Thursday, February 02, 2012

Synergetic Democracy

We may not think of ant colonies as democratic.  We've decided they have "a queen" in some cases and that colors everything.  A Bugs Life captures a consciousness.  Ants live in monarchies.

Of course that's a rather irrational chain of "reasoning", somewhat of the kind Danny Oppenheimer says you'll find if you pull any "ant" aside (say an undergrad at Princeton) and send him through Danny's lab at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs.

What you'll find are things like:  if the subject / ant / village idiot sits in a chair that leans slightly to the right, literally, then their political views are measurably slanted the same way.  Flaming liberals tone it down and sound a tad more like William F. Buckley when right leaning.  Lots of silly circuits like that.  An ant is a primitive creature and mostly just says "duh" when asked to explain its reasoning.  Return it to the hive though, and the miracle of self organization continues to unfold.

I wasn't sure what I was getting into in going to this event, but sort of knew, because I'd been at this tap room at McTarnahan's (a HQS) for a similar Connie-organized Princeton Club of Oregon event some years back.  I'd replied some weeks prior that I'd be bringing one guest, not knowing whom that would be.  When push came to shove I decided to try Facebook, offering to pay the admit fee for whomsoever wanted to join me on short notice, just a few hours before showtime.

Buzz Hill stepped up to the plate.  He's an avid Facebook user and believes in the power of social media and networking tools to transform the ant colony.  He thinks humans are at their best in conversation, different from taking orders, engaging in transactions, or bombing one another.  The new media, like some of the old ones, are fostering transformative forms of interaction, especially in promoting conversations -- Buzz's brief.

Dr. Oppenheimer was right there in the middle of the room.  I introduced Buzz and myself as frequent attenders of meetings at the Linus Pauling House, with Linus Pauling being a proud son of Oregon and yadda yadda.  Danny's and Mike Edward's tome, and the event in general (an opportunity to hear about and buy a book) was taking me back to Mike Satin's presentation at Powell's on Hawthorne.  Had Danny ever heard of that book, I wanted to know.

Buzz and I drifted on back to the beers (he just had diet Coke) and I asked if his smart phone could get us to Satin's book on Amazon, so that when we drifted back to the author we could have a Part 2 discussion of book marketing and how it's smart to visit a few other book web pages when buying, as Amazon pays attention to that and alerts more browsers to the "also bought" option (might be Democracy Despite Itself, our focus this evening).

Danny thinks that even though the individual ants behave in irrational ways that key of metaphors and precessional cues, ala George Lakoff, there's still feedback and participation and the phenomenon of self organization.  Democracies are more robust regardless of how weakly the voting piece might be performing.  You could disconnect all the levers and just randomly toss people into office, but as long as the people felt some sense of responsibility, they would behave more as stakeholders, which means a "sense of the meeting" (Quaker talk) would guide them to support the colony in a push-come-to-shove world.

I bought the book, it's only the next morning so I won't claim to have read it yet.  I checked the index for Bucky Fuller and Ludwig Wittgenstein, something I almost always do for "sweep of history" kinds of books, plus the latter was a philosopher of language and I wondered if psychologists were picking up on that at all.

Couldn't there be some ants, seemingly even more irrational than average, that served as a source of cues.  I was thinking of so-called "opinion leaders" or "movers and shakers".  Danny claimed he used his powers as a psychologist only occasionally and in a benign manner, had only rarely been "tricky" in an almost magical way.  But not everyone has those scruples, or thinks exercising psy-powers is a bad thing.  They feel it's their way of contributing to a democracy -- thinking of spin doctors here, some better at it than others.

Connie said this was the 2nd best attended Club event ever.  My table mates were as one might expect for Princetonians and their others, well traveled and cognizant of world history.  We talked about Japanese prison camps and people we knew who'd been in them.  I mentioned knowing some Japanese with American prison camp experience as well.

The gentleman next to me had had a career in teaching at private secondary schools, ending up at Catlin Gabel.  We talked quite a bit about the Black Mountain contingent there among the faculty.  I'd joined that cabal on a couple of Thanksgivings having tracked them down through my study of Kenneth Snelson's work among others (some Freudian overlaps there).

A lot of memories came flooding back, which is part of the fun of conversation.

Joseph, who found my hat that time greeting me upon arrival, accepted my funds (these events just break even).  Since finding my hat (again missing) and realizing it was by Paul Kaufman, he had made contact with Paul, mentioned my name, and had a hat custom made.

Tim's mom Lori was there, from a class behind me.  Todd had mentioned she'd be there on Facebook, interleaving with Buzz and I on my wall / profile.

Dr. Oppenheimer didn't say a word about ants by the way, that was my resorting to metaphor, with the example of literal ants.  Vote for me.

:: from buzz's smart phone ::