. evaluativism and anthropomorphism) which may justify delegation of design to elite experts. One could uncharitably rephrase the tagline as “How to save people from their lack of self-awareness.”
To be fair, much social science—not just that of corporantia—will ultimately have to defend itself against the accusation of narcissism. When the Church says, “You have to take it on faith,” Science shuts down. “I cannot be myself and ignore evidence,” says Science, echoing the narcissist who complains, “I cannot be myself and accept inferior designs.” The response from the Church is to stigmatize Science and set boundaries on it, letting Science address questions of medicine and physical engineering, but dismissing scientific analysis of the mechanisms that generate our beliefs about morality and the divine. Ever since Galileo, the Church has refused a healthy relationship with certain areas of Science, especially moral psychology.
Social scientists need to understand this: Whether scientists happen to be narcissists or not, the Church will treat certain science as narcissism. This relationship problem could even stem from flaws in the person who claims to be the victim:
The victim might not know his/her role. When someone identifies as a victim of narcissism, they seem to doubt both that they should obey the narcissist and that they should force the narcissist to obey. Cells of the body that do not know their role are called “cancer,” and the inability of humans to recognize their social roles is a similar disease for society.
The victim might not accept his/her role. Sometimes suicide and denial of reality come less from ignorance than from pride. Anyone with enough pride will perceive narcissism in their opponent, and anyone with sufficient humility will not find narcissism troubling.
In short, “narcissistic” is a term that applies better to relationships than to individuals because both sides can take blame and because it might be beyond the ability of either side alone to solve the relationship problem. It is not enough for social scientists and the corporantia to work on their own psychology. Neither would it help to persecute those who embrace faith—if we need elite designers, then we need for the people who are not elite designers to have faith in designs that are not their own. The solution needs to be social engineering, rather than psychological treatment.
What is the solution?
Star Trek’s “Borg” supposedly solved the interpersonal-relationship challenge of narcissism by shackling each brain to a computer that would force each person to accept assigned roles with humility. That might not work in reality—it might even destroy the very diversity that the Borg aimed to “asymilate.” The case of Steve Jobs points towards a more practical solution:
Whether Steve Jobs was an actual narcissist or not, he did have interpersonal relationship issues associated with narcissism, yet those issues did not block his designs from changing our world. Both of the mechanisms which allowed him to circumvent the relationship issue involved layers of intermediaries.
First, there were layers of people. Most complaints about Jobs’ personality were made by people who dealt with him directly. The rest of us might have believed that Jobs was a narcissist, but we did not complain about it because we did not deal with Jobs directly. We dealt with Apple as a company or with a particular Apple salesperson or even with a competing company that copied aspects of Jobs’ design.
Of course, some people did need to deal with Jobs directly, so some people did need special relationship skills. The people who can surround an elite designer are their own kind of elite. When the rest of us were frustrated with the designs being imposed on us (by Apple or its followers), our complaints to the people we dealt with directly were diffused by making Jobs the scapegoat. “What can we do?” they said, “Jobs has all the control!”
One might imagine the corporantia would be like the Apple Company as a whole. It would take a large group of people to change the world, but only a few members of that group need take the blame. Effective social change may even require someone to embrace the reputation of a narcissist in order to direct blame away from the rest of the corporantia, thus empowering the group as a whole to overcome the interpersonal relationship challenge.
The second kind of layer of intermediaries was norms. People were more likely to dispute Jobs’ designs before they became normal. Today, some young people complain about never experiencing a world without the pressure smartphones have brought them to make themselves available to their friends at a moment’s notice, but this frustration is not perceived as an interpersonal problem with Jobs or Apple. Rather than identify as victims of narcissism, these young people identify as victims of dogma or of “The Machine.”
Similarly, the work of the corporantia can be built up over the course of generations by building up norms. For example, the last couple hundred years have established the norms of change, health science, and management of diversity. The designs of the corporantia would have seemed far more objectionable before those norms were established. It may seem nefarious—like addicting a customer to powerful drugs by starting with gateway drugs—but cumulative shifts in social norms may be necessary to address the interpersonal problem, and therefore necessary to accomplish certain worthwhile social changes.
You might think that the greatest challenge facing corporantia is to figure-out the natural design for how all the parts of society should work together. But following the Steve Jobs metaphor, consider what actually turned-out to be the greatest obstacles to achieving his ultimate goal of ubiquitous computing.
Jobs and many others knew that ubiquitous computing must mostly be housed in site-based hardware like smart homes, smart offices, smart ships, and smart cars (that’s the only way to be able to be everywhere at once), and that carried devices will be justifiable only if they permit us to communicate more intimately with our computer agents (as with Google Glass or computer-brain interfaces). Discovering that natural design for ubiquitous computing—which notably does not include smartphones—was easy compared to figuring-out how to get from here to there. Who would guess that the path to ubiquitous computing would start with payphones, which would be obsolesced by cell phones, which would be obsolesced by smartphones, which would be obsolesced by…?
Smartphones cannot have any natural design because it is clearly natural for them to be obsolesced. Smartphones are merely an intermediary step, a fad designed at whim to nudge us closer to ubiquitous computing. There might even have been a possible path that never included smartphones at all. Similarly, we should expect the advance of the corporantia to require intermediary steps for which many design decisions must be arbitrary: Some elite will need to take power and make indefensible decisions that rightly inspire criticism and interpersonal difficulty.
Jobs managed his interpersonal relationship challenges such that most of us did not identify as victims of narcissism, but his tactics boiled-down to spin-doctoring. Perhaps “narcissism” is a bad word for what oppresses us—perhaps it would be more accurate to claim we are victims of a world so imperfect that manipulation is the only way forward—but we do and will need to continue suffering unjustifiable inequality.
Instruments which categorize people into types are typically accompanied by advice about how to use them to select mates and employment. This article discusses such implications of evidence supporting the GRIN self-quiz.
Marriage and employment are related because, as one college textbook says,
“A government program that seeks to improve relationships would probably do better to fund effective training for better jobs or to increase the minimum wage than to try to teach people to respect marriage.”
Rowland S Miller. Intimate Relationships. 7th Edition (2015), page 62.
This passage of the textbook specifically criticizes application of moral education to address especially poor marital and divorce rates among African Americans. The author points out that African Americans already value marriage, but face greater economic pressure on average, and cites evidence that few people (African American or not) marry or stay married to someone with financial problems.
The currently leading theory to predict who will marry and who will divorce is called “interdependence theory” and essentially describes an economic negotiation. You can expect to keep your spouse if the value he/she gets from your marriage less the cost of being in it is greater than the value-less-cost available in alternative relationships. This implies that staying married is like holding down a job: perform or be fired!
My government legally defines marriage as an economic contract, but this article will instead use the term “marriage” to refer to something that existed long before law or contracts: the fundamental unit of interdependence. Even before law or contract, this unit was a unit of employment. Back then, all businesses were family businesses, and marriage was one of three ways to join a business—the other ways were to be adopted or born into the family.
While African Americans may be especially hard hit, problems with marriage today are broad. People are waiting longer to get married, getting divorced more often, and more are never marrying at all. In 2012, 41% of babies were born out of wedlock (eight times the percentage fifty years earlier). We have hit the point at which over half of all adults are now unmarried. This article will argue that these trends stem from shifts in business practices, rather than from shifts in family values.
Economic Interdependence vs Evolved Interdependence
“Interdependence theory” is an unfortunate choice of name because it equates all interdependence with economic interdependence. Actually, economic interdependence is far weaker than the evolved interdependence we observe between, for example, the parts of a body.
If one member of a choir, team, family or business is lost, a replacement is needed to fill his/her role as bass, keeper (goalie), mother or manager (etc.). That necessity reflects an evolved interdependence like the interdependence between parts of a body; it is not some economic bargain one can intelligently renegotiate. However, this kind of interdependence does not bind the choir, team, family or business to any particular individual. Only economic interdependence—the fear that no better bass, keeper, mother or manager can be obtained—gives negotiating power to specific individuals.
To confuse the two kinds of interdependence creates a “moral relativism” debate. The goodness of an economic interdependence is relative to specific people—is the marriage good for these particular spouses? In contrast, the goodness of an evolved interdependence is universal—is the marriage a good pattern for arbitrary others to imitate? If we think economic interdependence is the only kind of interdependence there is, then morality will seem relative.
My own wedding vows prioritized evolved interdependence over economic interdependence: “I choose you as God’s perfect wife for me,” I said, “accepting on faith that I shall never stop learning to appreciate the amazing gift our perfect creator made you to be.” In other words, I expect to underestimate the value of my marriage, and therefore to be unqualified to negotiate a better economic deal. The article will discuss evidence in support of that hypothesis, but also that the pattern of marriage good for imitation is not mere coupling…
This article is not about economic interdependence nor any particular marriage; it is about evolved interdependence. It is about the ultimate nature of marriage. Thus, I can support whatever marital choices my children happen to make, and still seriously acknowledge the evidence discussed here. I can love my children with blatant favoritism, yet acknowledge that universally correct laws don’t necessarily favor my children nor their perspectives on marriage.
What the GRIN Model Implies
The GRIN model tells us that each society’s success depends upon its rate of learning and that societies learn fastest when their members specialize in different aspects of learning: Gadflies specialize in producing new ideas, negotiators specialize in objectively selecting among ideas, and institutional evaluators specialize in preserving selected ideas. These three specializations are like stages in a digestive track (processing innovation instead of food).
Relational evaluators are needed because new ideas typically emerge half-baked and would get rejected by good negotiators unless incubated by people who select ideas subjectively (e.g. “through the eyes of love”). One could think of relational evaluators as a buffer between gadflies and negotiators, but subjective evaluation really connect all kinds of people, like a skeleton or circulatory system connects all other parts of a body.
The first thing this model tells us about marriage is that the basic unit of interdependence increases our collective intelligence. Thus, laws which set up each individual to decide for him/herself whom to marry and when (and if/when to divorce) are vesting power in the less-intelligent entity. At the heart of the decline in marriage are laws which give more individuals the option to avoid interdependence (to avoid marriage and to reduce interdependence in employment); these laws essentially enable societies to reduce their intelligence.
Is it possible to have a right to reduce one’s intelligence? The question poses a paradox because we do not count a behavior as freely chosen unless it is selected with sufficient intelligence. Interdependence theory may be correct that individuals get married and divorced based on their own personal economic judgments, but evidence for the GRIN model suggests that individuals are poorly-equipped to make such judgments accurately. It is a provocative possibility.
The second implication of the GRIN model is that the evolved fundamental unit of interdependence requires a lot more than just two adults. Just like (divine) evolution designed bodies to involve cells of each type, it designed families to involve adults of each type. Can you imagine cells trying to live as mere pairs…one skin cell and one neuron setting-out to grow old together? Cells need to have pairwise relationships, but those relationships must be part of an entire network.
Marriage will likewise fail to facilitate evolved interdependence if it is mere coupling. If all children go separate ways upon reaching adulthood, such that marriage is ultimately just two adults, then the value of marriage reduces to its non-interdependence aspects. Marriage adds little to the raising of children if parents have sufficient community support. Neither is marriage necessary for sex or companionship. It is no wonder marriage rates decline as the extended family falls apart.
One might hope to find evolved interdependence via employment instead of marriage, but modern corporations do not preserve the function of relational evaluators, which is to maintain a non-centralized network by forming small numbers of emotional attachments. For example, a relational evaluator might bond with a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a son and a daughter. Collectively, relational evaluators can thus divide billions of people into many relatively small families with somewhat divergent priorities. Modern corporations deny relational employees this power, instead enabling central leaders to set priorities for all employees, and that makes modern corporations fragile against challenges that require leaps of faith.
The last few centuries of social engineering separated marriage from employment, leaving social collaboration to be grounded at two new group sizes: couples and corporations. It is provocative to consider that neither of these new grounds might be viable for the long-term.
The third major implication of the GRIN model concerns matchmaking. Most models that divide people into types paint a picture in which each person has a roughly equal set of types with whom to mate. In contrast, the GRIN model tells us that naturally relational people match with anyone, but gadflies (which correlate strongly with psychopathy) cannot effectively link to interdependence through any other type—not even through another gadfly.
If marriage were just about coupling, then institutional evaluators might seem to be the second most flexible, since they could link to interdependence through any type but gadfly. However, only a marriage that includes a relational evaluator can accommodate a gadfly child, so relational evaluators are the best matches even for institutional evaluators. Is it possible that marriage is not a symmetric responsibility shared equally by all, but rather is the function of one type of person who bonds the rest together?
Again, the possibility is provocative: The prospect of assigning employees to form emotional attachments to specific other employees raises concerns about abuse. Arranged marriage and family business may be less prevalent today precisely because of damage caused by spousal abuse and familial abuse. We need to measure the value of interdependence to make sure it really is worth this risk.
Ideal Family Size
Negotiators are supposed to take control, and thus horde resources; that benefits society by allowing resources to mobilize, but it won’t feel supportive to a spouse. Gadflies and institutional evaluators are supposed to create the threat of guilt and shame; again, that benefits society, but it won’t feel supportive. Relational evaluators are the only ones who can honestly offer relationships that feel supportive to the other person. Such relationships would be asymmetric to other GRIN-types, so we will represent them here by arrows (pointing at relational evaluators).
For GRIN dynamics to work robustly, the organization of the social body must satisfy several criteria:
Each evaluator has at least one symmetric or supporting relationship (i.e. without an arrow head pointing at him/her).
Each evaluator is connected to an institutional evaluator either directly or through a relatively short chain of relational evaluators.
Each gadfly has a relationship with a relational evaluator who has a relationship with a negotiator.
No two gadflies compete over any given relational evaluator.
All of these criteria remain satisfied even if any single evaluator is removed.
Each evaluator must be replaceable without creating too many expensive relationships (i.e. no evaluator can have too many arrows ending at him/her).
These criteria create a puzzle. In order to satisfy #5, an organization must include at least two evaluators of each type. In order to satisfy #3, #4 and #5 together, there must be at least two relational evaluators per gadfly. This gives us a minimum of ten adult evaluators. The following example would be one solution, assuming #2 is satisfied with chains of length two, and #6 is satisfied if a maximum of three arrows point to any evaluator:
Evaluators are allowed to have relationships beyond those pictured in the org chart (for example, one might expect additional relationships between negotiators and institutional evaluators); organizational charts show only the essential relationships necessary to satisfy the criteria. On the other hand, the localization this geometry achieves would be undermined if too many evaluators became too influenced through a central authority such as Wikipedia or a large-scale vote. High-quality relationships must take priority. Any of the connections in this chart could be marriage, but any could also be adoption, sibling relationship, etc. In the solution above, institutional evaluators are the only individuals who could marry into the network through the creation of a single supporting relationship. The other three types would need polygamy, incest, or adoption by in-laws.
There is a less expensive way to join the network. The example solution is composed of two identical configurations, one on the left and the other on the right. Shifting such a configuration as a whole from one network to another, or to another location in the same network, would not require any individual evaluator to take responsibility for more than one new supporting relationship.
We will call any such configuration a “family.” Monogamy makes more sense if limited to relationships that bridge families, since relationship between families does not require any individual to manage more than one (new) emotional attachment. The suggestion that one should be emotionally attached to no more than one parent, sibling or child makes less sense. Polygamy would then be unnecessary so long as each family maintains sufficiently many of these internal emotional attachments.
To grow a new family, one would start by adding its mature relational evaluators into an existing network. The mature relational evaluators might be called the “parents” or “teachers”, but the entire surrounding network invests in the new family; authority to judge and discipline would go to negotiators and institutional evaluators. One would add or develop a full generation of five non-parents (lower-case in the figure) attached to the parents as below:
The size of a family in reproduction would be at least seven: two parents and five non-parents. Once complete and mature (which might be faster if assembling a family from polygamous adults or machines), the family can be transplanted as a productive unit. If the original relational adults are teachers, then they are the kind who emotionally attach with their students, and move with them into the real world when they graduate. The relational students/non-parents may position themselves as back-ups for their teachers/parents or could split-off individually (or with any extra siblings) to build other new families.
Another example shows that increasing the family size from five adults to six (and nine total evaluators at reproduction) allows a situation in which the loss of any individual evaluator can be repaired without creating more than two supporting relationships (criteria #3 entails that no configuration can do better):
In this example, the three relational adults in each family connect with other families at three points, so the loops/chains formed by families of this type can assemble into mesh as in the organizational chart at the top of this article (offering the possibility of emergent higher-intelligence as in cellular automata). Each loop of twelve or more evaluators (eighteen in the hexagonal mesh) might be called a “super-family” because it can relocate without any new asymmetric bonding at all. Larger mesh may be necessary to develop solutions to larger challenges like climate change, pandemic, and nuclear war.
All of these examples rest in the assumption that a social architect is able to identify each evaluator’s type and assign his/her position in the network. Historically, that has not always been the case, but that’s less of a problem because early stages of differentiation are generally accompanied by hermaphroditism; GRIN-hermaphrodites would be evaluators who change GRIN-type like stem-cells change cell-type. Substituting GRIN-hermaphrodites for specialized evaluators makes any solution more robust against failure to control assignment, but the same arguments about family size and structure hold.
If population frequencies evolved to match the models above, 40%-50% of people would be naturally relational (or GRIN-hermaphrodite) and organizing adults into mere couples would leave 50%-60% of all adults feeling unsupported. That would produce envy. Like people who engage in diet and exercise to achieve the body shape of someone who came by the desired body shape without so much effort, people who are not naturally relational would find their mates attempting to transform them against their nature using complaints, threats, bribes, manipulation, religion, counseling, and self-help books (etc.)…
Meanwhile, naturally relational employees would be challenged by life-work balance. They instinctively invest in each of their emotional attachments as though participating in GRIN-dynamic, but the more emotional energy they waste on home-families that have become too small to manifest evolved interdependence, the less they can invest to support real interdependence. The result for society would be equivalent to scarcity of relational evaluators: No matter how many gadflies it hired, the average business would experience the fragility of dogmatism.
An effective solution requires substantial family size, but current business practice is to hire and relocate individuals. That makes it difficult to maintain larger families. Perhaps one adult can sacrifice his/her current employment to follow a spouse (or other family member) to a new location, but it would be unreasonable to expect four adults to change jobs for the sake of a fifth.
It would be easier if businesses hired entire families—like consulting teams—instead of hiring individuals. Assuming businesses seek to manifest evolved interdependence themselves, hiring and relocating entire families of five or six adults would be more efficient for them too.
One major obstacle businesses would face in hiring families would be determining who pays the costs of reproduction. Reproduction can be a long-term investment; families are not very useful until mature and attached. It would be unfair if company A were to hire a newly mature family raised by company B before B could recoup its investment. Perhaps reproduction could be subsidized through taxes collected from the entire society.
It has been said that marriage takes hard work; the GRIN-model implies that this work is harder for some people than for others. It implies that emotional attachment is an evolved feature of humanity and that its function is not merely to make us feel good nor is it limited to reproductive purposes—its function is to increase our collective intelligence. Emotional attachments with difficult people are important in fulfilling this function, so optimizing marriage is expensive and deserves planning and protection.
That’s a tough pill to swallow for a society built around the expectation that love is natural or magical and not a subject for science and engineering. When everyone is expecting to have two kids, it’s tough to suggest that most of us should never be parents (i.e. provide emotional attachment), and that the rest should raise at least five or six children. Especially when so many people consider their families dysfunctional, it’s tough to suggest that siblings should apply for employment as a team rather than as independent agents.
Show a GRIN org chart to a modern business manager, and she is likely to say, “That’s too complicated. Even if it happens to be correct, you won’t see me implementing anything like that!” Many people have never bothered considering the possibility that two adults may be too few for marriage, or the possibility that there is a specialized type of person that should be involved in every marriage, or the possibility that keeping emotional bonding out of the workplace ultimately spells the doom of business.
It would have been easier to consider these possibilities thousands of years ago, when family-businesses and large families were commonplace. Now, shall we treat these possibilities as science-fiction which has the quality of fantasy, even if likely to be true?
Thus far, the evidence is consistent with the GRIN model:
People are evaluatively diverse, disagreeing again and again with the same other people
As extended families break down, the stability of intimate relationships rests on economic interdependence and marriage and divorce rates degrade
Businesses that do not divide into families ultimately die because they develop the fragility of dogmatism/central-control
Furthermore, we have seen what hierarchical organization brings: segregation not only into management vs labor, but the isolation of think-tanks, monasteries, churches, prisons, etc. Segregation may seem promising at first, but the advantages we have witnessed have been limited to the short-term, being counterproductive in the long-run. GRIN organization provides an alternative to segregation.
Like climate change theories, the GRIN model could be formally tested through controlled experiments and/or well-designed monitoring programs. But who would organize such investigation? Perhaps the better use for evidence which supports the GRIN model is to refine the model for use in fiction. Perhaps there is a market for stories about using science and engineering to provide almost all people with satisfying marriages, families and careers.
For example, in the beloved parable of the prodigal son, women apparently have no power, thus leaving a family business size of only three: a negotiator, his institutional brother, and their relational father. The negotiator eliminates their economic interdependence by negotiating personal ownership, then sets-off on his own. His ability to do this demonstrates the weakness of a mere relational-institutional couple and we expect them to be destroyed by the next slick negotiator to come along, but fortunately the prodigal son hits bad luck and returns first. The value of relational evaluation is shown at this point, because the father contributes no significant assets or labor, but it is his emotional attachments to his sons that save the business. Similar parables could be constructed to demonstrate the likely doom of other inadequate organizational structures.