4. About societal evolution and societal governance
Political theory has always addressed the exercise of power by referring to the opinions of European classical thinkers about that subject. Nowadays political scientists particularly focus on Modernity and the Nation-State which are also European constructs. With the globalization of the reach of capital, that was put in motion in the 70ths through the actions of various international organizations, that European model of political theory is being imposed all over the world as if it was the sole truth of the matter about things relating to political science.
But the fact is that Europe represents no more than 5% of the world population. Adding to that 5% the geographical extensions it imposed on natives, along the initial phase of merchant capitalism (1), this 'European cultural domain' still counts no more than 10% of the world population. A question then arises. Why is the field of societal governance, which is what political theory is all about, so blind to the historical experience of such great countries as China (18.8% of the world population) and India (17.6% of the world population) (2)?
The word that best describes what is going on here is 'hegemony'. Hegemony is the cultural dominance resulting from the economic and military might of one or more nations. Hegemony throughout Modernity was seen moving from one area to the next:
Graph by the economist
4.2. What is a society?
The widely circulated words of Margaret Thatcher “There is no such thing as ‘society’ ” offer a very short answer to that question. But I'm afraid that instead of an answer it is more like an ideological vision that is totally detached from reality (4).
The traditional way to explain what is a society refers to a grouping of individuals. It certainly appears that societies are groupings of individuals but why then do individuals feel the need to assemble with others into groups?
A few direct answers come immediately to mind. But generally the narrative goes along the lines that individuals voluntarily assemble in groups to multiply their individual energies in order to attain something that they can't attain on their own. A society could be envisaged as such a build-up were it not for its size that immediately excludes the possibility that its individuals assemble on a voluntary base. So there must be more foundational mechanisms at work that explain the existence of societies.
When you look at what is a society through the prism of set theory you discover that a society is a sub-set of a larger set called a species and a species contains multiples societies or groupings of individuals.
All along “From Modernity to After-Modernity. Part 1: A rapid overview of the history leading to Late-Modernity” the picture that is painted is one of societies that are evolving. Societal evolution, as it unfolds along the arrow of time, is like a process of change that is being stoke up by necessity. Here is fast sketch remembering us the moments of societal evolution that were determinant in shaping the path to our present:
One characteristic accompanies each step of this very fast sketch of societal evolution. I mean societies are always mirrored by the individuals:
From all this I conclude that societies and individuals are complementary. It looks indeed like they need each other and can not survive on their own. I propose to join this observation with the observation here above that a society is a sub-set of a larger set called species. What we immediately observe is that the self-centered ego is unable to see his own inclusion into a larger set than himself and as a result he starts to fantasize about his god like capacities. Doing so he turns ever farther away from reality. But in the end reality always re-asserts itself and when that happens the ego is being crushed under the impact of a re-balancing by the larger sets containing his own contextual set.
Societies and individuals are sub-sets of their species which itself is a sub-set of mother earth which is a subset... Societies and individual interact provoking feedback loops that balance their being. Those interactions are at the image of what I call the dance between polarities and in that sense their interactions are polarity-plays. Human individuals and human societies are the polarities of the human species. That means that their polarity-plays is what powers the reality of humanity.
4.3. A systemic approach of society and governance
I want to approach the subject of governance and societal evolution from a different angle than the traditional Eurocentrist model. My ambition is to lay-out a systemic model of societal life and of societal governance that, in my personal observation, appears to be in application in all living species.
Humanity is indeed not the only species that has to find workable ways to organize its affairs. In reality, whatever contemporary apologists of Modernity may affirm about the primacy of the individual, the fact is that along the entire span of life on earth, that totaled nearly 4 billion years, the atoms of all living species shared a common need to live in groups. All living species live in societies and for sure the form of these societies varies greatly from one species to the next.
The earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago and life emerged a little less than 1 billion years later. To put things into perspective Homo-Sapients, in our present form, appeared only some 200-250,000 years ago. This may appear as an eternity in the mind of an individual but such a length of time is barely visible on the line represented by the 3.5 billion years of life on earth. And, notwithstanding its short span, humanity already experimented a variety of different societal forms.
What is even more chocking is that Modernity and the Nation-State have been in existence during far less than 1% of the entire span of human societal life. This should normally suffice to instill a little dose of humility in our minds but an Eurocentric political theory nevertheless brushes all that under the mat as if it was a non event.
I have never been able to accept the reality proposed by political theory nor by economic theory for that matter. In my eyes all species live in societies and we can observe that they experiment with a very large variety of societal forms indeed.
The way I see it we should situate societal forms, their evolution, and societal governance in the frame of set theory. This would give us some perspective on the foundational nature of societies and from there we could inquire about the factors that determine how different societal forms and governance approaches take shape. This is what I have in mind when referring to the lay-out of the foundations of societal life and its governance as it applies to all living species.
Now I'm well aware that completing such a program is a herculean task. I'm no hero so I don't plan to complete such a task! My ambition is more limited. I'm a painter in search of answers to the following questions:
4.3.1. Principles impacting societal evolution
Some of the principles that were exposed, in the past chapters of this part 2, are having a direct impact on societal evolution and governance so I'll now give some short notes about these principles.
A. Sets and polarity-plays
The investigation of reality confronts us with cascades of facts that flood our minds and in order to make sense out of it we somehow have to sift this multiplicity of facts by applying a system of lenses to our observations.
Such lenses are what makes sense emerge out of the multiplicity of facts that we observe. Mathematics act like such a system of lenses and its Set Theory, more particularly, helps to extract sense out of the multitude of human observations.
The interrelations of the parts within a set is what shapes its wholeness or the unity of the set standing on its own.
All sets are given by:
B. life's urge for ever higher levels of complexity
We have seen in “chapter 2: About consciousness” that:
1. Depending on the context life preservation is based or on the tactical principle of competitive growth or on the tactical principle of cooperation. The mission of these tactical principles is to satisfy the objective needs of the individual:
2. Life development and growth results from the interaction between – the tactical principle of competitive growth/cooperation – the strategic urge for more complexity in the form of a higher level of consciousness. The interaction between the tactical principle of competitive growth/cooperation and the strategic urge for more complexity acts as a booster on the total level of complexity of life systems:
This brings us to conceive of the emergence and development of life as a process of evolution starting with the biological and later extending to the societal (5). In biological evolution natural selection is acting on genetic mutations. In societal evolution natural selection is acting on cultural mutations.
Everything starts with the context an entity is living in. When order and harmony are strong mutations have little chance to be replicated but when disorder is strong and disharmony reigning then the ground is fertile for change. And change happens at a given threshold of tension in the state of disorder/disharmony. That's when a bifurcation point is reached and, under the tension, one or more among the multiple mutations that had developed earlier in the biology or in the culture of the entity happen to free that tension in one or more individual particles. Freeing the tension means that the dance, of the polarity-plays that were causing the disorder, is being neutralized which gives free rein to the energy of order that had been building up in these specific individual particles. Freeing the energy of order launches a new cycle. In other words old disorder dies while new order emerges and the mutations that, for whatever reason freed the tension of disorder, are being replicated - in the biology – or in the worldview.
In biological evolution natural selection sorts out one working proposition among the range of available genetic mutations and so it drives the genetic evolution of a species. In societal evolution natural selection sorts out one working proposition among a range of available cultural mutations and so it drives the evolution of a society's worldview.
Natural selection of new cultural possibilities results from the balancing of the polarities of humanity:
The observation, over the span of the long history of the dance of humanity's polarities, indicates that the individual urge for change rarely succeeds because:
Societal evolutionary change is not only occurring as a consequence of individual innovation. Many societal changes are indeed imposed by the weight of forces from outside of human societies:
Paradoxically this consciously acquired knowledge by some individuals is not automatically transmitted to the mind of our societies. In other words some individuals develop a consciousness of the working of their societies and their impact on the environment, the resources, and onto themselves and are concluding that urgent action is required to channel the evolutionary changes initiated by modernity on a path that can be better sustained by the principle of life. But their voice is not being heard by their societies. Human societies have indeed not achieved until today the indispensable feat to dote themselves with a mind and a societal consciousness of its own. But it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak about the individuals consciously setting up mechanisms that could act like the brain of the species. In other words political action by the individuals sets up the appropriate institutional mechanisms to bring about higher levels of societal consciousness. This also means that individuals should not always complain about their societies' inaction in the face of observed real problems. They should act following their own consciousness and societies will eventually adapt after a critical mass of them has opened a new path.
C. Knowledge formation and acquisition
I concluded “Chapter 1: About knowledge” with the observation that knowledge is not an absolute quantity but is something that emerges out of a given context and I concluded “Chapter 2: About consciousness” with the observation that knowledge addresses two distinct dimensions:
D. The evolution of worldviews
Knowledge in its absolute dimension acts like a memory. That memory acts as a sensor that orders the utilitarian dimension of knowledge to remember its relative nature and as such the absolute knowledge of the universe begs humanity to keep humble. It is the role of the men of knowledge to ensure human behavior remains humble but Modernity demoted the men of knowledge and in consequence humility was shoveled in the dustbin of history. The result is the great convergence of Late-Modernity…
Worldviews are approximations of reality that “are steeped in how we perceive the constraints imposed on us by nature and our cultural adaptations to those constraints as well as the entire gamut of ways of doing and thinking of a specie or a society. In other words societal approximations are derived from the knowledge available at a given moment in a given society and are then shared over the long history by the citizens of that given society”. (6)
These approximations eventually evolve over time adapting to the evolving context of societies through feedback loops between culture and worldviews. The completion of such feedback loops indicates that new cultural expressions (cultural mutations) have been replicated in the worldview.
4.3.2. Society is shaped by the polarities of humanity.
As we have seen earlier (The axioms of civilization, The civilization of China = animism+) the way humanity wanders inside reality is structured along the path of its two polarity-plays :
This dance between the human species' polarities is also observed to be in application in all other species albeit eventually resulting in different arrangements.
A. Pilars of society versus individual necessity
The "polarity-play 'individual - society' " generates a set of 5 "individual necessities" and 5 "pillars of societal houses". See the graph here under.
Between themselves these 5 individual necessities and these 5 pillars of societal houses generate:
The 5 pillars of societal houses and the 5 necessities of individual life constitute what is called the determinant factors of individual and societal life. They are the same determinant factors that we see at work in the graph about the cycle of life. The urge for societal coexistence does not figure in the cycle of life for the good reason that this graph focuses on the polarity-play between individual and the species. Society is only shown incidentally in this graph as the place where some of the interrelations between individuals and species take place.
B. The 5 pillars of societal houses
Societies are set-entities whose objective is to preserve the species against the short vision and impetuousness of the individual atoms. Societies are somehow conscious, conscious like in the biological sense but in a different way, and they know about their own sub-set status relating to larger sets, about their environment and their own internal constitution and so they drive the individual atoms to build up systems, adapted to their present historical context, in order to ensure their smooth operation. I have been observing and studying the societal reality of European nations, of China and of the USA over the last 50 years. Everywhere we see 5 factors acting like the pillars of societies because they are determinant to their smooth operation:
It is self evident that the quality of the 5 pillars of the societal house have a direct bearing on the 5 individual necessities. They are the polarities derived from 'the polarity-play individual – society' so, in other words, they are like a second tier polarities of species.
C. The 5 individual necessities
Individuals need to reproduce in order to ensure their families and societies existence in the future. Biologists say that genes are selfish and 'manipulate' the individual to reproduce himself so that they themselves can survive over the generations. I'm more inclined to believe that the individual particles of any species are driven by the program of the principle of life and its 2 foundational rules:
Five factors appear determinant to the lives of the individuals:
As we have seen, both in the 5 pillars of societal houses and in the 5 individual necessities, these factors modulating the cycle of life don't command the same weight or urgency. Avoiding to die, for example, has more weight than any other factors and this suggests that my initial intuition about what powers the prime urge of reproduction was correct. Reproduction is the first principle in the program of life and when faced with this principle the selfishness of genes looks indeed like a frivolous idea. Such an idea could only have been derived from the ideological dream of a mind that had been made captive of the ideology of materialism and atomism.
4.4. 25 interrelations between individuals & society
Each of the 5 "individual necessities" interacts with each of the 5 "pillars of societal houses" generating a set of 25 feedback loops. These 25 feedback-loops are what gives its substance to the “individual/society polarity-play ”.
This “individual/society polarity-play ” covers the entire gamut of all possible individual as well as all possible societal plays. It is in the analysis of its 25 interactions and feedback loops that one finds the answers to the "why" of such and such actions and behaviors and also the eventual remedies to correct what is unwanted among them. In other words these 25 interactions and feedback loops offer an analytical framework to analyze and to understand the working of societies and how to operate them the most efficiently.
These are the 25 determinant interrelations between societies and individuals. The outcome of their dance is what shapes the form and content of societies as well as the behaviors of the individuals which means that their interplay is really determinant for the species.
5 of these interrelations are the polarity-plays of the cycle of life (black arrows) and among these 'change versus conservation' (blue arrow) is assuredly the most well known one. It applies, for example, to the traditional division between political parties: conservatives versus liberals. Liberals are understood as being open to innovation and change while conservatives want the conservation of the status quo. Liberals and conservatives are always portrayed as opposites in the traditional dualistic model. This means that each paints the other as being his arch enemy and as such thinks that the ennemy has to be vanquished at all costs. In that sense 'the polarity-play conservation-change' is certainly the one that evokes the highest level of animosity at least in our present day Late-Modern context.
But we should always remain aware of the fact that contexts eventually change and individual attitudes adapt to changing contexts. Having said that the fact is nevertheless that to this very day all past worldviews have been privileging conservation and opposing change and the further we go down the path of history the less change was tolerated indeed. So the polarity-play conservation-change is perhaps not as flexible as first thought. One good reason that jumps to mind is that change can be dangerous. Change can push the species into oblivion and our predicament in Late-Modernity is a good illustration of such a dangerous possibility. Meanwhile if conservation can effectively have some drawbacks these drawbacks are never deadly. Put in such stark terms the differentiation in term of danger, in my mind, is sufficient to explain why change was always regarded with suspicion to say the least.
As we saw earlier a polarity-play is not a dualistic opposition. Dualism means that the other has to be eliminated because there is indeed no compatibility between dual opposites. Polarity-plays on the other hand are a totally different affair. Polarities are conceived as being complementary and are seen playing or dancing together which generates a given outcome for the entity or the unity they are the two poles of. In that sense the play between polarities is what powers change in their entities and no other explanation is required to understand how these entities change.
It is thus no news that the knowledge, of how these polarity-plays operate, gives his holder a handle on the future. Mastering such a handle on the future was at the core of the Chinese system of knowledge acquisition with the “Yi-Ching” as the go to work of reference. My approach is certainly influenced by the methodology that is foundational to the Yi-Ching.
In my approach the individuals and societies of any given species are considered being its polarities. From a species' perspective the interplays of their polarities lets one gauge the health of the individuals and of their societies as well as the chances of the species to navigate smoothly forward on the arrow of time. It is my contention that our understanding of the 25 interrelations of humanity is the gauge at which we individuals can measure the real state of health of societies and their individuals.
1. “Economic historians use the term merchant capitalism to refer to the earliest phase in the development of capitalism as an economic and social system. Early forms of merchant capitalism developed in the medieval Islamic world from the 9th century, and in medieval Europe from the 12th century. In Europe, merchant capitalism became a significant economic force in the 16th century, depending on point of view. The mercantile era drew to a close around 1800, giving way to industrial capitalism. “ in wikipedia
2. “List of countries by population” Wikipedia.
“Figures used in this chart are based on the most up to date estimates or projections by the national census authority where available, and are usually rounded off. Where updated national data are not available, figures are based on the projections for 2016 by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.”
3. “England began a large-scale and integrative approach to mercantilism during the Elizabethan Era. An early statement on national balance of trade appeared in Discourse of the Common Weal of this Realm of England, 1549: "We must always take heed that we buy no more from strangers than we sell them, for so should we impoverish ourselves and enrich them." in Wikipedia
4. A good illustration of this ideological bias can be seen in “ ‘Society’ does not exist (and if it did it should not)“ by Nigel Meek.
5. In a talk in “Edge” titled “Infinite Stupidity” Mark Pagel states that “The old genetical evolution that had ruled for 3.8 billion years now had a competitor, and that new kind of evolution was ideas. It was a true form of evolution, because now ideas could arise, and they could jump from mind to mind, without genes having to change. So, populations of humans could adapt at the level of ideas. Ideas could accumulate. We call this cumulative cultural adaptation. And so, cultural complexity could emerge and arise orders and orders of magnitude faster than genetic evolution.”
6. in “From Modernity to After-Modernity. Part 2. Theoretical Considerations. Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge. 1.1. The Context”