Essays, Analyses and Meditations

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Human Societies Are Systems at the Edge of Chaos

  • Life only happens at the edge of chaos. The difference between life and death is very small. It takes very little to kill a living being. Oxygen is one of the most toxic elements but without oxygen we do not survive more than a few minutes. We are made mostly of water but we drown at the rate of thousands of individuals a year. The temperature of our body has to stay within a narrow margin or we get "sick". The slightest defect in the food we eat causes us to get "poisoned". Life requires that a very high number of parameters remain within a narrow margin of values from birth to death.
  • Generally speaking, biological organisms can exist only in very special climates. In fact, so far we have only found one planet where those conditions led to life as we know it.
  • So does society. Societies that lose their cohesiveness decline and are conquered by more cohesive societies, no matter how much more powerful they were economically, technologically and militarily. Biology and politics share the same rule: both life and society have a narrow window of opportunity.
  • In my opinion the most important factor leading to the decline of the Western world is the disintegration of Western society, and the new dominant nations will have more cohesive societies.
  • The cohesiveness of a society mostly depends on how strong its "moral values" are, and that "strength" does not depend on how rational they are but preciselg on how irrationally they are upheld.
  • The reason why Western society is disintegrating has mostly to do with rationality, the very essence of Western society of the last nine centuries (since the Scholastics). Rationality has led the Western world towards the refutation of superstition and of any stereotype that cannot be rationally proven true. Rationally speaking, there is no reason to have families with a father, a mother and children. Divorce is rationally plausible, and so is gay marriage and so are "broken" families and so are unmarried women who decide to have children through in-vitro procedures.
  • None of this is acceptable in societies where rationality is weak. Their priority is not to justify rationally the rules of society but to maintain and if possible increase the cohesiveness of society. If the beliefs are irrational but help cement the bonds among individuals, let them be. "Primitive" (irrational) societies are inherently stronger than Western (rational) societies. Rationality weakens the bonds among individuals.
  • As the individuals of a society become more and more rational, they also become more and more self-interested, less willing to sacrifice something (life or wealth or freedom) for the good of society. Humans seems to be genetically programmed to act both as rational self-interested agents and as irrational altruistic agents who build societies, and the successful "cohesive" society is due to a delicate balance between the two genetic pressures.
  • This principle also explains why uncivilized and primitive "barbarians" so often managed to overthrow and replace much better armed empires: the Macedonians did it to the Persians and the Egyptians, the Romans did it to the Phoenicians and the Greeks, the Goths did it to the Romans, the Arabs did it to the Byzantines and the Persians, the Mongols did it to the Arabs and the Chinese, the Afghans did it to the Indians, the Turks did it to the Greeks and the Arabs, the Western Europeans did it to the Arabs and the Indians, and, last but not least, the USA did it to the Western Europeans. In each of these cases the emerging superpower was considered little more than a gang of barbarians by the existing superpowers.
  • What worked in favor of the "barbarians" was not military or economic superiority (clearly, that was on the side of the empire) but their more cohesive society: they were literally willing to die for something that the citizens of the empire were not willing to die for. And that something was, precisely, domination. Empires tend to commit suicide, not to be murdered: they decline because of internal reasons, not because of external aggressors.
  • In a sense the conservatives in India, in the Islamic world and in China who are resisting the Westernization of their moral values are fighting to make sure that their societies remain more cohesive than Western society so that some day they can overthrow Western domination. Those who want to adopt the Western manners are undermining their own societies.
  • In the long run it is not technology or science or warships or nuclear weapons or disciplined armies or stock markets or multinational corporations that matter but how cohesive the family unit is, how cohesive the tribe is, how cohesive the nation is as a whole.