There are features of our society such as the rule of law, freedom and the role of money, and objectives that we share such as safety, participation and opportunity but what do we really mean by these words? Why do we have these conventions and what is their purpose?
Until we have a clearer understanding of these roles and functions, we will find it very difficult to navigate from where we are to a better social construct in balance with our nature and with Nature.
The Social Ape framework breaks down each of those constituent elements into their most basic meanings and show the relationships between them. This allows us to see the bigger picture and to understand ourselves, and our species, in our true context.
Defining the meaning of freedom, participation and opportunity helps us understand why they are considered to be vital conditions in our societies.
Looking at the roles of safety, law, and money helps us to understand how they define and support the purpose of society.
Finally, the Social Ape framework maps the conditions with the qualities, to show how they represent the characteristics of a society. This allows us to see why things work the way they do and what the effects of changing our emphasis on any specific element or quality would be.
The Social Ape framework is founded on a simple precept: that humans are evolved to maximise group decision-taking.
All life requires access to resources from an environment that is constantly changing. Every living thing negotiates its environment to access the resources it needs to sustain itself. The changing environment presents choices to the things living in it. At its most basic: go this way, or that way? The most basic decision systems rely on embedded behaviours in genetic code [DNA]. When the code provides no specific direction, a “random” selection is made. (Not truly random, actually the outcome of the specific arrangement of naturally varying code in the individuals within a species. Species without mechanisms [e.g. sex] to randomly vary their code [e.g. viruses] rely on natural variability of organic chemistry to introduce anomalies.) Successful (surviving) “random” selections survive and become part of the code for future generations. This is simple, instinctive, decision-taking. It requires only very light-weight organic chemistry.
Because simple decision-taking responds to novel situations with “random” choices: the more complex the environmental changes, the lower the probability of successful selection. Basically, if one thing changes there’s a 50% chance of success, but if three things change there is only a 12.5% chance of success. If the environment can be accurately assessed and possible actions calculated for likelihood of success, then the odds of making a successful decision can be higher than using random selection.
Decisions taken based on a useful assessment of the changing conditions becomes more advantageous as the environment becomes more changeable. Moving out of the sea and onto dry land was one such change that required the navigation of a more changeable environment. An ability to calculate, correlate, and prioritise is required to take these kinds of complex decisions, so these lifeforms have nervous systems of sufficient complexity to perform those activities. The success of complex decision-taking correlates with the complexity of the nervous system.
The framework rests on the proposal that there are three critical risks to all complex decision-taking.
- First, a problem must be as accurately perceived as possible. Wrong problem definition is a first order failure.
- Second, appropriate solutions must be developed. A complex problem is very likely to have multiple possible solutions.
- Lastly, the best solutions must be selected for implementation.
These risks are inherent to complex decision-taking. The risks are compulsory, in that they are inherent to the nature of a problem. The risks elevate with novelty. Novelty is certain. Every situation is unique, but the uniqueness of any situation increases the risks because memory (acquired and genetic) can help less. The greatest potential advantage of complex decision-taking is solving novel problems, but that is also when the risks are most elevated.
Complex decision-taking is an evolutionary branch from the simpler, original “decision” mechanism: genetic inheritance through generational survival. But complex decision-taking suffers from an inherent risk of its own: stupefaction. The process of perception, solution, selection, and implementation is subject to breakdown, to a failure to progress through the stages. More complex decision-taking is made possible with massively complex neural systems, which we call brains. All complex decision-taking animals have brains. Brains are organic. Their function is subject to organic variation, and reliant on bio-physically optimal conditions. So complex decision-taking has never displaced its crude, origin cousin: simple, instinctual, impulsive selection. Complex decision-taking sits atop the old decision-taking system, its deployment limited by urgency, and its ability to effect action channelled through pathways gatekept by the legacy, non-complex decision systems.
Complex decision-taking risks do not change if the decision-taker is a solitary individual or a group. But a group has a powerful advantage, if the individuals can communicate with each other. Because variation in genetic code is a foundational advantage, the individuals in any group are different. The combination of the different perceptions of the individuals incorporates their differences and yields a more comprehensive and more complete assessment than any individual can on their own.
Humans have evolved to leverage social groups to minimise the risks and maximise the efficacy of complex decision-taking. The mechanisms described in the framework maximise the ability of the whole society to:
- accurately perceive problems, by combining the different perceptions of the individuals.
- develop appropriate solutions, because different individuals can develop different solutions.
- select the best solutions for implementation, as the combined analysis of usefulness by different individuals yields a more comprehensively assessed selection.
- implement the decisions taken, through greater capability by leveraging different individuals and greater capacity through cooperative action.
Maximising group function
Maximising complex decision-taking as a group is the foundational human evolutionary advantage. Our species selected group orientation millions of years ago, and complex decision-taking millions of years before that.
Rousseau’s “man in a state of nature” is foundational fallacy, because, as far as is relevant to an understanding of humans today, the time when we were individuals in Nature is so distant past that it informs nothing of who we are today. If we want to understand the solitary alternative to our evolutionary choice to live in cooperative groups, we can observe the big cats in the world today — they include complex decision-takers that remain solitary in a state of Nature.
Given that humans are group complex-decision-takers, what can we say about the conditions that enable, and maximise the advantage of, such a configuration? We are born to be social apes, but that is a highly evolved adaptation, dependent on a complex set of conditions that parametrise the possibility of success.
Defining those conditions and understanding the roles, functions, interactions, and pathways that maximise the ancient commitment our ancestors made to be group complex-decision-takers is the purpose of this “Social Ape” text.
And to do that, we tend naturally towards an ideal configuration of three Qualities that create three Realms. The framework proposes that the behaviour of individuals in a group is guided by unconscious drives towards an ideal configuration. So the results of policies can be anticipated by examining how they change the configuration of the framework.
These Elements are the critical outcomes of the framework. To perceive, solve, select, and implement in the face of the risks of misperception, insolution, indecision and incapacity are the ultimate goals of human societies.
The Qualities that the society must conjure and nurture are
- Safety (as negative rights of individuals)
- Rewards (material and social recognitions)
- Law (as positive rights of individuals and the group)
The purpose of asserting these Qualities is to foster spaces, called Realms in the framework, which maximise
The conscious manifestations of these Realms is a society’s intention to create Agencies:
Each Realm has a duality in which it achieves on the one hand the social or group Purpose, and on the other hand the individual experience and Agency necessary to foster the social objective:
When a society successfully creates these Realms by asserting the Qualities then the Elements that improve decision taking arise in the intersections between the Realms, and the central intersection (where all three Realms overlap) represents the social capacity to implement the decisions taken.
Where Freedom and Participation Realms intersect represents the ability of the society to develop accurate perceptions of problems by combining the individual perceptions of a diverse population.
Where the Freedom and Opportunity Realms intersect represents the capacity of the society to develop useful solutions by enabling the specialist abilities of its diverse population.
Where Opportunity and Participation intersect represents the ability of the society to select the most useful solutions for implementation by leveraging the diverse perceptions and distributed impulsivity of its population to select from the diverse outputs of its specialists.
The relative configuration of the Realms describes the functional capacity and capability of the society, as well as the common experience and agency of the individuals in that society.
The framework allows for experimentation with the strength of the Qualities (and by inference the strength or reliability of the Realms) and the relative positioning of the Realms indicating the extent to which the society or the individual has ownership of and is responsible for that Realm. As the boundaries of the Realms change so the Elements change in size and definition which the framework proposes indicates the effect on the society’s ability to take decisions effectively.