I disagree. Bad government, of course, is horrible, and history is full of examples of bad governments. History is also full of examples of bad art, bad science, bad education, bad religion, bad families, bad business, and other bad institutions; however, I do not want to rid life of art, science, education, family, business, and religion because some of it, even much of it, is bad. All of these institutions represent the struggle of humanity to rise above the primal ooze and make something more of life. I'm pleased to be a part of that struggle. I readily admit that that struggle is not over—we still have much work to do, and we will make more mistakes—but I'm not willing to rid my life of any of these fine institutions. Together, they create the life that I enjoy.
They also cause most of my aggravations. Our institutions are not perfect, but I think they have the potential to be better (I don't much believe in perfection). That is what this class is all about: exploring a new kind of institution based on network rather than hierarchy. I think that art, science, education, religion, family, business, and government are all shifting from hierarchical structures to network structures, and I want to understand that shift. The shift is about to hit the fan, folks, and I don't want to be up shift's creek without a paddle. Shift happens, and this one will be big.
I'm beginning to think, also, that some kind of organization is imperative for humans. In his book A Crowd of One, John Henry Clippinger says that cooperation and collaboration are hard-wired into our DNA, just as surely as competition is. Humans will find a way to group themselves and form institutions to make those groups work.
This is a different view than that currently in vogue. In his blog, Mr. Sailor mentions the ideas of 17th Century English philosopher John Locke. "What John Locke said, put in very simple terms, is that people exist in a state of nature. Now this state of nature is a winner take all, kill or be killed kind of place that none of us would really like to live in. Take away all laws, regulations, rules, morals, etc. It is a place of absolute freedom and, arguably, absolute chaos."
The 17th Century saw nature as a place of tooth and claw, winner take all, survival of the fittest—a brutal, nasty place where only the strongest could make it, and then for only a short, brutish while. The only way to temper this nasty nature of humanity, this original sinful nature, was through strong institutions: family, religion, and government. Hobbes was for a very strong, absolute government to control the nasty hordes. Locke, on the other hand, wanted to temper the power of government through his social contract. But both men believed that if left to themselves, people would revert to brutish, self-centered behavior.
Modern biologists are questioning this view of humanity by insisting that trust and reciprocity, cooperation and collaboration, are as much a part of the human genome as is self-serving competition. Our complex structures for cooperation have been instrumental in the success of our species. Clippinger says:
Trust is not simply an abstract idea, but a kind of circuit of neural responses that seek and reward reliability and reciprocity. … The fact that reciprocity and trust are two forms of social interaction that are encoded in the brain is strong evidence of their evolutionary endorsement. They are as much a distinctive part of our human nature as are our hands or our bipedalism. … They are one of the unique adaptations that make us human. … This conclusion of a growing number of evolutionary scientists runs headlong against the classical laissez-faire economists … who contend that only individual self interest … is the primary motivator of human activity. For them, everything revolves around self-interest and the individual. … Both these points of view, however, are becoming progressively less tenable (83-85).
Note that Clippinger is not saying that self-interest is not a factor in human society. It is. Rather, he is saying that self-interest is not the only factor, or even the most significant factor, as we were taught by classical theorists. Rather, Clippinger says, "The prevalent presumption among 'political realists' and free market economists that the only tenable means of promoting cooperation is through coercion and the lure of self-interest subverts the very conditions for social stabilization that they say they are trying to encourage" (85).
I'll close by making these thoughts relevant to our class. A class can be either a group based on collaboration in which all members, including the instructor, interact for the good of the group, various members stepping up to take various leadership roles to make things happen (me doing discussions and picking the book, Gabbie Billing doing the Facebook group, etc).
Or it can be based on coercion in which certain members, usually the instructor, become the alpha males, the leaders, and whip the other members into doing whatever the leaders want, using grades and humiliation to manage class behavior.
- Which class do you prefer as an ideal?
- If you prefer the collaborative, network style of class, then how do we deal with slackers, those members of the group who take from the group but don't give back, don't show up, don't carry their weight?
- How do we maintain trust and reciprocity in the group without coercion?
- Is some coercion always necessary?