April 24, 2014
Wisdom is no monopoly of one continent or one race. -Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gahndi

How They Got Things Done

Remember the question many of my test readers had: "Without leaders-as-we-know-them, how did our small-group ancestors get things done?" With a little additional work, we're finally ready to answer a main part of that question. That's what we'll do in this chapter -- and the way we arrive at the answer may surprise you a bit.

As we already know, one of the main survival advantages we humans have is the ability to use the unique information and knowledge we collect individually and which is thus distributed amongst all the members of our groups. And, as we already know, this unique and distributed information causes unique problems for us humans. For example, since we depend on acquired (learned) knowledge and information rather than inherit it, unless passed on, the knowledge dies with it's human "container."

One of the solutions was the evolution of our altruistic genetic tendencies to keep those "containers" (our ancestors' flesh-and-blood "libraries") alive whenever possible, remember -- and also, possibly, a drive to pass what we've learned on, especially when we get older. And "curiosity," which, cat-rubbing-like, encourages us to learn.

While "altruism" and "learning" are main keys to maintaining the ancestral data base we humans count on to survive, they don't solve all the problems distributed information causes. For example, we know -- this time from Chapter 13, Anti-authority Explained -- that, in addition to altruism and learning, our "instinct(s) for freedom" evolved, largely to keep hierarchies and their pecking orders from interfering with the efficient use of that information. And it is from this "efficient use of distributed information" idea that we begin this chapter's main thrust.

First, for context, by looking at the underlying source of all that information, we'll see why differing information and knowledge is not only desirable and necessary, but inevitable as well.

The Nature of "Reality"

There is a chronic underlying problem all living things have to deal with: Our best scientific knowledge tells us that the world is dynamic, that is, "reality" is in constant flux, an inexorable all pervasive process. On the "sub-microscopic" level, quantum physics tells us we are nothing but gigantic collections of whirling ever-changing probability functions (atoms and smaller sub-atomic "particles") and shifting, mostly empty, space.

And, on the "macroscopic" level, yesteryear's shallow sea bed gradually morphed into today's mountain ranges -- which are being eroded by water and weather into particles, which are being gradually washed into today's sea beds and oceans. The earth itself is a mere fleck of condensed rocky particles, circling a seething ball of incandescent nuclear plasma which in turn exists in a swirling collection of similar seething balls we call "The Milky-way Galaxy." There are countless other similarly swirling collections of seething balls of plasma, all constantly shifting position relative to one another. Nothing in physical reality remains "the same."

That is, everything is always in constant flux. We can refer to all this as "the process nature of reality," "process" defined as "something going on." [1]

The real world not only varies constantly over time even in the same place, but also obviously varies from place to place -- New York is seriously different from Hong Kong for example. As a result of all this variation, "reality" is incredibly, unimaginably, complex and rich with, literally, an infinite amount of potential and actual "information" [2] which, because of reality's "process nature," also constantly varies.

Our biological "information systems" evolved largely to deal with this super-abundance of changing information -- and reality's constant flux. It works this way: We focus on a relatively small part of "reality" -- perhaps a mountain range. Maybe that woman with the low-cut blouse. Or it could be a bacterium we're viewing through a microscope.

At some point we compare what we're focused on -- as it is now -- with a memory we have of it from the past -- which could have been recorded seconds or decades ago. And these days, we even have external memories -- photographs, etc. -- to help us keep track of things.

When the current perception is recognized as somehow different from the memory -- which situation presumably happens as a result of the underlying "process nature of reality" -- that often gets our attention and causes us to focus on it. We call our perception that the two images no longer coincide, "change."

Anytime we've detected a "change," what we've really detected is part of an underlying process. In a sense, then, "change" is just a perceptible reminder that something is going on. And that "change" -- and thus "process in general" (something going on) -- is the essence of reality. For convenience -- and with this perspective in mind -- we might adopt the convention of using the construction "change/process" to refer to "reality" and how we perceive it, reminding us not only of the process nature of "reality," but also that "process" (something going on) always underlies (that's the "/") "change."

Our perception that something has "changed" is how our "information systems" usually tip us off to the danger - - - and/or opportunity - - - which "change/process" often signals. That is, through the operation of our {biologically evolved }"information systems," differences in external situations become perceptible -- and thus our perceptions of those external situations usually evolve and change too.

Distributed Information Problems II

Thus, because of the process nature of reality, not only do situations constantly change, but so does our information and knowledge about them. And it is all this constant flux, variation, and complexity which results in the inevitable disparity of experience among individuals and thus the different and unique information and knowledge distributed among them.

For example, the number and type of animals at the water-hole never stays the same for long. Neither does our knowledge of the status of those animals; it changes too. Aug just came back from the water-hole. Now he's the guy who knows how much game was there -- and whether it's the kind to hunt for food. Later perhaps, Aug takes a pit break and when he comes back, he finds the post he'd been helping you with is already installed. He doesn't know where the next post is going and has to take a cue from you.

It's clear that key information is distributed throughout the group. This local, changing, distributed information is the beginning of that "variability of information and knowledge distributed among individuals" that "makes each and every individual an irreplaceable repository of unique -- and thus valuable -- information and knowledge," remember.

For instance, you can see even short-term, the key information about on-going situations often shifts from person to person in real time. The person who knows what's most important under given situations often changes as quickly as the situations themselves. When we're operating in groups then, based on the immediate circumstances and the current state of each person's information and knowledge, sometimes one man should be calling the shots, the next minute perhaps a different man should be calling them. Or a woman.

We already know this in general from Chapter 13, Anti-authority Explained. But the shorter the time available to decide, the more the communication situation resembles an "emergency" and the more difficult it is to determine which man is best positioned to call a particular shot. Under such conditions, the question is regularly, "Who -- if anyone -- should I/we be listening to now?"

This isn't a question about a rarely occuring exotic situation. Quite the contrary, it's a general question that must be regularly "answered" in any situation where people work together, each person's local conditions -- and information about those conditions -- change, previous experience and knowledge varies among individuals, and there are time pressures on decisions. Such situations regularly occur during just about any daily group activity, even today.

Alpha Confidence

A problem directly related to our human penchant for distributed unique information -- in fact the one that was the backbone of Chapter 14 -- was that during emergencies one person may have essential information that others need quickly. "Duck!" you warn as that baseball is about to hit your friend.

And with the previous observations that the appropriate person to call the shots changes right along with the situation (and thus with the information about the situation), we've just stumbled across a more generalized problem with having unique information distributed amongst members of our group. In fact, the situation during "emergencies" is just the most extreme example of having key unique information distributed amongst group members. And since we already know how that's handled during emergencies, we have a pre-existing solution waiting in the wings. Just as the alpha dominance complex of signals let's us temporarily boss others during emergencies, it is also the key to answering the question, "Who -- if anyone -- should I/we be listening to now?"

Each participant unconsciously signals his confidence level in his knowledge and information -- and the results he expects from employing it -- by the alpha-complex strength he exhibits through his demeanor and voice in what is essentially a subdued and specialized dominance display. As a first approximation, think of the tone of voice, demeanor, etc. you would use to warn your friend about that baseball about to hit him. This warning tone is much too strong for most situations, but it'll get you in the ball park. Let's take a look at a real-life example to calibrate better - - -

The situation: A back-hoe, sinks into a trench and is sitting at a ~45 degree angle. Four men are present: John M. (A.K.A. The Backwoods Philosopher), who compared to the other men has relatively little back-hoe experience -- but thinks extremely well on his feet. Mr. C., a mechanical engineer with U.S. Steel who's operating the hoe, Billy C. his son who drives a semi and has operated back-hoes in the past and finally the owner of the back-hoe. John M. realized that perhaps they could un-tilt the hoe enough so the treads could grab again. In what some would consider "giving orders" mode, [John demonstrated his tone and demeanor to me. -lrw] John told the father to swing the back-hoe arm around and the other men to push down on it. Apparently responding to John's demeanor and the confidence it displayed -- and ignoring his relative inexperience -- they all complied and the driver was able to begin backing the hoe away from the trench. Seeing what looked like a loose tread, John said (not in command mode), "Look, the tread is coming off!" The owner knew that the probability of damaging the tread was small and his information, now more relevant and certain than John's, he took over. In his turn he "ordered" the driver to keep going and to get the hoe clear of the trench. The driver complied and everyone lived happily ever after.

As you can see, using the alpha complex to switch control back and forth among the participants allows the group to constantly benefit by having the best chance of having the best information and expertise brought into play. This is obviously important but especially difficult in circumstances, including "emergencies" -- or even non-emergencies -- involving rapid change.

For convenience, we might call this type of specialized and subdued alpha dominance display "the alpha confidence indicator." It is essentially a "face-to-face" information vehicle available for everyone present to see, hear, automatically evaluate, and definitely pay attention to. In a sense, each "container" of distributed information evaluates his knowledge and information and, if he thinks it's appropriate to the current situation, lets everyone know the results with the "alpha confidence" he displays. It's the "alpha confidence indicator" that makes the {best possible }moment-to-moment use of our ever changing "distributed knowledge and information" possible.

If two or more men display "alpha confidence" during the same situation, phasing temporarily into the hierarchical mode, folks will usually "follow" the group mate displaying the strongest alpha confidence. In small bands of course, this may be tempered by knowledge of the expertise and tendencies of those making such displays. ^^w In small groups, I think that it would be unlikely for anyone to knowingly misrepresent such confidence -- see [Amish Honesty]

You may be thinking, "But John M. didn't have back-hoe experience, yet he still alpha-signalled and they still listened to him." Indeed, "back-hoe experience" told the other more experienced participants they were stuck -- the hoe owner said they'd have to get a crane to pull the hoe out. But it wasn't back-hoe experience that John M. used.

John brought in outside information and expertise. As he explained it to me, it was fulcrum-and- lever thinking, which obviously was the "right" expertise for the moment. The self-evaluations that lead to alpha confidence signalling are usually subconscious and automatic. The outcome proves John M's alpha signals were appropriate. [3] John M. stopped operating the group once the hoe owner's expertise was more appropriate.

However, such seemingly unfounded yet "alpha signalled" confidence could indeed be a problem, especially, in the modern world, where would-be persistent "leaders" are taught to feign confidence, essentially at all times, no matter their true state of knowledge.

While not the only vehicle for expressing alpha confidence, voice tends to be our main vehicle. Suprisingly, this more subtle use of "voice" isn't completely unique to us humans. There's a tantalizing parallel among some bird species - - -

The evolution of animal communication systems is the primary focus of research in my lab. We are especially interested in how signals encode specific types of information and how that information remains honest despite selection on some individuals to exaggerate or cheat. Because vocal signals are relatively easy to monitor, quantify, manipulate, and produce, we have focused on the role of song in mediating aggressive interactions and mate choice in territorial male songbirds. --Sandra L. Vehrencamp of Cornell University

While the underlying context, particularly for our ancestors, was that each man is headman over himself, often it was appropriate to take cues from others. "DUCK!!" you yell as you see that baseball coming. Using alpha-confidence signals, each member operates the group -- or part of it -- when appropriate. The group members key off first one man then another -- and often none at all -- depending on the momentary circumstances and the quality of information. Each group member operates things when it seems most appropriate for him to do so.

Distributed Decision-making

For convenience, we could call this type of shifting decision-making, "distributed decision-making" and recognize that it's the result of the fact that unique information and knowledge are distributed throughout the group, remember. This means that as situations change, the person who has the key information and knowledge may shift around a lot -- neither your wiseman, your best warrior, your herbalist, nor your shaman always has a lock on the truth. Thus "distributed decision-making" is a direct consequence of distributed information and knowledge. What we have, then, is distributed decision-making as a natural result of distributed information.

This goes a long way toward explaining why our ancestors were instinctively so adamant against persistent alpha "leaders" who's constant broadcast of alpha dominance signals would destroy the necessary easy shifting of control from informationally appropriate person to person, remember. It also explains why "one man might seem leader today and another man tomorrow." In fact, one man might seem leader one minute and another the next -- which could easily be overlooked by urban literate observers complusively trying to figure out who the persistent (hierarchical) leader was. They could find one perhaps, thru exposure to hunting parties, etc. which approximated emergency situations where a situational "chief" might be desirable -- and thus temporarily appointed.

Of course, an "expert" in a particular activity or project might maintain the overall information-knowledge edge for a larger percentage of time during that particular activity just because of his in-depth knowledge and experience. You know who your best hunters are -- and want one or another of them, if available, directing every hunt. As we know from Chapter 14, Emergency!, particularly during emergencies such as warfare or drought, as with the Native Americans, individuals, remember, "might rise to positions of considerable power" but "the degree of their authority was dependent upon the situation" -- and temporary. Crazy Horse, a famed Lakota War Chief remember, was, except "in the moment of danger," "noticeably reserved and modest."


In a most appropos application of language, the descriptive word we're most likely to apply to the results of such "distributed decision-making" when we observe them in action is "co-operation." That's a logical name for a situation where operation of the group passes around from person to person. Our ancestors got un-solitary things done, then, by co-Operating their groups.

And remember, since no one could tell anyone else what to do, they couldn't do modern hierarchical persistent leadership. So anytime they worked together, they had to co-Operate. Distributed information resulting in distributed decision-making resulting in variety and co-Operation. Except during "emergencies" and a few other situations, this was the main everyday mode in which our ancestors lived. And, thus, it's this mode of interaction our instincts and drives were -- and are -- designed for.

We asked in Chapter 3, "Hierarchy and Leadership? Not in My Group You Don't," "When ethnographers, biased towards observing modern style 'leadership' thought that's what they were observing in small face-to-face groups, what was really going on instead?"

What was "really going on instead" was almost certainly distributed decision-making and co-Operation.

Co-Operation works best

We have been explicitly suggesting that the way our ancestors got things done worked better than hierarchy even before we knew exactly how those ancestors did it. Now that we've identified that way as "distributed decision making" -- made necessary by "distributed information" -- and thus "co-Operation," we can find experimental evidence suggesting that, yes indeed, this does work better.

We already know that without hierarchical "noise," even in today's world of "urban literates," "distributed decision-making" works well -- remember John M. and the back-hoe. Here's another example:

Modern "distributed decision making" VClip 1

Click here if video doesn't play after a bit.

Noam Chomsky, "Manufacturing Consent"

And there's experimental verification - - -

In a review of 496 psychological studies of group decision making published between 1985 and 1994, David Sloan Wilson found that collective rulings deserve more respect. "When I actually read the details of the studies, I discovered that groups frequently are much better than individuals at making decisions," he contends. These studies involved such things as 10-man navigation teams on Navy aircraft carriers and amphibious helicopter transports which conduct complex calculations to maneuver huge vessels into and out of harbors. [4]

Why would that be? Because each person's particular expertise and essential information of the moment, unblocked by hierarchical noise, would be brought into play at the appropriate time. And if someone was having a bad day, the others could cover for him. [5]

And a little anacdotal evidence that co-operation pays: A political activist by the name of Bob Waldrop told me of an instance when he believed he was up against an opposing group in a political battle in San Francisco. By their effectiveness, he estimated there must be at least thirty activists in the opposing group. He later discovered there were only six. They would get together every Friday night in a donated church basement and wouldn't emerge till they had gotten complete voluntary agreement on the exact wording of their goal(s). The result was six who worked as one, or at least worked dependably as if they were working on their own goal -- because they were!

According to Waldrop's story then, six true co-Operators were as effective as thirty normal activists. The equation here then is true co-Operation can be at least five times more effective than what we normally do these days.

Also consider the work of political scientist Robert Axelrod, "the dean" of computer-simulated co-Operation.

An interesting set of environmental challenges are provided by the fact that many of the benefits sought by living things such as people are disproportionately available to cooperating groups. ... In the Prisoner's Dilemma, two individuals can each either cooperate or defect. ... No matter what the other does, the selfish choice of defection yields a higher payoff than cooperation. But if both defect, both do worse than if both had cooperated.
In many settings, the same two individuals may meet more than once. If an individual can recognize a previous interactant and remember some aspects of the prior outcomes, then the strategic situation becomes an iterated [repeated] Prisoner's Dilemma. ... I conducted a computer tournament for the Prisoner's Dilemma. ... Some of the strategies were quite intricate. ... However, the result of the tournament was that the highest average score was attained by the simples(t) of all strategies, TIT FOR TAT. This strategy is simply one of cooperating on the first move and then doing whatever the other player did on the preceding move. Thus TIT FOR TAT is a strategy of cooperation based upon reciprocity.
The results of the first round were circulated and entries for a second round were solicited. ... TIT FOR TAT was again submitted by the winner of the first round, Anatol Rapoport. It won again. --Robert Axelrod, Evolving New Strategies, The Evolution of Strategies in the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma, July 22, 2001

Axelrod's passage above is interesting for several additional reasons. Notice he mentions "reciprocity" -- which may remind you of "reciprocal altruism," already mentioned in the introduction to this book as a key to trade, etc. Also the "TIT FOR TAT" strategy mentioned by Axelrod -- which requires "remembering some aspects of the prior outcomes" -- sounds a lot like our "actuarial intelligence" keeping track of things doesn't it?

Co-Operation Today

Despite the chronic hierarchical overlay of modern societies, even today, the most effective small groups still work more-or-less co-Operatively. Remember Bob Waldrop above. Imagine a professional basketball team. Often there doesn't need to be anyone specific in charge -- everyone knows his job and does it. [6] Imagine a crack fire fighting outfit, say like the award-winning volunteer fire department in Scottsdale, Arizona. Keeping our ancestors' perspective on leadership in mind, talk to some firefighters.

While the fire chief's job is to coordinate things, get the overview, and give suggestions to the rest of the team -- they too are sharing their information and unique perspective with each other and the "chief." Information and control shifts back and forth as first one, then the other person has the position and information to act.

If the chief acted as a ruler, governor, or dictator -- rather than as a facilitator -- [7] the firefighters will tell you, he'd get people killed, exactly opposite of what everyone wants. Imagine an emergency-room trauma team -- while on paper the emergency room doctor is "in charge," in reality he listens to all his team mates and often takes direction from them -- the anesthesiologist for example.

There's a more telling example: When I was in the Jr. High School band, our teacher and conductor Mr. Bataglini, would sometimes leave during practice, putting a "guest" conductor (one of us) in charge of standing in front of the band and waving the conductor's wand appropriately. You could hardly tell the difference. But even more telling, sometimes he would simply walk away in the middle of a number, leaving no one in charge. After a few beats, once again, you could hardly tell the difference.

And, imagine the guy who normally serves as fire chief is having a bad day. He's just had a fight with his wife, has a terrible allergy headache, and can't find his glasses. Do you really want him as "chief" today? Wouldn't it be much better if one of the other guys who'd been working closely with the "chief" -- but is having a good day -- took over for him?

I will go so far as to say that in most modern organizations, permanent hierarchical place holders are only necessary because we have been thoroughly conditioned to think we need them -- either that or the organization is too big. If our small-group ancestors were able to operate without them most of the time, surely we're able to do the same. We'll explore this heresy in one of the later chapters.

Hierarchy in Co-Operation

Despite the overwhelming values of Co-Operation, we still have those true "emergencies" when "one or only a few people know what's going on, immediate coordinated action is necessary and there's no time for discussion, and thus temporary '(centralized) control' by those 'in the know' may be implied," remember.

In a sense, there's a "continuum of centralization" that begins anytime a group member alpha signals. This continuum extends to longer periods if and when groups formally choose a more persistent leader for a hunting party or to coordinate things during battle etc. Other more ambiguous situations exist when centralized control may be used to maintain exceptional discipline, such as during a drought. Such extraordinary measures are probably only necessary when groups are larger, there are limited resources, etc., which test the strength of the face-to-face bonds which are unavoidably less intense in larger groups.

Except for such situations, though, in small ancestral groups, that informal moment-to-moment co-Operative egalitarian balance among individuals is maintained. We might call it "egalitarian networking," -- and it's accomplished, largely unconsciously, as each individual, based on his usually subconscious assessment of his own state of knowledge -- and only when necessary -- influences other group members by the strength of his "alpha confidence" signalling. The question of who's in control is, to make best use of information and knowledge, always very subtle and subject to easy, momentary, change. This enables groups to keep their behavior in best possible sync with an inescapably constantly changing reality remember, by facilitating appropriately distributed decisions based on unavoidably distributed information.

But, as we'll discover in post-Great-Transitions' larger societies, this may not work so well. Some people practice dominance signalling techniques and often use them to indiscriminately -- and fraudulently -- influence people regardless of the signaller's state of knowledge and to maintain control and/or hierarchical position at all costs -- and/or to profit "financially." You see this aberrant behavior particularly in the political arena, in "business," and often merely to exercize hierarchy for hierarchy's sake -- and of course for "centralized political authority," remember. We'll take a much closer look at how these fraudulent dominance signalling practices have become widely institutionalized in the modern world in Chapter 20, Authority: Correcting a Major Linguistic Deficit.

Formally putting a central "Authority" in control, even in emergency and/or fast changing circumstances, has limitations and serious down-side potential -- particularly if over-done as we'll see. Our small-group ancestors did this quite sparingly -- and always temporarily -- for hunting, warfare, and certain emergencies, remember. They certainly didn't do it on a permanent basis.

Hierarchy for hierarchy's sake -- that is true "centralized political authority" for an extended non-temporary time period -- is a very bad idea. For one thing, it risks creating a permanent hierarchy, which seriously dampens enthusiastic participation by all group members -- and it marginalizes their knowledge and information.

We already mentioned the illegitimate use of "states of emergency" such as the ~75 year-old banking "emergency" declared by F.D. Roosevelt and we'll get an even better idea why we should avoid such things in Chapter 17, Diversity vs. Ruin in Small Groups and Elsewhere, Chapter 18, Spontaneous Order, Chapter ww, What's Wrong With Hierarchy? Part II, and Chapter co, Comparisons.

As you may have gathered, non-conscious, non-explicit co-Operation is probably the dominant mode of operation for small, informal human groups and always has been. True self-conscious co-Operation, on the other hand, especially in today's larger groups, is almost a lost art. And worse, modern societies' chronic coercive hierarchical overlay tends to seep into and infect even our informal small-group interactions. Our egalitarian societies have been hi-jacked by hierarchy. WThe e'll see if there's something to be done about that situation in Chapter rc, "Rehabilitating Co-Operation."

There is more to our ancestors getting things done than distributed decision-making and co-Operation of the moment-to-moment type we have described here however. For example, when they have more time for discussion and deliberation, how do small groups and tribes make longer-range decisions, particularly those which inescapably affect all group members (migration, going to war, etc)? We'll take a look at that in the next chapter, Chapter 16, Ancestral Democracy.

So, while egalitarian co-Operation was the dominant mode in ancestral groups, under some circumstances, elements of hierarchy were permitted where appropriate and practical in helping our ancestors get things done. Today, of course, we know that, for better or for worse, that situation has been largely reversed, and nearly every modern "urban literate" organization -- in fact whole societies -- have a permanent hierarchical overlay. Is that a good thing?

To sum up: In ancestral groups, hierarchy existed within a context of egalitarian co-Operation, while in modern societies, co-Operation exists within a context of persistent hierarchy. Our egalitarian societies have been hi-jacked by hierarchy.


We began this chapter by observing that the real world not only varies from place to place but also constantly varies over time even in the same place. We referred to this as "the process nature of reality." We suggested that as a result of this "process nature," an infinite amount of constantly varying potential and actual "information" is available to us and that our information systems evolved largely to deal with this super-abundance of ever changing information. Thus, because of the process nature of reality, not only do situations constantly change, but so does our information and knowledge about those situations. It is this constantly changing information that sets the stage for answering the main question that inspired this chapter.

The question was, "Without leaders-as-we-know-them, how did our small-group ancestors get things done?" We began by noting that alpha complex signalling, besides being essential during "emergencies" also worked very well in any situation where people work together, conditions and each person's information change, and there are time pressures on decisions.

While alpha signalling may seem like "bossing another man," the "bossing" is only very temporary and in a good cause: Such signalling makes distributed decision-making possible and practical for small face-to-face groups and is essential to the efficient use of the unique information distributed among group members. Alpha signalling answers the question, "Who, if anyone, should we be listening to now?" by indicating the relative confidence each member feels in his current state of knowledge and information -- and the likely outcome.

Because of the complexness and local variation inherent in "reality," we suffer the curses of having key information distributed amongst our group mates. The solution is distributed decision-making moderated by alpha signalling. We employ distributed decision-making as a natural result of distributed information.

If we observed a small group engaged in such distributed decision-making, one man operating the group one minute another the next, we might logically say they were "co-Operating." Experiments suggest that such decision making and co-Operation are indeed efficient ways to get un-solitary things done. Our ancestors couldn't engage in persistent hierarchical leadership -- the other group members wouldn't put up with it -- so co-Operation was just about the exclusive day to day mode for small groups. That's what our baffled ethnographers were actually observing when they thought they were observing modern-style persistent hierarchical "leadership" in small groups.

Next we noted that not only is co-Operation what our ancestors did, but that it works best -- and there's experimental evidence to prove it. Noam Chomsky and "Southend Press" explained it in a video clip -- and there were studies that showed group decision making -- such as U.S. Navy 10-man navigation teams -- performed extremely well. There was Bob Waldrop and his San Francisco political opposition which, because they co-Operated, were approximately five times more effective than normal. And Robert Axlelrod, "the dean" of computer-simulated co-Operation, who observed that "many of the benefits sought by living things ... are disproportionately available to co-Operating groups" and proved that "tit for tat" (reciprocity) is not only the simplist strategy, but also the most rewarding.

Despite the hierarchical overlay in modern societies, it was suggested that efficient small groups such as sports teams, firefighers, emergency room teams, etc. still essentially co-Operate in the sense we developed here. I suggested that, in general, hierarchy may not be any more necessary now than it was for our small group ancestors. I used non-hierarchical band leader Bataglini as an example -- and suggested firefighters might not always want the same guy as chief. When he's having a really bad day, for example.

Next we noted that even though co-Operation is generally more efficient, under "emergency" conditions when "one or only a few people know what's going on, immediate action is necessary and there's no time for discussion, and thus temporary '(centralized) control' by those 'in the know' may be implied," our ancestors sometimes temporarily resorted to more centralized hierarchical control -- for war, hunting parties, etc.. It was also used for discipline in larger groups where more attenuated face-to-face bonds might be strained.

We pointed out that except for these situations, the moment-to-moment co-Operative egalitarian balance is maintained as each individual -- when appropriate -- transmits his usually unconscious assessment of his state of knowledge to other group members by the strength of his "alpha confidence" signals. This makes the best use of unavoidably distributed information.

We suggested this co-Operative egalitarian mode may be handicapped in larger post-Great Transitions societies because people practice dominance signalling, and use it to chronically and indiscriminately influence people regardless of the signaller's state of knowledge, often to profit, exercize power -- or to maintain hierarchical position and/or "centralized political authority." We noted that permanent "centralized political authority" is also a bad idea because it creates a permanent hierarchy, dampens enthusiastic participation, and marginalizes distributed information. It also sets the stage for extreme abuses such as the ~70 year-old banking "emergency" declared by U.S. President F.D. Roosevelt.

I suggested there was still more to our ancestors getting things done -- for example, how did they make longer-term decisions, particularly those which inescapably affect all members (migration, going to war, etc), when there was time for discussion.

We summed up by observing that egalitarian co-Operation was the sensible, dominant, base-line mode of operation for ancestral groups, but that in "emergencies" or other fast-changing situations, (and for alpha-confidence signalling) our small-group ancestors sometimes employed hierarchy or elements of it, but that today, that situation has been largely reversed and hierarchy has become the dominant mode. We asked if that was a good thing.

In ancestral groups, hierarchy existed within a context of egalitarian co-Operation, while in modern societies, co-Operation exists within a context of hierarchy. Our egalitarian societies have been hi-jacked by hierarchy.


[1] The idea that reality isn't static was, in some respects, quite dangerous to have a few centuries ago - - -

Pope Benedict XVI has paid tribute to 17th-Century astronomer Galileo Galilei, whose scientific theories once drew the wrath of the Catholic Church.
... Galileo used his scientific methods to demonstrate that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around.
His view directly challenged the church's view at the time - that the Earth was static and at the centre of the universe.
Galileo was accused of heresy in 1633 and forced to publicly recant his theories.
He lived the rest of his life under house arrest at his villa in the hills outside Florence. --Pope praises Galileo's astronomy, news.bbc.co.uk, Sunday, 21 December 2008, Page last updated at 17:25 GMT return

[2] "Information" isn't as simple a concept as you probably believe. In fact, it gives those who attempt a definition real problems. Here's an attempt at just such a definition from The Web Dictionary of Cybernetics and Systems:

1) that which reduces uncertainty. (Claude Shannon);
2) that which changes us. (Gregory Bateson)
Literally that which forms within, but more adequately: the equivalent of or the capacity of something to perform organizational work, the difference between two forms of organization or between two states of uncertainty before and after a message has been received, ... A message carries information inasmuch as it conveys something not already known. The answer to a question carries information to the extent it reduces the questioner's uncertainty. ... Pure and unqualified information is an unwarranted abstraction. information theory measures the quantities of all of these kinds of information in terms of bits. The larger the uncertainty removed by a message, the stronger the correlation between the input and output of a communication channel, and the more detailed particular instructions are the more information is transmitted. (Krippendorff)
Information is the meaning of the representation of a fact (or of a message) for the receiver. (Hornung)

Also, you might find the "information" at the link (from above) to uncertainty quite haunting. return

[3] John's confidence wasn't constrained by artificial language-created catagories such as "back-hoe experience." His confidence was based on a more basic and direct understanding of the situation -- which suggests to me that something like non-symbol system Avatar! "feel-it" may give a better read on reality than "book learn'n." This may be an example of street-smarts vs. ivory tower eggheads. return

[4] Bruce Bower, Return of the Group, Science News, November 18, 1995, pg. 329. return

[5] So-called "groupthink," which has had bad press in the literature, is actually a subcatagory of group decision making and a symptom of hierarchical control as we will see in Chapter rc, Rehabilitating Co-operation. return

[6] See an amplification of this point here. return

[7] From Chapter 6, remember, An individual identified by modern observers as a "leader" in small groups acted as a "facilitator as opposed to governor or ruler." return

Total Contents
In Clips
L's Articles