A popular topic on this side of the great divide is how much of what we see from the ruling class is directed and how much is emergent. Put another way, how much of it is the result of conscious coordination from some central source and how much is just the mentality of the swarm. Those who like conspiracy theories and simple answers prefer the coordination model, while those with experience in complex human systems prefer the emergent behavior approach.
Of course, both can be true. Elites in the anglosphere have been enamored by what is called nudge theory for a while now. the 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness was a big hit with the managerial class, as it suggested a feminine way to compel social behavior. Instead of ordering people around, elites would use their power over the institutions to “nudge” people in the preferred direction with positive incentives, rather than force.
As is so often the case, Nudge Theory is really an old idea tarted up with managerial class jargon that comes from the graduate schools. The tax code in America has been used this way long before the nudge idea. The mortgage interest deduction is a nudge toward home ownership, rather than renting. Business gets tax breaks for capital purchases when the economy is flagging. The government food pyramid is a way to nudge people toward one form of consumption over another.
The food pyramid is a good example of how conspiracy and emergent behavior work together in a mass society. The people behind the food pyramid are the giant agricultural concerns that control the food supply. A high carbohydrate diet is more profitable than a healthy diet, so they bribe government officials and academic researchers to promote the high carb diet. At the same time, people actually believe in the “low fat” diets now so no nudging is required.
We are seeing this with the Covid drama. The inner party has finally realized they have a serious problem on their hands with Covid theater. People have figured out that they can get two weeks out of work by claiming to have Covid, so the great winter sick-out is starting to harm the economy. Of course, the contradictions and lies about Covid are undermining their ability to tell future lies. Biden’s last speech on Covid came with a message to the media to cool it on Covid.
The White House is pushing a message to the media, which they expect the media to blast through their megaphones. You are starting to see planted stories about how Omicron is harmless and a good sign. On the other hand, the hive mind of the media has been tuned to spread fear about Covid. The front page of party organs like the New York Times are organized around Covid theater. The result is a weird whipsaw effect where the message swings wildly back and forth.
Covid theater is useful in exploring the hive mind aspects of this age. All of a sudden, tens of millions of normal people are made aware of the fact that many of their associates are not just liberal, but possibly insane. The people wearing ceremonial face gear are exempting themselves from the normal tribe and declaring their allegiance to the crazy tribe. One sort of emergent behavior, triggered by the Covid conspirators, is causing new emergent behavior among the healthy.
Those big tanker trucks you see on the road are a good model to think about when considering this stuff. Inside those tanks is either compartments or what would look like a baffles if you peeled back the skin. The point of the internal structures is to give the tank rigidity but also prevent the fluid inside from sloshing around. A ton of water sloshing forward when braking would create a tremendous amount of force. The tankers are designed to keep the contents stable in transport.
That is a good way to think of society. The hive mind, the emergent behavior is like the fluid inside one of those tankers. When the ruling class jams on the brakes or takes a sudden turn, general opinion can swing wildling in one direction. The initial Covid panic is a good example. The baffling is supposed to be local institutions, community and the traditions of society. They are supposed to put a brake on the wild swings of opinion caused by the sudden lurching of the ruling class.
This is the proper image for modern America. It is a tanker truck racing down the road half full of fluid. During the Trump years it swung from one side of the road to the other, in part due to the driver and due to the sloshing about inside the tank. The Biden turn at the wheel was supposed to stabilize things, but every reaction on their part to stabilize things has caused a new action inside the tank. Trump enjoyed the ride, while Biden is hanging on like prisoner to the machine he is driving.
The point is, much of what looks like conspiracy is just wild reactions to events that the elites set off by a legitimate effort to nudge society in a preferred direction. Just as war plans do not survive contact with the enemy, elite conspiracies do not hold up very long after contact with mass society. Covid is revealing just how little control our ruling elites have over their creations. They unleashed a panic that has become a bizarre subculture they no longer can control.
This does not settle the question at the start, but it does suggest the question is not all that important. Unless you are inclined to believe that the people “really in charge” are super-geniuses able to play four-dimensional chess, yet not realize you are onto them, it is hard to see the hand of design in the current madness. On the other hand, emergent behavior does not explain the players who are fortuitously positioned to profit from the madness unleashed by our rulers.
Perhaps the way to think about is as a process that evolves and two of the forces driving the evolution are conspiracy and emergent behavior. The former is locked in on short term gain without considering the long term consequences. The later forces are just the normal social forces weaponized by the collapse of that internal baffling that comes from strong local community and traditions. The empire is a runaway train and all of us, the engineers included, are just along for the ride.
The crackdown by the oligarchs on dissidents has had the happy result of a proliferation of new ways to support your favorite creator. If you like my work and wish to kick in a few bucks, you can buy me a beer. You can sign up for a SubscribeStar subscription and get some extra content. You can donate via PayPal. My crypto addresses are here for those who prefer that option. You can send gold bars to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. Thank you for your support!
Promotions: We have a new addition to the list. Havamal Soap Works is the maker of natural, handmade soap and bath products. If you are looking to reduce the volume of man-made chemicals in your life, all-natural personal products are a good start. If you use this link you get 15% off of your purchase.
The good folks at Alaska Chaga are offering a ten percent discount to readers of this site. You just click on the this link and they take care of the rest. About a year ago they sent me some of their stuff. Up until that point, I had never heard of chaga, but I gave a try and it is very good. It is a tea, but it has a mild flavor. It’s autumn here in Lagos, so it is my daily beverage now.
Minter & Richter Designs makes high-quality, hand-made by one guy in Boston, titanium wedding rings for men and women and they are now offering readers a fifteen percent discount on purchases if you use this link. If you are headed to Boston, they are also offering my readers 20% off their 5-star rated Airbnb. Just email them directly to book at email@example.com.