If atomism and totalitarianism are the ditches on either side, what does the road look like?
It is generally understood that there is a sort of natural tension between imposing top down order on a situation, and letting that situation develop as it will develop without intervention. When we are dealing with systems that can be treated as aggregates, as conglomerations of something fungible, that you could notionally swap out the units being aggregated, without changing the outcome of the system, imposing top down order on a situation, makes a lot of sense. If you are trying to, say, heat a certain volume of liquid to a certain temperature, it will often be sufficient to have a single or a small number of thermometer/thermostat units, giving a feedback signal to the amount of power or fuel being fed into the unit that is heating the liquid. There is no use or purpose in tracking the individual particles, and even trying to track a given milliliter of liquid in the container is complete nonsense for such an application; the units smaller than the unit being measured, would simply disperse through the liquid, requiring you to track not the milliliter, but every member molecule that made up the milliliter that you designated as the one you cared about, at the moment you designated it. Notice the options. There are units of measurement that it contextually makes sense to take measurements for, because they are meaningfully persisting for a time scale relevant to the data you seek, and the task you are attempting to both complete, and gain confirmation that you have completed... but that if you try to take measurements at a level where they are less relevant to the outcome or data you seek, they will be valid for such a fleeting amount of time, as to be nearly worthless. In that by the time you've read the output, the system has already moved on to another state, that is wildly independent of the result that you got. This is primarily because where you chose to draw the lines, did not correlate with the actual constraining mechanisms and influences on the system found in the world. It is a sort of variation on "garbage in, garbage out", typified by a certain gag from the comedic sci fi story of The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A "race of pan-dimensional beings" built a computer to calculate "the answer" to "life, the universe, and everything". The computer was one of the most complex in the history of computing, but still took on the order of 10,000 years to complete the calculation. "The answer is... 42." "But... what does that MEAN?" "It might help, if you knew the question." Essentially, when you don't have a good grasp of what you are actually trying to measure, what factors you would expect to influence the outcomes, what determines the reading that your instruments will give, reasons why the answer that the instrument gives might be deceiving, and similar concerns, you are much more likely to "mistake the meaning" of the answer it gives. I won't go into the weeds on that aspect, because science actually has an extensive tradition of making sure that assumptions from results are warranted, and parsing through all of that. The point we will be homing in on, is the insufficiency of most data collection systems to meet the requirements of a totalitarian system that could meaningfully decrease human suffering, or increase human life satisfaction, and why systems are much more likely to be successful in their aims, if they are aligned to integrate data from individual choices, status, and relations between them. This places a natural limit on the level of detail that one can manage from the top; even actual attempts at totalitarian systems, have run into the reality that the best they can do is grant authority to "party members", as a managerial class, and hope that they stay loyal to the dictates coming from the top, that the party members have agreed upon, whether an individual, or a designated list of individuals.
On the flip side, we have the very valid concern of "atomism"; that is, that individuals who face no cost to "defecting" against their fellow humans, will lose their emotional and goal oriented connections with their fellow humans, especially as those fellow humans are willing to use them, in pursuit of some ends that have nothing to do with the well being of the individual being used. Framed (not unfairly) by Thomas Hobbes as a "war of all against all", this state of affairs is unstable. This is historically clear, and it is worth taking a look at why that is. Humans are naturally obligate "social creatures", considered over their entire life history. During gestation and infancy, humans are completely dependent on the continued survival and good will of their mother. As they grow, humans are dependent upon those around them to teach them the way of life of their people, how to communicate with others, how not to enrage others into harming them, etc, even if the environment is one that has a good balance of naturally available food supplies, that even a child could access without assistance. The question is not "could an isolated human survive", which is certainly an interesting question, but largely irrelevant to our world today. Most humans are living around other humans... other humans ARE part of the environment, that an individual human must survive to continue existing. Without customs and traditions to be inculcated into the youth, it would appear that humans would be left simply to prey upon each other, where every time they fall asleep, they face the risk of another human coming to victimize them for personal gain. This "war of all against all", essentially never happens. Why? What do we actually observe happening, instead? If this "essentially never" happens, what conditions would even be needed to realize it? What are its close analogues that we need to be on guard against, that might give us similarly stunting results for humanity?
Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late. -Thomas Sowell
Over the past decade or so in particular, it has become fashionable in certain circles, to speak of human "alpha males". More properly in anthropology, we are interested in the "big men", who, in a variety of cultures, are essentially looked up to in the community, because they produce and provide more than they themselves need or consume, and thus improve the lives of those around them. In various traditions, you even have bouts of conspicuous social consumption, such as "potlatches", where a wealthy man or group of men will essentially try to trade away their wealth for status, by giving away great amounts of it, to others who can enjoy it. You have the reverence of great warriors, who did more than their fair share of defending the group, by defeating enemies of the group, and thereby removing them as a threat (and perhaps acquiring their wealth, in the process). You have the reverence of those who pass on wisdom to the group, those who bring joy to many by being skilled entertainers and story tellers and music makers, to those who make tools and instruments of high value to those around them. It is a part of the human nature, to appreciate those who both have power and ability, and use that power and ability to make better the lives of the members of the group. Why don't we have a war of all against all? By nature, most humans are predisposed to seek the security of cooperation with other humans. One can argue that "this is acculturation, environment, not genetics", but that simply falls flat, when you think things through. Humans are not preprogrammed with a specific culture, or having a particular verbal language locked away in their developing brains, waiting to simply pop into the mind of children, ready to pop into their heads when they hit a certain phase of physical development; this is true. However, they are also not "blank slates", simply there to be programmed by the environment at the whim of their fellow humans. Instead, humans are genetically programmed to seek feedback from their environment, to seek out their family and attempt cooperation and coalition building with peers that seem "like them", to treat outsiders as a threat, and with the ability to LEARN languages and social customs, from those they observe as they grow up. You can talk at an organism all you want, but if that organism has no urge to be social, it will not attempt to communicate with you. If that organism is genetically predisposed to relate to you in a certain way, simply saying different words to it will NOT meaningfully alter its natural behavior. The reason why humans end up cooperating with each other, is because that is what they've been adapted to do. Why? Simply put... it worked better than the alternative. OK. Then... why do humans ever NOT cooperate? Simply put, incentives and interests.
It is pretty straightforward in terms of what types of dynamics we should see, from a game theoretical level. On the one hand, a human which always cooperates, will lose out to those willing to predate on them. This implies that, to survive predation by the strongest, those who are not the strongest, must band together to combine their strengths against stronger threats. To the extent that these groups of cooperators have no reliable way of determining if another group is even running on compatible social arrangements, much less whether they are trustworthy, there was a natural limit of sorts put on the size of groups that would tend to form. In addition, you had the issue of needing a certain amount of land to support each human. Before agriculture, it was just unlikely to have a dense population in any area, because that area would likely have its resources at least temporarily depleted, in short order. After a few generations of replacement level or higher reproduction, a group would have to either expand their territory, or split (with one or more of the groups trying to establish themselves elsewhere, and therefore, falling out of communication with the descendants of those who were previously their group). Of course, usually before this "overcrowding" of the group on the land was an issue, another group would be likely to come along, and use violence, to challenge the first group's claim on the land. To the extent that there were humans who did not group up, or who abused their other group members, we would expect those behaviors to be selected against... especially when you consider the vulnerability of women and children, compared to the dangerous physical force of grown human men, and the natural threats, like non-human predators, which grown human men were much more capable of surviving an encounter with, given the likely tools available to pre-agricultural society. So, before agriculture, we expect women and children to be dependent upon the protection and provision of grown men, and social groupings who rejected this arrangement, to be selected against, as they more often failed to pass on their genes to grandchildren. Women who were captured by another group, but kept for their reproductive value, who chose to adopt the new group as their own, were selected for... while men who were unwilling to fight other men or wild beasts, to protect women and children, were selected against. We expect dangerous and highly capable men to be desired company for others, and for others to be willing to treat very valuable individuals to the group, differently, and with some sort of extra honor or recognition, because of this. Groups that were made up of individuals who did not have a predisposition for this "grateful" tendency, were selected against, as other groups ended up with more capable and committed strong men.
Ok; that's all well and great for pre-agricultural humans... but, of course, we are no longer pre-agricultural. If humans were adapted to a pre-agricultural environment, why did we start doing agriculture, with all of the possibilities for different social structure that this enabled? For the purpose of this piece, I'm going to keep it at the tautological level... this is piece is not focused on the details and causes of that transition, and many others since then, as technology has pushed forward, drastically changing the environment that many humans live in. For our purposes, many humans changed to an agricultural way of life, because humans perceived that this would get them more of what they wanted, than a purely mobile way of life. Moving around the place that you sleep, and having to take your "living situation" with you, every time you go, is costly. However, staying in an area for too long, was often a death sentence to humans depending on the environment to simply generate food... going to the food, meant that you were always on the move. "Horticulture" and similar, essentially, incorporating the location of know plant food sources into the habits of your group, and building a tradition of what to do to help those plants produce what humans need, and making sure that the specific group of humans got to eat it, before competing humans or other animals do... that was apparently a huge edge, and over time, it appears that these traditions evolved into something more like agriculture. Rather than having to always be on the move, and hope that where you arrived did indeed have enough food, and little enough threat, to not kill your group, humans could make much better defensive positions, get a relatively reliable return of food on their work (reasonable people have argued that, actually, humans sacrificed much nutrition, in the transition from foragers and hunters to agrarians), and just generally have a stable place to have their people be. When the group isn't moving around as much, it is no longer a waste to build structures that last more than a year. It was also now possible to have larger groups, above and beyond the roughly 150 people that human brains seem to cap out at, in terms of active personal relationships, and which has been theorized as the approximate maximum likely group size pre-agriculture.
So... what does that mean we are actually dealing with, in terms of humans, and what we should expect from them, in the aggregate? We should expect that they should have a predisposition towards putting a strong and valuable person in charge (and for reasons of intrinsic biology, we should expect the majority of people, including women, to be more naturally comfortable with the person in charge being a male... but only because males have historically been overwhelmingly likely to contribute to the group more than they use resources of the group). We should expect a communal insistence that women and children be protected and provided for. We should expect that protection to extend both against outsiders and wild beasts, but also against "defectors" within the group, who may choose to act in a predatory manner. This is critical, because groups that did not curb their internal predators, tended to be selected against, as their means of production and reproduction were squandered on those with different aims than the aims the group is organized around in the first place. To ward off the unwarranted assumption that the internal predators were all grown men, I'm going to review some of the possible ways for someone to defect. For any given "against the other individual members of the group" behavior, the consequences of the behavior were serious enough that deterrents and sanctions, appropriate to who caused the problem, needed to be universal, or nearly so. This has little to do with "equality", and everything to do with what of value is being protected, and the loss caused when people violated the restrictions, and engaged in the problematic acts. It is true that a man is more likely to successfully harm a woman, than the other way around... but a woman who snuck in on a man who was sleeping, and did violence to him, would most likely still be held accountable, especially if she maimed or killed him, as that directly reduces the resources of the group, and might put his woman (or women) and children at risk of going without protection and/or provision, unless the rest of the group steps in. The same type of loss avoidance that motivates a restriction on maiming or killing a man without cause, can also motivate social restrictions on maiming or killing women (they birth children who become men and women), children that aren't yours (they grow up to be men and women), generally assaulting people in public for insufficient reason, making people feel an area is unsafe, taking property which is not yours to take (as people have an instinct to defend their property with violence, and seek recovery + revenge if someone takes something they have come to understand as rightfully their own), dangerous behavior with fire that risks a spreading fire damaging the property of others, failing to cull diseased animals that might infect animals owned by others in the group, and similar concerns where an individual action risks loss of some sort to all of the individual members of the group. In fact, we see that most agricultural and post-agricultural societies, do have laws which are very much like these. The concerns for restricting these types of behavior did not lessen, as humans moved from hunting and gathering, to agriculture and city life, but rather, increased significantly, often due to a growing group size made possible by not having to move the living quarters of the entire group on a regular basis.
I am not trying to "gloss over" the issue of people being seen as property, and how this "technology" was made viable by the agricultural way of life... but the fact is, we have not currently eliminated slavery worldwide, and such an abolition would require changes to cultures which seem to have little desire to change. I think that the important takeaway about slavery, in this context, is that in most cases, slaves were "outsiders". In a case where one could have simply eliminated one's competing human group, you might choose to keep some of them, because they were of value to you, for some reason. Pre-agriculture, it was more likely that one would simply keep the women, for their reproductive value... but with the dawn of agriculture, grown men who preferred to live rather than die, could also be used for labor in the field. To the extent that the captors found value in keeping slaves like this, the status could become hereditary... forever outsiders, the slave people were basically taking the social place of animals, "beasts of burden". As the productive centers of civilization moved into the big cities and factories, it became increasingly impractical to attempt to simply physically restrain slaves onto a specific property. In many of the great centers of civilization in the past, slaves in big cities were essentially just born into their profession as servants, public or private, who could not quit their jobs, had no political power or status, but could basically otherwise go about their lives, as long as they completed the work that others depended on them to maintain. In other cases, slavery could come about because of a debt owed between "members of a society", but I think it is important to realize the dynamic of why that happened. In societies where slavery as payment for debt was honored as a valid social phenomenon, it was likely that, instead of having a single centralized leader that everyone looked to as a source of cohesion, each individual "clan" or "tribe" had their own leadership, and that the tribes or clans treated each other as rivals... outsiders. On the other hand, if one genuinely wanted to become a member of a clan or tribe, perhaps wishing to "marry in" to it, one might very well commit to a certain period of submission to the leadership of that tribe, along with living a lifestyle of service, to make oneself clearly more useful than the resources one is consuming in the mean time. It is easy enough to say, "slavery has no place in our society, today." Making wider comments seems off the mark, as different cultures handle slavery so differently, and treated the individuals involved so differently, and in many places the responsibility that men have for protecting women is wrapped up in traditions of women submitting to men.
So, setting aside the idea of humans owning other humans as property, since most people who will be reading this would prefer to avoid that arrangement, we should expect humans to have a natural tendency to align themselves with humans that can contribute more than they take, to the group that the chooser has a confident and secure membership in. We should also expect humans to support systems which look to punish actors who engage in actions that harm others in the group, more than they help... and we should expect serious or repeat violators of group well being, to lose the status of being in the group. History is full of groups who had these kinds of arrangements, and the apparent exceptions are also worth parsing. As the size of society grows, it becomes more and more important that someone making decisions on behalf of the group, have a working knowledge of the consequences of actions and "social policies", to the group. If an individual has gathered enough reputation for leadership, delegation, or management, they might not even have to be good at actions that individuals might pursue to seek their own self sustenance or personal enrichment, in order to gain a leadership position. In small groups, if there is a man of "great character", who is able to raise a son to know what he knows, to take on the wisdom "of the ancestors" that has been passed down, father to son, for generations... when the legacy of that leader family is one of prosperity and enjoyment for the group, popular opinion might be in favor of letting the leader hand down the mantle of leadership, as long as they keep getting positive results from letting them lead. Humans' tendency for risk aversion, will deter them from trying to organize an attack on the authority of the leader; battles within a group, including limited battles over who will lead, can be absolutely devastating to the group. The more support that a leader has, the less likely an attempt will be made to unseat them from their role, and the less likely such an attempt would succeed, especially since those who loved the leader may seek not to allow the new leader to be one of those who opposed the leader. By opposing the beloved leader, such an "insider" group makes themselves into "outsiders", in the eyes of those who supported the leader.
Leadership does not seem to scale naturally much past the 150 person "typical" social world that humans seem to be well equipped for. The traditional remedy for this, was delegation of authority. A leader of many thousands of men would likely wish to delegate his authority to a number of trusted advisors, governors, and others who manage on his (or perhaps her, especially in hereditary leadership) realm of oversight. Such a leader must delegate effectively, or, those he lends his authority to, may violate his trust, and use their provisional authority towards means which are not in the interest of the group, or at least the interest of the group as conceived by the leader. If authority is delegated to "traitors within", people who engage in predatory behavior for personal reasons, or who engage in sabotaging behavior in the service of another group, at best, the leader will need to deal harshly with such traitors, when they are caught, to dissuade others from attempting such damaging behaviors. As the group grows in size, additional layers of authority would be needed, in order to keep all hierarchies reporting to a single leader, but keeping each layer of authority at a number of people who can be effectively managed by those above them. Especially before computerized records, trying to assign individuals to representatives of the leader, on a top down basis, would be absolutely burdensome, to the point of being a joke. What happens in practicality, is that instead of assigning every individual nominally under the leadership of a given great leader to one of their subsidiary authorities, the leader will divide up specific areas of responsibility for his proxies. Some, he will assign to ensuring that certain socially necessary functions are able to be provided for, and maintained. Others, he will assign to specific zone of geography, to be responsible for keeping the peace, and to make sure that the leader's dictates are being reliably enforced in that area. As long as the power and responsibility go together, that is, as long as a person's assigned rights are contingent upon meeting the assigned duties that accompany them, there is a natural process of weeding out unfit leaders, or groups that fail to remove unfit leaders.
So far, I have been writing of a situation where the idea of accountability is met. We have seen the evidence that accountability seems to be "the only game in town", in that groups that reject accountability, seem to be at best size limited, and because of this, doomed to being conquered and subsumed (or liquidated) by larger groups, over any reasonable period of time (a few generations, at most). The need to "push back" against leaders of very large groups, such as a king over a collection of feudal lords, has meant that there is a space for innovation, in terms of how exactly the leader and their various proxy leaders actually end up relating. In some cultures and contexts, we see the leader rally up the masses against their proxies who don't fall in line with the leader's authority. In others, we see the masses siding with feudal leaders who have earned their loyalty, against a distance leader and his closer agents, whom the people feel are distant, out of touch, and do not have their best interests in mind. If someone was still of the opinion, going into this essay, that maybe just having the most force to bring to bear as an individual, would be a reliable way to end up alive, and in charge, I hope that they are now dissuaded.
What does prosperous leadership require? What does prosperous leadership preclude?
Prosperous leadership requires, first and foremost, a general confidence in the leader, by those who follow them. The people have to feel as though the leader is leading, for them. A majority of those who have taken it upon themselves to be responsible citizens, the type that take on the public role of watchguarding the health of their society, will need to believe that they are better off with the current leader, than they would be, if they took drastic action to replace the leader. As the "technology of leadership" has increased, there have been a number of novel developments, in something that can resemble an arms race, at times. People have continued to explore new ways to hold leadership accountable for the authority that the masses choose to recognize, and leadership has continued to look for additional tools to secure their own power, both by keeping their following masses happy with their leadership, and by having independent force and information sources, kept as secret and secure from the masses as can be managed. To many in the early 1900's, it seemed that we were destined for a future where those in leadership of "too big to fail" societies had an increasingly absolute control over every aspect of the lives of their masses, since rapid technological advances seemed to be enabling them to increasingly do exactly that. However, in the process, they failed to account for the selected for human tendency to filter out ineffective or malicious leadership. By essentially reducing "the group", to only the group of insiders who support the leader, commonly "the party", they actually failed in their efforts to have the state become the totality, and instead, managed to fission their society into two separate groups. Defectors against the party, were met with force, treated as outsiders, which makes a sort of sense... until one realizes that this was in response to the party treating them like outsiders, in the first place, by putting the interests and aims of the party, above that of the entire citizenry! So really, you have a sort of "auto-immune" type of situation going on: The masses perceive the leadership as a cancer, and the leadership perceives discontents among the masses as being defective parts in their notional carefully designed social machine of a system. Sure, totalitarians, and their party of supporters, may further make use of technology to identify dissenters, and to select against them within society. What we've seen, however, is that this is exactly what we would do, if we wanted the society to fail, due to poor leadership. By attacking all critics of the current leadership, and removing their ability to provide valid feedback in the future, a leader and their party may effectively negate their own society's immune system... and succumb to the cancer that they, themselves, are pushing, by using the non-party parts of society, as though they were the property of the party, with extensive efforts on the part of the leader and the leader's party to AVOID being held accountable, for their failure to deliver prosperity to the people. If simply allowed to go about their plans, an ideological party that comes to power, could burn through a large amount of the subservient society's "common capital", leaving the society poorer every year, perhaps in ways that won't be well understood in the moment, but are experienced as harsh limitations, when someone attempts to call upon resources that were not maintained under party leadership.
So, essentially, good leadership involves both sending the social signals that "inform" (assert to be true) people that your leadership will bring prosperity, then actually taking the necessary steps to make it happen, including competent delegation, calculated and thoughtful response to feedback from the citizens of the system, and helping people understand why you selected the trade offs for the group that you did, in a way that makes them feel positively about you continuing to be in charge. Unfortunately, if the system does not have incentives properly aligned, there can be significant temptation for prospective leaders, in particular, to focus on signaling that people should be happy with the leadership... a the expense of the other facts, as though a public relations campaign can negate the consequences of putting "optics" over leadership that leads to prosperity. This is not a "random" event. There are essentially two polarities of leadership, in this context. On one pole, you have "in the interest of the citizenry at large, equally or nearly equally weighted". On the other pole, you have "in the interest of special, smaller, groups". I will simplify these, for this piece, to "CIF" (citizen interest focused) and "ISG" (Interest of Smaller Groups). A society of perfectly split "CIF", seems like an obvious fairy tale, given the constraints of information gathering and processing, even if individuals could be counted on to give honest and reliable reports (which would be absolutely silly to assume, given incentives vs methods of detecting those following incentives to cheat). On the flip side, we see that ISG is often parasitic on the CIF, as it displaces CIF when it expands itself. The only reliable way to expand ISG, is to align incentives to where expanding ISG is also expanding CIF... and this requires following the data, and NOT ideology. When people put ideology before efficacy at expanding CIF, the ISG will be reliably rivalrous with at least some aspects of CIF, depending on how far the ideology asserts the optimal is, compared to the optimal CIF, as seen by the aggregate of the citizenry. People will gladly trade their individual political power away, to a competent ruling party who reliably brings prosperity... but this essentially precludes those who refuse to align their ideology with efficacy. Similarly, anyone who is trying to sell you the idea that their ideology uniquely optimizes the well being of the citizenry, "more than the citizens will even understand", is trying to hijack the system for their own ISG, and are charlatans. Even the best systems must be continuously responsive to new data, meaning that rigid dogmatism and anti-naturalism are both reliable pitfalls for political parties.
By now, I'm sure it has occurred to many, that any prospective ruler or ruling party, will have its practical prospects limited by the characteristics of the citizens themselves. I cannot hope to give a serious review, as a sub section of a single piece, to the scope of this detail. What I will do, is focus in on some of the most critical "higher level" aspects, that assume the details are handled for some higher order ideas that are highly relevant to the topic. The most necessary component is having a populace with a proper understanding of, and respect for, the minimal contributions to the group, that a citizen should be reliably producing, and to have this framed in a way that the citizen feels that it is in their own interest to produce this contribution. I do intend to do a full piece on that topic, but it is mostly beyond the scope of this current piece. The big point that needs to be made here, is the following: Individual citizens, also influence each other. One of the clearest sets of data to come out of anthropology, is that humans do not simply receive information from leadership, but in fact take the assertions from leadership, discuss them among themselves, form opinions that integrate the opinions of others in competition with each other, and otherwise produce conversations that are centered around assessing and critiquing the decisions of the leadership, especially those that affect the everyday lives of the citizens. If a leader is not considering this dynamic, they may believe that they can simply make declarations, and have the followers all act as though the declarations are congruent with reality. To the extent that the leader declares that something should happen, and then the party apparatus hands down those orders, and everyone just follows their orders, this is actually quite close to being "true"... "so let it be written, so let it be done." However, as we saw, this is actually most likely to happen when the leader (or at least their party) has built up a reputation for effective leadership, and of speaking openly and honestly to the citizenry. To the extent that their past proclamations have conflicted with observable reality, the willingness of their people to believe them, will be undermined. To the extent that their party also endorses assertions which turn out to be incongruent with observation, their party will also lose credibility. The party then faces a crossroads: Do they apologize for past mistakes, and pledge to do better in the future (with their credibility being further in question, if they don't live up to their new promises), or do they attack those who ask inconvenient questions, destroying the feedback mechanism from the people, that is their only hope of maintaining the confidence of those they presume to lead/rule?
The reason that totalitarianism has such limited viability, is that that a core component of maintaining a strong social hierarchy, feedback from the population, is so directly disruptive towards any approach which feels threatened by dissenting opinions. When those dissenting opinions are focused on improving the system, the system gains the necessary information to keep people on the side of the system. When individuals lose faith in the system, especially if they feel "used" by it, rather than feeling they gain from its existence, their dissenting opinions will be aimed at tearing the system down, for the benefit of the citizenry, leaving the regime propping up the system as "enemies of the people", in the minds of those who have given up on the system. If the system cannot hold the hearts and minds of most people, it will end up becoming the "outsider", itself, and fall to the resistance of the individuals whose compliance is required to keep the system running. So, leadership is constrained, at the very least, by having to convince the people that they will bring prosperity, gathering the information that they need to do that, convincing people that it is in their own personal self interest to play their part in the system, and convincing people that they should actively oppose and thwart those who seek to overturn or replace the system. There is a tension between those aspects, and many regimes and parties have looked to sacrifice one element, to better focus on the others... and fallen in the process, being replaced by more sustainable systems. Often, if one of these tasks is in conflict with their ideology, a leader or party will simply replace one of these functions with an "ad baculum" ... an "appeal to the stick"... "Get with our program, or you will get hurt." We have already discussed how this can quickly spiral into a loss of confidence in the leadership/government, a disruption in the information that they need to properly responde to a changing environment that society as a whole faces, and the eventual collapse, conquering, or drastic reformation that such government will face (often involving the replacement of the individuals filling leadership roles)?
Obviously, the use of force, to gain compliance with social rules and shared committments to the other citizens, has to be a core element of a society's toolkit, which puts it at least indirectly under the direction of the society's leadership. This poses the conundrum: What types of compliance should be enforced by the law/rules, that is, the violence at the direction of leadership... versus what types of compliance are better incentivized by more social incentives, such as rewarding those who do something great for others who appreciate it, positive and status enhancing praise for those who do the right thing for society, and negative and status limiting scorn for those who are straying from the bounds understood to be compatible with the continued general prosperity? I would argue that the difference needs to be understood in terms of the insider/outsider dynamic, since that is what human social norms seem to have centered their selection around, and it is the type of adaptation that humans seem to be specialized in. There are many niches of adaptation within that paradigm, and not all may be equally adaptive to any given environment, and the process of having the members of a society give feedback as individuals to each other, seems to be selected for as a regulating mechanism?
The point is that the place where the issue must be solved, is ultimately at the level of the individual. The issue, as pointed out, is getting the balance between the top down and bottom across influences right... which is not simply a matter of balance, but of a web of individual needs, trying to align with those around them to provide their needs, for the ends of fulfilling their own needs. As long as people can "keep the faith" of believing that they have something to offer, to get most of what they want, they will defend the system tooth and nail. However, if the idiots in charge steal that from them, that's when things are likely to go sideways. People who feel like they have so much to lose, are risk averse. People who feel they have nothing to lose, but perhaps time, because the current situation is bad for them, are much more likely to do drastic things to change the situation.
We need the type of rules that everyday people will feel are just and necessary, that common people are willing to report as crimes when they gain knowledge of these things happening. Laws that people feel are unjust garbage, will not be reliably reported to law enforcement, and that will breed a criminal class, making neighborhoods less safe among the culturally poor, etc.
Whatever system we end up with, we need "accountability" to be just as big of a buzzword as "liberty". We should be teaching children to respect competence, because this is how the strong produce more than they need, so that they can provide for those who produce less than they need. We need to teach gratefulness, so that the youth will not want to lose their way of life, rather than hating their lives, and yearning for revolution. Those laws must essentially be back to the old principles of "Don't hurt people, and don't take their stuff". There should be no such thing as a "victimless crime". "Accountability" is key. If you have that, the work of law enforcement is delegated to those local to the crime, but only if the people think the laws are just?
Accountability: An Underrated And Under-considered Idea
One of the most frustrating things about our modern political context, were I live, is that the separation of political power, intended simply to limit the political power of any given individual, often serves to split power from responsibility. This is exactly the type of disconnect that leads to a lack of regulation, and steers a system into one of the metaphorical ditches, leading to replacement by a more stable system. On issue after issue, the people with the power to decide, are not only not the ones who get to abide by the consequences of those decisions in their daily lives, but are also essentially insulated from any direct feedback from those who are experiencing these interventions of power into their lives, positive or negative. In the short term, this is an ideologue's paradise. If your ideology captures a leadership position in an institution that society relies on, whether public (like government), or private (like a corporation, club, religious organization), or something in the middle (academia, NGOs, certain over-regulated sectors like banking), you can then start staffing the positions under you with like minded people, who are willing to prioritize the shared ideology, over a direct concern with the well being of those who are depending on you to do your job, and deliver your contribution to prosperity. In the long term, this makes it clear to the ignored masses, that you are not one of them, and that you are working at cross purpose with them, making you "outsiders" to each other. In a truly private position, this will normally just lead that private org or company to lose out to its competition who managed to keep free of such parasites. In a public or quasi-public position, this will likely becoming an increasing source of irritation to the public, until they lose confidence in the system, and demand that it be replaced. Thoughtful people would not want to squander the public good will of their ideological movement in this way... however, ideologues are often adhering to ideology, as a replacement for doing their own thinking, in the first place.
There have been many proposals on how to address this issue. It would be very disingenuous for me to claim that there is any single, clearly preferable, way to address these concerns. If anything, I would claim that, while there are likely approaches that give very few people the results that any of them want, even the best systems will only be able to optimize for a few dimensions, carefully considering the trade offs and priorities between them, as to balance them and avoid shortfalls in any, meaning that anything outside of those few dimensions will just have to get less attention from any sort of central planners, even if those central planners are taking a relatively hands off approach (centrally planning to leave large chunks of the lives of individuals relatively unregulated by forceful authority). It is likely that at some point, I will write about specific ideas for such a system, if only to contribute to the toolbox of ideas at the disposal of those who wish to better govern society; however, this is clearly an area where "letting the perfect be the enemy of the good", can be quite costly. Costly to whom, you may ask? Costly to the citizenry as a whole... that is to say, to the extent that individuals are forced to live in a system that doesn't stay on the road, they will get to experience the mess and dysfunction of steering into the ditch, perhaps including a scarcity of the things that keep their life a relatively positive experience. People who take for granted the stability and reliability of their daily lives, the peacefulness of those around them, the respect for their property, and the general agreement about who gets to be in charge, are really going to miss them, when those things stop holding true.