[extropy-chat] "Hierarchical power is out"

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Thu Dec 21 23:00:39 UTC 2006

Thomas -
Thanks for your thorough reading and feedback.
I detect two principle areas, apparently heavily laden with feelings of
value, on which we might focus for our mutual edification:

(1) What do we mean by coercion?

>From Wikipedia:  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coercion>

"Coercion is the practice of compelling a person to involuntarily behave
in a certain way (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats,
intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. Coercion may
typically involve the actual infliction of physical or psychological
harm in order to enhance the credibility of a threat. The threat of
further harm may then lead to the cooperation or obedience of the person
being coerced."

My concern, and the reason I don't like to use the word, is that it
fails when extended.  For example, suppose five individual farmers
operate within a small town, all using traditional farming methods for
many years, but recent developments in agricultural technology now offer
greater productivity at lower cost.  If four of the five farmers adopt
the new technology, but the fifth resists due to, say, religious
beliefs, then it's likely that he would lose his livelihood due to being
unable to effectively compete.  In such a case, is he being coerced?

Others have defined coercion more narrowly as relating only to cases
involving the threat of *physical* force, including incarceration.  This
attempt at narrowing to "physical" fails because any number of alternate
forms of pressure ultimately lead to physical pressure.

I expect that our Libertarian list members might want to express some
strong views on this subject.

(2) What do we mean by hierarchy or level?

When I use the word, I am almost always referring to a scheme of
ordering objects by class with respect to some ascending feature; most
often I refer to ascending levels of complexity.

On the other hand, in the context of PJ's reference to that news article
and the phrase "Hierarchy is out" it seems clear that we're referring to
Social Hierarchy, which comes loaded with considerable values-related
connotations. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_hierarchy> 

So, when I said earlier:
>> It's an ecosystem, so the organizational
>> scheme is dynamic, where conflict at one
>> level leads to reorganization and cooperation
>> at a higher level of complexity and effectiveness.

and you replied:

> Still hierarchical?  What mitigates forceful conflict -- a balance of
Class I and Class II residues?

This may be a good place to focus on both coercion and hierarchy.

First of all, let me say that I greatly admire much of Pareto's work,
his Pareto's Law distribution and what many know as the 80/20 rule, but
I have a very difficult time using his arcane terminology of "residue"
and "derivation".  (I also don't care for "liberal" vs. "conservative"
for that matter.)  Please defend this usage if you feel it is central
and/or important to our discussion.

So to the topic at hand, yes, I think that a hierarchical system that
reorganizes at progressively higher levels of complexity and
effectiveness should be seen as good--and it happens to be as
unavoidable as the laws of physics.

Is there conflict?  Yes.  Conflict between competing methods, with the
more successful tending to persist and the less successful tending to
perish. To "mitigate" such conflict would cause the system to stagnate
and become more likely to eventually succumb to some external threat.
Note that I specifically mentioned that conflict at one level leads to
*cooperation* at a higher level.

Now here's the part I'm guessing you really won't like:

Will such progress be seen as "good"?  Generally yes, because what works
tends to proliferate and what doesn't work tends to die off, and success
is assessed by those remaining in a position to assess.

Is there coercion?  Well, as I said I prefer not to use the word because
ultimately every gradient in power, strength, capability, effectiveness,
etc., can be interpreted as leading to coercion as with the farmers
mentioned earlier.  But in the case of the farmers, I think it would be
much more realistic to see the situation in terms of a positive-sum game
for any who choose to play.

I think that's probably enough for now.  Please let me know your
thoughts and whether you think were on the right track here.

- Jef


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