ROTW: Is Society Caught in a Death Spiral? Modeling societal demise and its reversal

There are obviously many ways to slice this topic.

For general trust issues – I am interested in how high-trust societies have emerged, not just how they decline.

Decline in my view is structural to all societies where the majority of social services provided in a society are done so as a commons, and the society either grows past a certain population unit of scaling – beyond a natural scaling factor for federal, provincial, municipal governance – or the diversity of preferences to be satisfied against a resource commons increases.

In these conditions, the opportunity cost of altruism and cooperation increases in inverse proportion to the perceived share of a public service received. This increases the need for coercion by the governing unit to increase participation or decrease defections – Unions need to canvas for votes and the Coast Guard polices shores to prevent over-fishing.

But if the number or diversity of preference-holding agents increases, so will the cost of coercion, which past a certain point of expansion brings too high of an administrative burden on the governing institution, and hinders its ability to grow, innovate or adapt to new circumstances. Then it declines. This is the position forwarded by economist Mancur Olson in his books “The Logic of Collective Action” and “The Rise and Fall of Nations”.

This formulation suggests solutions: an increase of state capacity, an increase of regulation, a homogenizing of preferences, or a decomposition of the commons to segregated units where individuals feel like their cooperation allows them a proportional stake of the commons in return.

When observing a society go from high-trust (more spontaneously altruistic norms) into low-trust (defecting more when interacting with social commons), I expect it to be due to an increase in the size and diversity of a polity and its preferences. I expect altruism to be more common, absent of government regulation, when the social fabric has had a history of establishing norms which were critically passed over generations through cultural identity and family practice.

This means that neoliberal globalism with the free economic exchange of peoples has put most societies into new territory. Nomadic groups, modern and historic, or large diasporas such as Filipinos, Bengalis, the Jewish peoples and others, are possible exemplars on how culture can be sustained in a nation- and geography-independent manner.

As Olson observes, there is no such thing as a perfect altruist, thus no avoiding the requirement for coercion. But some solutions increase the role of the state in everyday lives; others don’t. The trap comes: low-trust societies want to retain the commons while not necessarily increasing social capital through building common interest, or self-regulating behavioural norms, or socially-regulating cultures and ideologies. What’s left is policing, an expansion of bureaucracy, and perhaps even social credit.

To me, the role of protocols should be in lieu of a state, and towards the minimization of states. Protocols-as-government is implicit in the views of the WEF and Big Corporation that it should be actively resisted when exploring the design space of protocolization. Pushing regulation into the protocol layer solves global coordination problems, but it bites bullets that I’m unwilling to, which are, the suppression of self-determination and the implicit long-term censoring of diverse ways of living.

The counter-intuitive thing is that when preferences aren’t homogenized (by empire, religion, or consumer behaviour), some amount of segregation into smaller more coherent groups might facilitate peace better than attempting coherence under a single blanket of governing units. This notion of power-sharing plus social mediation by nomadic peoples that straddle within cultural boundaries being the balance that keeps a functioning global society at-the-edge-of-chaos is why I oriented my original PIG RFC towards multi-polarity.

There were nomadic empires. Could trust increase in nomadic democracies?

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