The Wheels of Society
In my book ‘The Wheels of Society’ I offer a new way of thinking about how society actually works. It’s an idea-in-progress to be kicked about, tested and improved. One thing I suggest is that we need to approach the problem of corporate greed through evolutionary biology rather than philosophy-plus-economics.
A series of discussions which took place in in 1997 began with worries about our wildlife habitat destruction, and our terrestrial, aquatic, and atmospheric pollution. We humans seem to be fouling our own nest without knowing how stop. Corporate greed seemed to lie at the roots of all four of these dangerous developments; nourishing them with money. If humans weren’t so greedy as well as being immensely successful, the argument goes, none of these would be happening. But the laws of evolution by natural selection offer no known solution to corporate greed, and though morality does a good job of regulating our behaviour with each other, ethical obligations are effortlessly swept aside when our food supplies or houses are threatened. Finger-wagging statements seldom get us very far. The solution, we decided, must start with a better understanding of the mechanisms of society.
Essentially society is a rough-and-tumble of families, businesses, farms, criminal gangs, clubs, local authorities, schools, armies, multinationals, and political parties; each one a group with its own internal mechanisms, and its own selfish ambitions. Most people belong to more than one group. These groups inter-relate more or less harmoniously, and bingo! out of this arrangement emerges the nation state.
Every one of these groups must first assemble and maintain itself out of altruistic volunteers whose inborn natural selfishness must first be overcome somehow. And then, once assembled it must do its self-appointed work. These two functions are recognised as categorically different; group assembly is an ability explained by evolutionary biology. But cooperative work is different: like a rocket control system it must be constantly at work. Once launched it must loop continually through three distinct phases. It must REVIEW progress towards target, PLAN, corrections as necessary, ACT to make the corrections and then REVIEW again, repeating continually throughout the voyage. There are many other examples - consider the domestic thermostat; it to loops through the same three phases. Cooperative work is similar in this respect.