[ExI] [Soc]Complex Adaptive Systems - Tending Always to 50/50 split

Natasha Vita-More natasha at natasha.cc
Sun Oct 12 16:48:10 UTC 2008

Below are some responses to your post's content.  If anyone wants to quote
these statements (don't know why ... But if you do), please let me know and
I will provide authors' names.   

The general question seems a good one. The Panarchy model, which has emerged
from ecological systems, looks as if could be adaptable as a way of
understanding change over time in social systems, but as far as I know this
hasn't been done yet.

However, the question is completely off-beam when it comes to the argument
about politics and the 50/50 split. This is a function of the rules set
which governs the political system, not a natural function of political
systems. In first past the post systems, you have a tendency towards two
large competing blocs - although not inevitably. In systems which use other
electoral systems, this isn't the case. 

>From memory, Michal Laver wrote an entertaining book, Playing Politics, a
few years back which explored the way in which political systems and
therefore political decisions responded to the rule sets which governed

I agree [] that this is an interesting question. The most advanced work I
know of related to mathematically exploring the tendencies and balances of
systems is documented in "Ecology: The Ascendent Perspective" by Robert
Ulanowicz. The final chapter of the book discusses the application of his
thermodynamic work to such topics as economics, politics, religion, and
more. He and other evolutionary ecologists have been applying thermodynamics
to systems and their dynamic form and transformations with impressive
success. Framing the political arena in a form that would allow a
thermodynamic analysis appears challenging!  It is worth noting that
thermodynamics provides the insight without requiring huge computing power
and without requiring modeling of individuals (agents). You might also want
to check out Miller's book "Living Systems" which has chapters relating to
organizations, societies, and supranational systems.

I agree with Andrew that 50/50 almost certainly is more a function of
political structure (rules, election proceedings etc.). Within the US it
seems that the rules create coalitions such that the balance perpetually
approximates 50/50. If we simplistically assume that the population has a
roughly bell distribution of values, when one party has control they seem to
inevitably "go too far to one side" and alienate enough of the middle to
swing power to the opposite party.  In our form of government and election
cycles I tend to arrive at the conclusion that the only stable political
party mixes are either 50/50 or single party (with a fragmented collection
of dissidents).

I think it is also important to recognize that the parties are hardly
uniform. The Republicans are currently an amalgam of "traditional
Republicans" who tend to be conservative both financially and socially,
"libertarians" who want government out of their hair, "fundamentalist
Christians", "right to lifers" and other "sects". Over time I have been
struck by the lack of dialogue or open recognition of these differences
within the Republican party and tend to conclude that they deliberately
ignore the differences in order to "maintain unity" which I think has, over
the past twenty years or so led them to an artificial and fragile alliance.
That, in turn I think, led to a strong "We vs. Them" mentality that emerged
under Gingrich and evolved to an almost anything goes attitude within the
RNC. Democrats, on the other hand, seem to more openly recognize their
differences and that may be encouraging deeper dialogue and a more robust
alliance/party but I tend to think the Democrats are, ultimately, not
strongly bonded.

That said, I think the Republican party in its current form is likely a
thing of the past. I think the current economic issues will likely lead to a
coalition of financial conservatives, both Republican and Democrat, to
effectively form a new party in which social and religious issues will fall
to secondary status. 

The current election system tends to favor nomination of politicians who are
further from the center than (I think) the actual beliefs of the populace,
thus creating a more polarized election than the voters necessarily want.
While creating a party in "the middle" is certainly a challenge for the
middle is not as highly motivated as the extremes, that is where I think we
are headed - and that might be able to break the current 50/50 into a
60/25/10/5 situation in which the extremes (such as right to lifers and
social liberals) would not be able to coalesce into a viable opposition
party.  (Part of my logic is that I think we have an "angry middle" who are
ready to take action.) 

I'm afraid that there is good news and bad news on this matter.

On the upside, there is an absolute mountain of theory and empirical studies
in the public domain. The modern approach to this approach originated in Ken
Arrow's voting paradox in determining social welfare functions in the 1950s.
Normally, this is seen as Social Choice Theory or Public Choice Theory.
Andrew is right that Michael Laver's work is quite accessible (I have a copy
of his 'Politics of Private Desires', which is one of the best written books
in the field). However, Michael Laver's works are not entirely complete. For
a broader introduction to the genre, try Dennis Mueller's 'Public Choice'.
It's not as good a read, but it is pretty much complete.

I'm afraid that there is bad news as well. The whole area, which is open to
systems analysis and modeling, is pretty mathematical in its approach, and
the student would need a good appreciation of higher mathematics simply to
follow the argument. This puts people off.

It also leads to a further problem. The Chicago School dominates the
commanding heights of this area of study. When combined with mathematical
impenetrability, it means that the distinction between hypothesis and
ideology is rarely made.

As an example, please find attached a paper recently published by the Royal
Economics Society. Under UK copyright law, I am providing this copy for your
private study and non-commercial use. The paper is on Information and
Strategic Political Polarisation, and provides evidence to support Andrew
Curry's contention in an earlier e-mail. However, my point is that the key
to the argument in the article is in the Appendix, which is a very heavy

Nlogo1.tif Natasha Vita-More

-----Original Message-----
From: extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org
[mailto:extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org] On Behalf Of Jef Allbright
Sent: Saturday, October 11, 2008 2:32 PM
To: Extropy chat list
Subject: [ExI] [Soc]Complex Adaptive Systems - Tending Always to 50/50 split

This seems very obvious, but I'm having difficulty finding any analysis or
commentary applicable to economics, politics, or social choice.  Does anyone
here have any useful references?

More explicitly, I'm referring to the natural tendency for such systems --
with multiple, effectively closed feedback loops with multiple, diverse
transform functions -- to equilibrate with maximal bipolar separation across
what amounts to a hyperplane representing the subset of features of
perceived common interest.

More specifically, I'm referring to the tendency of political systems
representing a complex mix of values (perceived preferences) to arrive at a
roughly 50/50 split across populations. Or the observation that variation in
preferences between human twins tends to correlate about 50/50 correlation
with nature vs. nurture (actually more on the side of nature as "the"
aggregate feedback loop of adaptation in this case is getting looser.)

More pointedly, I'm referring to the apparent lack of formal recognition of
this natural dynamic, fundamental in system-theoretic and
information-theoretic terms, toward high-probability **bipolar** separation
regardless of the complex hierarchy of the supporting matrix of values

I understand that until recently, we've lacked the computing machinery
necessary to effectively represent much more than the most superficial
levels of any issue regardless of importance.  I recognize also that many
(most?) people are by nature predisposed by nature or training to be
unequipped or uncomfortable with multiple layers of abstraction.  I also
realize the political incorrectness of such a line of thought in regard to
the democratic ideal of "one person / one vote" as if systems and
information theoretic concerns must be morally irrelevant.

Am I missing something here, or is this really an academic void?

- Jef
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