(Formerly titled “Improved Communications Technologies & Techniques + Personal, Organizational & Methodological Discipline = Historic Social Change”).

For those who are serious about working for social progress based on reason and goodwill, despite the momentary resurgence of regressive “Political Fundamentalism”, the confluence of factors is currently conducive to a major paradigm shift. The power of decentralized mass media (“social media”), combined with improvements in our knowledge of  relevant disciplines (e.g., cognitive science, microeconomics and game theory, learning theory, complex dynamical systems analysis, network analysis, epistemology and epidemiology, evolutionary ecology, etc.), as a tool for intentional and potentially revolutionary social change, is a theme which requires the weaving together of several separate threads of thought I’ve been developing on this blog.

I’ve posted previously about the processes of cultural evolution and revolution, involving “memes,” groups of memes called “paradigms,” and the revolutionary effects of the accumulation of anomalous memes within a paradigm, leading to “paradigm shifts” (The Politics of Consciousness). And I’ve continued that theme down several avenues, including a discussion of the acceleration of the cultural evolution effectuated by two products of that evolution itself: scientific methodology, and evolving communications and data processing technologies (Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix).

In another, related, series of posts, I’ve written about the power of decentralization for liberating and mobilizing “the genius of the many” (a term for evolving decentralized but coherent sets of memes and paradigms) to an extent never before possible (Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed, Tuesday Briefs: The Anti-Empathy Movement & “Crowdfunding”, Counterterrorism: A Model of Centralized Decentralization), itself a product of the processes discussed in the “human social evolutionary ecology” series. (See also And in two series of posts largely unrelated to these, I discussed the importance of creating a methodology akin to that of science or law for disciplining the development of political beliefs (Ideology v. MethodologyA Proposal, The Elusive Truth), and the importance of each of us truly committed to social change becoming equally committed to individual change, adopting a personal discipline that will make us the most capable and compelling of messengers (“Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few). There are some posts, as well, which combine these latter two themes to some extent (The Foundational Progressive Agenda, The Voice Beyond Extremes, The Ultimate Political Challenge).

But, though these disciplines and methodologies, to some extent yet to be developed, are the key to robust sustainable social progress, we do not have to invent either the products or procedures of reason applied to politics from scratch. We have the academic disciplines I listed above (as well as all others) to draw on. I hope that some of my posts have helped to disseminate a glimpse of their relevant fruits, which is as much as any of us can unilaterally accomplish (e.g., The Economic Debate We’re Not Having , The Real Deficit , The Restructuring of the American and Global Economy , The More Subtle & Salient Economic Danger We Currently FaceA comprehensive overview of the immigration issue, Real Education Reform, The Most Vulnerable Americans, The Vital Role of Child, Family, and Community Services).

“The genius of the many” extends the concept of division and coordination of labor to the development of human consciousness; the ecology of memes that transcends the individuals whose brains are its physical medium (see The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia). A simple example of the genius of the many is that if a thousand random people guess the number of jelly beans in a jar, the mean of their guesses will be closer to the correct number than any individual guess, including the one made by the most mathematically capable of doing so.

Ironically, the far-right, relying on caricatures of reality, reduces all progressive thought to a hierarchical top-down “statism,” whereas the philosophy I am espousing is just the opposite: A coordinated bottom-up aggregation. The far-right, conversely, advocates for a tyranny of the lowest common denominator, never mobilizing more genius than the least informed among them is already in possession of, and imposing that state of relative ignorance on all of us in the form of information-stripped public policy.

One academic discipline not only informs the progressive policies we should be seeking to design and implement, but also the challenge of bringing more people on board in the effort to design and implement them. George Lakoff, in The Political Mind, explores the underlying metaphors upon which our minds are structured, the differences between conservative and progressive metaphors, and the techniques of messaging that should be employed to activate the narratives of empathy that exist compartmentalized in almost every mind –including conservatives’ minds– in advocacy of progressive policies. Combined with other advances in cognitive sciences (e.g., Evolutionary Psychology, such as espoused by Stephen Pinker in The Language Instinct and How The Mind Works; Semiotics; Frame Analysis), this body of thought provides an encouraging foundation for accelerating the reproductive success of progressive memes and, by doing so, the coming paradigm shift that will favor them.

If enough of us dedicate ourselves to these personal, organizational, and procedural disciplines, utilizing to as great and effective an extent as possible these new decentralized media of mass communications, then the power of that movement will be unstoppable. I have frequently quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. (“The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice”) and John Maynard Keynes (“[People] will do the rational thing, but only after exploring all other alternatives”) as a reminder that the momentum of history is on our side. Bigotry and various forms of violence (including institutionalized mutual indifference, and politically organized ignorance) keep rearing their heads and wreaking havoc in the short run, but they are not what defines the historical progression of humanity, which has, overall, been characterized by gradual, inconstant, unequally distributed gains in both prosperity and social justice (and though sustainability has still been woefully insufficiently addressed, there are indications that the momentum of reason will favor it as well, though whether in time to avert disaster remains to be seen).

Those of us who strive to be reasonable people of goodwill are the ones with the wind of time at our back. Those who oppose reason and goodwill are the overabundant debris resisting that wind, stinging and bruising us as we rush through and past them. 

Here I am, conveying this matrix of interrelated memes, this paradigm, on a blog, and on Facebook, utilizing the very media that form one component of what I am discussing, in order to discuss it, to disseminate the information and attempt to persuade others to do so as well, and to refine our efforts in accord with these opportunities and lessons. We can see the acceleration of innovation resulting from some of the variables described above in many spheres of life: “Chaos Theory” (aka “complex dynamical systems analysis”) and numerous non-computer-related technological advances that have resulted from it (in fields such as medicine, engineering, meteorology, etc.), fractal geometry, the internet, the computer revolution, wikis, vastly reduced economic transaction costs, vastly accelerated processes in almost every sphere of life.

Social systems, which have been in so many ways so resistent to reduction through scientific methodologies (though not as resistant as conventional wisdom maintains), are opened up in a variety of ways, as themselves comprising the quintessential complex dynamical system, amenable to the new analytic techniques that come with that paradigm. Social systems are a complex network of linkages and impulses across them, triggering cascading state changes among nodes and clusters of interlinked nodes, reverberating, self-amplifying, mutually reinforcing or suppressing, not unlike the brains that provide the physical medium of their primary constituent unit (memes, or cognitions).

I am not suggesting that we now have the magic bullet, the panacea that will resolve all problems and meet all challenges. Nor am I suggesting that our efforts will suddenly yield spectacular results. Even in our accelerating world, dramatic change takes time, and is dramatic only in retrospect. Few people have recognized any non-military revolution at the time it has occurred, but they occur nonetheless, and are marvels to behold once they become apparent.

Past modern historical occidental social revolutions have been partial and cumulative: the Renaissance recovered some of the grace and aesthetic rationality of classical Greece; the Scientific Revolution gave us a robust methodology for improving our knowledge and understanding of nature; the Industrial Revolution gave us new machines of production and distribution; the very recent and equally consequential Computer Revolution created a quantum leap forward in the speed and capacity of data processing and communication.

At some point, whether now or in the future, these accumulating revolutions will embrace aspects of social organization that have remained thus far elusive, advancing with accelerating leaps forward in the liberation and implementation of the genius of the many in service to humanity. We will look back on that threshold as we look back on those that came before, recognizing that it transformed the world to human benefit in ways that were almost unimaginable prior to it. That inevitable threshold will usher in a new standard of human welfare that becomes completely taken for granted by those who enjoy it, which will be an expanding portion of humanity, both geographically and temporally. Whether that moment has come or not, it behooves those of us who want to speed its (sustainable) arrival to work, in individually and collectively disciplined ways, using the cognitive and technological tools at our disposal, to facilitate that transformation.

The world has been changing dramatically, in cumulative and accelerating ways, and will continue to do so. But those changes have provided humanity with a mixed blessing, creating riches beyond belief to all but those born into them, but also tools of violence, oppression, and depletion and destruction of the Earth on which we depend. There are those who would like to barrel blindly forward, ravaging the Earth and prospering on the backs of the suffering of others. And there are those who want to harness the forces we are unleashing, to create the sustainable and just future that all reasonable people of goodwill should strive for. Our ability to organize to that latter end has never been greater. Now, we have only to see if our determination is sufficient to rise to that opportunity.

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Some events are better than others. At a reception preceding a presentation by Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security) yesterday evening, I enjoyed a series of chats with Frederico Peña (former Denver mayor), Su Ryden (current Colorado state representative), Pilar Ingargiola (apparently a co-founder of the small policy LLC for which I currently do frequent short term research contracts), a bunch of guys from Iowa, and Aaron Harber (Denver talk show host).

Then the speeches began (for the smaller crowd invited to the reception; there would be another round for the full audience gathered upstairs in the auditorium where Secretary Napolitano was to speak). Larry Mizel of the CELL (Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab) introduced Michael Bennet (Junior U.S. Senator from Colorado), who had two endearingly spontaneous human moments during his speech: 1) He paused at one point during his introduction of John Hickenlooper (Denver Mayor and Colorado gubernatorial candidate) to say “God, I’m tired,” and 2) after saying that neither John Hickenlooper nor Larry Mizel would take credit for the CELL, nor would either of them give full credit to the other, Hick gestured from the side that he would give full credit to Larry, to which Michael said, “Well, John will give full credit, because he’s…,” quickly checking himself before saying “a candidate” or “running for office.” The audience filled in the blank and chuckled appreciatively.

After the speeches, we went up a back staircase to the auditorium, where the first few rows were reserved for us. Larry and John gave two more short speeches, and then Secretary Napolitano took the stage. Her presentation struck several chords with me, the underlying theme resonating with themes that I have been developing on this blog, and, in fact, with themes that are woven through my novel.

Secretary Napolitano referred to “the threat landscape,” a phrase that parallels my frequently used phrase “the social institutional landscape.” They are, indeed, two aspects of the same landscape, one a destabilizing, chaos-producing aspect, and one the ordering and re-ordering aspect. This was a major theme in my novel (An epic mythology): The interplay of chaos and order, and the ways in which the disorganizing influences (personified in my novel by mischievous imps, the Loci, who I considered to be, in effect, magical terrorists), lead to more subtle and complex, increasingly organic, re-orderings.

Indeed, that was precisely what Secretary Napolitano was describing.  Homeland Security recognizes that the best counterterrorism network would be an all-inclusive one, informing and mobilizing up and down through social institutional layers from the Department of Homeland Security to individual citizens, and creating channels for individual citizens (and others up and down the hierarchy) to inform those more charged with acting on that information.

The “see something, say something” campaign is one aspect of this attempt to mobilize and organize the populace in a decentralized system of cooperative vigilance, utilizing diffuse observation and information to create a counterterrorism network comprised of everyone, with eyes everywhere, far more comprehensive than anything that could be accomplished in any other way. Indeed, it is another example of activating “the genius of the many,” a theme I have discussed in my series of essays on the evolutionary ecology of our own social institutions and technologies (The Politics of Consciousness , Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia), The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix), as well as my post on “wikinomics” (Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed) and “crowdfunding” (Tuesday Briefs: The Anti-Empathy Movement & “Crowdfunding”).

The system is far more involved than just recommending that people report suspicious behavior. It involves a network of  “fusion centers,” basically information way stations and processing centers, through which information is channeled upward and downward. In other words, Homeland Security is consciously trying to create a centralized system of upward and downward flows of information, of utilization and implementation of decentralized effort and in-put. This is the increasingly organic  model of human social organization that I have long been discussing as our inevitable path of development.

To be sure, one model of such decentralization, with, in many respects, little need for a centralizing agent, is the market economy itself. But the market economy, while able to exist almost independently of governments, does so only in a crude, inefficient, and failure-laden form. Refining that organic system into the robust market economy of today required the development of government backed currency and clearly defined and enforced property rights. It has since benefited from the development of a complex regulatory structure that ensures that market actors aren’t able to exploit information asymmetries to their own advantage and at the public expense. And it will benefit in the future from increasingly sophisticated Political Market Instruments (see Deforestation: Losing an Area the Size of England Every Year) which both internalize externalities, and bring a variety of public goods and public bads under the umbrella of market dynamics.

But markets are just one social institutional material among several (A Framework for Political Analysis). Our development of a more organic, robust, sustainable, and fair social institutional and technological landscape does not benefit from monomania, but rather from a commitment to develop all of the social institutional materials we have in productive, integrated, and decentralized but coherent ways.

Despite the decentralization of the counterterrorism regime that Secretary Napolitano was describing, it was a return to a sense of communal effort, and away from our growing extreme individualism. It is a “neighborhood watch” writ large, a community of people watching one another’s back, addressing a collective need, nationwide. One of its benefits is that it helps move us back in the direction of recognizing that we are inherently in a collective enterprise, whether we are satisfying collective needs through markets, or hierarchies, or normative rules of conduct, or values and beliefs which motivate us to do so. We are not just a collection of disconnected individuals, neither in the production of wealth, in the production of human welfare, in the coping with life’s challenges, or in the vigilance against the violence of others. We are inherently interdependent, and need to cultivate the cultural and social institutional acknowledgement that we are, so that we are not constantly fighting to disregard the demand to meet the needs posed by that interdependence.

In terms of counterterrorism, there are other subtleties to incorporate besides the upward and downward flow of information, and the upward and downward flow of its utilization and implementation. There are also privacy concerns, which Secretary Napolitano addresses by having experts in privacy law at her headquarters, involved in the design of our counterterrorism architecture from beginning to end. There is the challenge to create an informed and activated society without creating a more fearful one (something accomplished by the sense of empowerment that participating, and knowing that most others are participating, in our shared vigilance against terrorism). And there is the emphasis on suspicious behaviors rather than suspicious ethnic membership, discouraging the ethnic profiling that is so corrosive to our coexistence in a diverse society, though completely avoiding the noise of prejudice in a decentralized system will undoubtedly prove to be impossible.

Nor will our ability to prevent all terrorist attacks. But the rise of this decentralized and very dangerous form of warfare, benefiting from modern communications and information technologies much as other decentralized enterprises do, increases the demand for intentional and coordinated development of decentralized and organic systems of response. Even terrorists contribute to the evolution of the human ecosystem, albeit at too high a price.

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No sooner do I write and post an essay on the literally evolutionary nature of modern information technologies (, then I come across an article in The Economist zeroing in on one aspect of exactly what I’m talking about (

In my novel (, a wizard ruminates that “the genius of the many is a captive giant, whose freedom is the ends and the means of all other things.” Wikinomics is about another large step in the liberation of that captive giant, by reducing the transaction costs involved in massive decentralized network communications. Ronald Coase famously said that in the absence of transaction costs, we would bargain our way to maximum utility. Some have interpreted Coase’s Theorem to be more about the formidable obstacle posed by transaction costs than the efficacy of bargaining our way to paradise. But, in either case, the internet has dramatically reduced the size of that obstacle.