Alien Anthropology

The Plausible Necessity of Political Incompetence

Why is it that ideological, political and organisational ineptitude and incompetence are endlessly reoccurring phenomena? If the longer-term evolutionary or biological history of a living system, including it’s diverse manifestations in and as cultural and political systems, is oriented towards efficient self-replication and continuity, why is it that so many poor-fitting (and indeed – positively destructive) forms of thought and behaviour percolate to ascendancy and power? Is an ongoing and intransigent repetition of organisational or political ineptitude evidence that what we think or perceive is going on in the world is not actually what is going on?

The underlying principle is perhaps that overt computation (as ordered or patterned information and energy-processing) and intentionality in organisational systems is not necessarily a representation of what is actually going on, of what is actually being processed or computed: the inputs and outputs of the superficial functions we perceive are quite misleading. The percolation of ideology and political personality through organisational systems in the way it does leads us to assume that the goal of those systems is oriented towards the outcomes intended and illustrated by the associated rhetorical and political caricatures and theater. This is a very limited perception of reality and while within a certain bounded spectrum of possibility it is true that political goals are (for better and for worse) exactly what they appear to be, there are much deeper logical substrates and principles at work here.

The endless succession of ill-fitting square pegs of ego or ideology into the round holes of necessity and circumstances is not an accident but nor is it a consequence of any particular cleverness on the behalf of the ascendant personalities. Culture and politics are information-processing systems that seek their own (agent-less, blind and entirely autonomous) self-replication through the vast (and at least overtly inefficient) semiotic soup of aggregate human self-interest. Emergent complexity has a purpose and humanity finds itself surfing on (or in) the breaking wave of all of this driving force and self-propagating momentum.

The purposes of nature and physics are much simpler (and simultaneously – much more sophisticated) than our own. The arrival and ascendance of ideological inaccuracy and political incompetence serves a purpose of generating a systemic turbulence that ensures or probabilistically biases the production of entropy, diversity and novelty within those human organisational systems. Even while authoritarian or parochial and hierarchical command-and-control systems proliferate and emerge or oscillate out of the pattern of information and energy-processing (i.e. computation) that is history – they generate the entropy and discontinuity through which the underlying logical principle of recursively self-propagating metamorphosis and self-organisation can occur.

Disentangling the logical facts and organisational principles from the partial-truths of experience and representation is fascinating but is unlikely to amount to much. This world is quite content with it’s own discontent and happy with it’s unhappiness and inefficiency in ways that suggest that removing these endemic bottlenecks may prove catastrophic. There are solutions and possible better ways of organising our world, as there always are, but no one listens to their own best self-interests when someone else presents them with it. The trick may be, like any good narrative, to allow an audience to “discover” the meaning for themselves.

There is much more to be said on this and much more refinement required to produce an articulate response to the topics under analysis. Ultimately, I can not find explanatory closure and completion any more than political or ideological systems can, so it is probably better to continue waltzing with the intractable ambiguity and uncertainty of entropy in the way I have been.

4 replies on “The Plausible Necessity of Political Incompetence”

I think you have to take the long view in order to gain any clarity about corporate and political organizations. It is true that in the short term, sub-par individuals can hide themselves in social complexities or benefit from the statistical averages or they can hoodwink the voters, the bosses, and the judges but, in the long run, incompetently run organizations and bumbling politicians are weeded out by natural or unnatural selection. Using your best intelligence and all the resources available to you will not necessarily guarantee your survival, but not using your best intelligence and all the resources available to you will certainly increase the risk of failure or worse.

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True. It is probably also true that corporations are in general more competent in playing the “long-game” and as a consequence their leadership selection mechanisms are more effective. Long-game strategies like China’s in which they think in terms of decades or centuries are certainly not without their merits but the associated ideological baggage and social control is a cost that few from a liberal democracy would willingly accept; and there are other costs to such leviathan systems.

Using natural intelligence or aptitude to its best possible organisational and governance potential is a little like using Plato’s concept of the philosopher king. It is an interesting question as to the extent that modern democratic systems would or could ever willingly reorient themselves to more effective organisational order when the self-propagating continuity of the status quo (such as it is) generally overrides any possible optimisation or gestalt phase transition to more effective and efficient forms of patterned, symmetrical or emergent order.

Big questions…

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I remember Plato had a rather dim view of democracy but, dealing in ideals as he did, he favored philosopher kings or kingly philosophers. Maybe turning over the keys to our kingdom to AI-conscious robots will be the only thing that can save us, but not the first generation that will be programmed by humans — a subsequent generation programmed by machine learning. But then again, maybe not. My point is that our species are rather like near-sighted drivers barreling down the autobahn without their eye-glasses on.

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Yes, Plato was an Authoritarian “my way or the highway” type and Ancient Greece was built on the slave’s back, it is (sad but) true.

AI is an interesting prospect but we are still up to our necks in a muddy bog of attempting to construct Artificial Intelligence when our understanding of intelligence itself is actually fairly indeterminate, if improving. Consequently, we are beginning to reflexively and unwittingly use our partial models of poorly understood Machine Learning (and procedural, algorithmic patterns, arrays, networks, recursively virtualised machines, etc.) to define intelligence in ourselves.

This is a cultural turn that is distributed and ubiquitous; the Agile turn in organisational management is an algorithmic inflection from the computational and information sciences back into the collaborative human technical and economic systems that developed these tools to assist themselves and have now found, as though by stealth, that they have been swept up in the swirling maelstrom and momentum of their own technological artefacts and disruptive innovation. Möbius loops and tangled hierarchies proliferate, everywhere.

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