Evolving Instability

I recently read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, something I have had on my shelf for a number of years, and had not yet gotten around to reading. The book discusses how genes cooperate with other genes within a survival machine, or body, to ensure their own survival, hence the title of the book.

One of the topics that he covers is the idea of the Evolutionarily Stable Strategy, or ESS. This posits the hypothesis that certain strategies arise within a population and survive within that population as long as the members of the population adhere to its rules. When a mutant strategy arises, it may survive in the population until it becomes dominant, or it may disappear because it is unstable.

It occurred to me, that something similar happens within social groups and populations within the human species. Politics is especially susceptible to the incursion of various strategies. A dictatorship may be stable once the dictator has risen to power since the cost of opposing the dictator may be too high. The same goes for an authoritarian system in which a group, or party attains power and maintains that power through the ruthless imposition of force. Religions may use the fear of death and punishment in the afterlife or in successive incarnations to impose control on society.

In a democracy, instead of power being held by a small minority of people, the people agree to share power through the election of representatives who ensure that the collective wishes of their constituents are presented before the governing body. This is a stable strategy as long as those representatives act in good faith and represent their constituents collectively and fairly. When a mutant variety arises, this strategy may begin to fail. If certain sectors within the population are unfairly represented, or if the representatives ignore their constituents and instead represent groups other than their constituents, the democratic strategy begins to disintegrate.

This is what is happening within the American democratic system; the system is failing. The idea behind democracy is that a majority vote will carry the day. A built in fail-safe ensures that in extreme circumstances, legislation may be blocked by a minority through the filibuster. This fail-safe was intended for extreme circumstances to ensure that the majority could not impose a particularly egregious legislation on the minority.

Republicans in particular are now using the filibuster to block any legislation at all. What this does is to prevent any legislation from passing. The net result is a continual stalemate, or gridlock, essentially preventing any form of governance whatsoever. This is an inherently unstable strategy, since, if the governing majority is replaced by a majority in the opposition, the same strategy could be employed, effectively shutting down the ability of Congress to govern.

Conservatives love this, since it will ultimately create an anarchic system, or complete absence of government. The people will tire of a system that obviously does not work. Conditions like this are particularly ripe for takeover by authoritarians, religious groups, dictators or aristocracies, any of which are more compatible with conservatism than with democratic ideals. Conservatives do not like the idea that the masses have a voice of their own. They far prefer to dictate to the masses.

The current apparent strategy of conservatives is to allow corporations to replace government through the elimination of regulation. What this allows corporations to do is to create their own legislation in the form of contract rules, which they modify as they see fit. As long as corporations cooperate in having similar rules, the strategy will remain stable. If government leaves the regulatory environment entirely, corporations will go to war with each other, economically, and the strategy will start to fail. If individuals find their regulations too onerous, they will have no choice but to stop doing business with those corporations, and the strategy will fail. One way around this is for corporations to merge, as they have in various markets and become monopolies, or dictatorships to completely dominate markets.

Conservative strategies of non-cooperation and inability to compromise will either sufficiently weaken democracy and create an anarchy, or it will fail and the peoples right to self-determination will reassert itself. I do not have optimism in the latter determination. The instability of the current system is likely to continue. The last time this happened the country went to war with itself. It could happen again. The only stable strategy is one of cooperation. In the current partisan environment this seems a vain hope.

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