Innovation As Exception To The Rules

Builds Upon: The Pitfalls of Microspecialization in Mass Societies

In every human society, one must follow rules.  Lots of rules.  More rules than any one person can possibly know.

In particular to practice in any profession or field, one must have completed the proper studies and earned the proper certifications.

Most societies use caste or exclusive licenses to decisively divide tasks.  Each discipline is given to a handful of experts.  Naturally, an orthodoxy forms around each of these groups.  Only those who can best mirror their tendencies can enter their group.  Each specialty group has a specialized terminology and language that closes it off from all others.

To be succinct, it’s not a system that encourages those who do things differently.

We are taught that it is the nature of our present human society to change and technologically progress.  We are told society is driven by innovation.

If we look at the history of progress and invention, however, only the barest handful of people are responsible for the biggest breakthroughs.  Orthodoxies of experts excel at improving and refining what they are already doing, but it always seems to take persons who try out new things to bring on innovation.

The problem: what kind of person makes it into the orthodoxy and finds themself in any kind of position to bring on improvements?  Someone who’s followed the rules well enough to be assigned to expert level training.  Once the training is completed, they follow the rules of their orthodoxy well enough to succeed professionally.  It takes a lifetime of rule following and imitation to make it to the top and earn credibility in the larger society.  It would seem to me if one wanted to weed out innovators, this method would be precisely the way to do it:  A long succession of filters and gateways that are sure to block the progress of any person with a hint of a spontaneous or creative nature.  It would seem to me that innovation happens in spite of the system.

Apparently there are a very, very few people who have both the creative gift and the ability to stick with the countless conventions required to rise.  These people manage to make it into an orthodoxy of acknowledged experts and then use their authority and resources to achieve some form of advancement.  Progress and innovation are dependent on the tiny margin of error in the filtering mechanisms.  Every once in awhile they’ll let through a brilliant person who has a mind of their own.  Ironically, progress is dependent upon the failure of the process of selection.

Best Possible Persons

In my previous post I addressed a dilemma: The concept of a nation state no longer has the same ideological appeal and the family is rapidly decaying.  Now what?

There’s lots of people who bemoan the present situation and advocate a return to ‘traditional values.’  It is silly, however, to think that it is possible to go back.  Every society is a product of the conditions of its times.  The conditions that influence societies have changed.

What does not occur to most people: that these seemingly dark times will give rise to something better than we had before.

In short people need belonging and meaning.  If the state and family can no longer reliably fulfill these needs, people will do whatever is necessary to find another way.

In an age of mass communication, people will inevitably find ways to group together by every conceivable interest and similarity.  In any given group of people, there will be those who are the most compatible relative to all others.  For all of human history, we’ve only been able to choose from a handful of people we could meet face to face.  Now, we can find those persons who most correlate with us and join with them.

Over time, we have an entirely new social unit, a sort of tribe of ‘best possible persons.’  Throughout human history, the social units of family, clan, tribe, nation have all been based on accident of birth.  Our new society will see the emergence of social units based on shared interests, shared values and objectives, as well as ideal chemistry in interpersonal interactions.  Since groups function as more than the sum of their parts these highly cohesive groups would be quite powerful.  As such they would have the potential to replace existing structures.

People need not form such association deliberately, nor is extraordinary to believe that such a thing will happen.  In our face to face lives, we readily notice that professions and bars both attract very specific kinds of persons.  When people are forced to reach out through mass communication to find gathering places, the exact same phenomenon will manifest, naturally on a massive scale.  Because it will be on a massive scale, people will have much higher odds of finding those with whom they have extremely close correlation of interests and values.

For example:  Let’s think of a biker bar.  They all like Harleys.  Now lets assume there’s a million bikers.  The larger quantity of bikers triggers increasingly greater subtelty in distinguishing characteristics.  Soon we have a bar for bikers who like Harleys and whose favorite movie is ‘Love, Actually’ and then another bar opens for bikers who love Harley Davidson, ‘Love, Actually’ , and Barney the Purple dinosaur… And so on.

If we envision a venn diagram of all our traits, values, and preferences then we would suppose that the larger the sample size, the larger the probability of people falling in the central region where all characteristics overlap.  Mass communication allows a very large sample size.  At this point it has not yet become easy for anyone to find the ‘best possible people’ amidst this chaotic crowd.  However, even now on the net, one can go through a lengthy process of moving up through progressively more specific biker bars until one finally finds themselves in the company of the best possible people.

The Obsoletion of Nation States and the Family: What Inevitably Fills The Void?

Just as those who lived in an old monarchy could have scarcely imagined representative democracy or commoners rising to become all-powerful dictators, we in our own time are shortsighted.  We are innovative persons constantly perceiving change in our daily lives, but like the frog in the slowly boiled pot of water, we don’t notice the comparatively glacial transitions or the potential for these transitions until they have already transpired.

With the coming of the internet and mass communication the way has been opened for an entirely new era of social relations.

With the gradual transition from powerful monarchs to elected representatives/autocrats, there was a fundamental change at the top of the system.  The next transition is already affecting how we live our lives at the most fundamental level.

In the present era, regardless of how they are administrated, we live in what could generally be referred to as nation states.

Some basic characteristics of a nation state: (the central assumptions haven’t changed much.)

  1. Encloses a piece of land.
  2. Claims all those born on the piece of land by default.
  3. Reserves the rights to tax/conscript those it has claimed.
  4. Is expected to protect and work in the interests of those it has claimed or at least maintain a degree of order greater than would exist in the absence of the state.
  5. Whether or not it has elected representatives, justifies its rights to claim individuals by of an idea of ‘national identity.’  National identity is often predicated upon an ethnic group or at least some shared tradition of unity.
  6. Has the strength and the right to force everyone to participate in its functioning.  It is generally understood and accepted that some degree of coercion is necessary for a state to continue to exist.

With present development many of these basic premises of a state have been considerably weakened or invalidated.

‘National identity’ is a core concept that is quickly unraveling in many of the world’s most influential states.

Europe and the United States have experienced massive influxes of immigrants on account of their high level of prosperity.  These immigrants have reached critical mass and now live in neighborhoods strictly populated by their own kind.  They arrive too quickly and in too great of numbers to be assimilated by the pre-existing culture.  The pre-existing cultures in these Western countries have largely lost their sense of shared tradition and purpose.  Monolithic impersonal corporations define every aspect their lives while the traditions of their ancestors are forgotten.  The pre-existing affluent communities have no purpose beyond attaining wealth and power.  They have no reason to stick together or have children.  The vital, thriving traditional communities of immigrants quickly displace them.  Without a shared ethnic group, a shared tradition, or a shared sense of purpose there is no source of justification for a nation state beyond keeping order.  At best it is a Leviathan, at worst it is simply an uncommonly large protection racket.  Citizens have little reason to comply with the state so long as they are reasonably sure their possessions are safe from their neighbors.  Without some kind of ideological glue, the governing body of the state must rely increasingly upon coercion to exist for another day.

As traditional ideas of national identity fall to pieces, family and clan are also decaying in the prosperous nations that set trends and define aspirations for the rest of the world.  When children are no longer profitable and the pursuit of status becomes an end to itself, the establishment of family and blood bonds become secondary priorities.  For the first time in human history, there are millions of human beings who lack any deep sense of group identity.  Human beings are social creatures who crave connection.  Thus, millions of people are already searching for the next great source of purpose and belonging.  Purpose and belonging that the state, the community, and the family have ceased to provide.  These people are tinder lying about waiting to catch fire.

What provides the spark?  I would suppose that the answer lies in the internet and mass communication.  Let us look back on the first assumption of what comprises a state: It encloses a piece of land.  Yet barring the interference of governments, we can now communicate and send information in total disregard of political borders.  For the first time in history, millions of human beings have the ability to communicate with any person capable of mutually intelligible exchange.  As innocuous as most communication may seem, the greatest power of a state is drastically reduced.  The simple yet all important ability to keep people closed within a piece of land has been severely compromised.  Before mass communication, only people of the same region and social class in the same nation could easily meet and form social bonds.  From the image of one’s highly localized social relationships arose the abstraction of a united state.  Now, someone could form many of those once local bonds with people thousands of miles away in other nations, or in the most distant provinces of their own nation.  If one’s social relationships are no longer defined only by geographical and economic constraints, does the concept of a state necessarily remain tied to a piece of land?

The subset of people that can be encountered face to face by one person in one place in one lifetime is quite limited.  The odds of these people being the best possible people to bond with is also quite low.  The advent of mass communication enables each person to search for the best possible persons to associate with.  Over time, one would predict that pairs of ‘best possible persons’ would increase in number and eventually coalesce into tribes.  Being founded on the most earnest of premises and deepest of commonalities, these groups would enjoy greater loyalty than was ever inspired by a state.

Next, there is the family to consider.  Even in the absence of a concrete political boundary, families have long tied people to one place and provided a basic sense of belonging.  The sharing of genetic material itself makes it highly likely that there will be deep commonalities between closely related family members.  Yet that is not how things have worked.  In a modern society where children are a drain on resources, offspring must be forced to leave the family and fend for themselves.  Fending for oneself demands that one be willing to move wherever the best livelihood is to be found.  This often means living far away from family.  Furthermore, the rapid pace of change in modern societies results in generation gaps.  Entire lifetimes of parents’ experiences are rendered obsolete as children face entirely different challenges.  Respect for age inevitably erodes and transmission of ideas, values, and traditions through the family deteriorates.  The need for each person to fend for the self plus the enormous burden of raising one’s own children results in the reduction of family size and a decrease in the number of families established.  Within a couple of generations you have the present situation.  The family just isn’t as important as it used to be.  Once children no longer live with parents and siblings are scattered across hundreds of miles, family are no longer the purpose of life.  At best, they are like good friends.  At worst, they are casual acquaintances or even non-entities in one’s adult life.  The fading of the family makes it easy to go through life without any real roots or purpose.  There is inevitably an inner void in millions of people as they prove unable to live without some structure that defines them.  Everyone needs community and identity.  At the present time, people are being forced to fulfill these needs by using mass communication.

Given the present trends continue, i.e. no massive collapse of society as we know it, the nature of social relationships inevitably shifts from local acquaintances to ‘best possible persons.’  Loyalty to land-bound nation states is replaced by ‘tribes’ united by kindred spirits and unrestrained by physical location.