Thursday, July 20, 2006


Can Humans Govern Themselves?

There has been a lot of discussion about the personality type that believes in a hierarchical organization of social structures. People like George Lakoff and John Dean have popularized research on this subject in recent books.

While complaining about the abuses that occur when this type of personality dominates they ignore the more fundamental issues of how organizations should be structured.

The world has frequently had a top-down organizational structure. Primitive tribes frequently had a powerful leader. The family was usually headed by the man with all other members subservient. As society expanded, tribal leaders became national leaders. In many cases they were believed to have magical powers. Thus we have thousands of years of history of kings, emperors and the like.

Many religions have a similar organization. There is a supreme authority at the top and lesser authorities below. With the coming of the Age of Enlightenment the hereditary aspects of leadership were replaced by more democratic versions. The new governments had presidents or prime ministers instead. Some religions vote for the leaders as well.

Corporations are also organized in a similar fashion with a president or CEO who is given wide discretionary power. In many cases stockholders believe that a firm can be radically changed if just this top figure is replaced.

What the popularity of hierarchical structures shows is that most people implicitly believe that a strong father model is the best form of organization. This is a form of unconscious infantilism: "Daddy will make it right." By giving so much power to a single individual we are abdicating our own responsibilities as citizens, stockholders, or members of social organizations. Daddy can't make it right; the world is just too complicated and the degree of knowledge needed is too great to trust a single individual. Of course, all these people have advisers, but we allow them to make arbitrary decisions even when they contradict the advice given.

The UN has tried to avoid this problem by using a consensus approach in some forums. Similar arrangements have been made in other settings such as the EU and the WTO. Hierarchical arrangements have not been the only choice in historical times either. There have been many (smaller) societies where a council of elders, or similar, makes decisions. Usually these are by consensus, but sometimes by majority vote.

Requiring consensus prevents extremism and rash choices. As the personality studies cited above have shown those who rise up in hierarchical organizations tend to have autocratic personalities and are just the type of person that should not be allowed arbitrary power.

Is the human race mature enough yet to move away from the "Let Daddy do it" model? Look at the misery brought on by just a handful of sociopaths in the 20th Century: Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, etc. We can't force other countries to adopt consensus governance, but we could certainly discuss it for our own organizations.
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