Complexity

Like most big ideas, “evolution” was in the air long before Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859.  They used to at least mention Jean-Baptiste Lamarck back in high school biology, for instance, though I doubt they bother now (with biology, I mean, since it’s just a social construction).  An interesting guy, Lamarck – a decorated soldier, a physician, and a talented naturalist, as well as an evolutionary theorist.  There were giants in the earth in those days…

If they remember him at all, most folks vaguely recall that Lamarck said something about giraffes.  As Lamarck postulated the heritability of acquired characteristics, that was the stock example of “Lamarckian evolution” — Mama giraffe stretches her neck to reach leaves on a high branch, so Baby giraffe is born with a slightly longer neck.  Lamarck was wrong about the physical aspects of that, but he must’ve been on the right track when it comes to behavior.  After all, one of the standard objections against Darwin (back when we acknowledged that there are some, I mean, and why do you Jesus freaks hate science?) is that lots of very basic animal behavior simply can’t have “evolved” via natural selection.

Sparrows, for instance, “instinctively” build nests, but unless sparrows were simply designed to build nests — heh heh, of course not, silly Bible-thumpers — then at some point in the evolutionary chain an individual proto-sparrow must’ve figured it out.  And it’s a complicated behavior, too, so it’s no good postulating that some proto-sparrow with OCD just happened to pile sticks up, and luckily that made a “nest,” and the “nest” helped the OCD sparrow survive a die-off, and so now all sparrows build nests.  I don’t know how much “consciousness” (as we humans understand it) we can attribute to sparrows, but while the imperative to build a nest must be instinctive, the actual nest-building process is surely a conscious act…

But hey, whatever, behavior’s heritable, score one for Lamarck.  Ol’ Jean-Baptiste had another idea that’s worth revisiting.  He observed that Nature — capital-N, we’re in the 18th century here — tends hard towards increasing complexity.  Which seems obvious, right?  Even the simplest organic life we know — plankton, stuff like that — is just one small piece of a vast, complicated system.  And when you look at the evolutionary history of any given organism, increasing complexity is the rule.  I’m not gonna say it’s universal — I barely squeaked by high school biology, and that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away — but I certainly can’t think of any examples of decreasing complexity off the top of my head.  I can think of a million examples of increasing complexity, though, both physically and behaviorally.

Lamarck, then, postulated a Force — capital-F; again, 18th century — which he called “the Complexifying Force,” that drives this trend in organic life.  As much as I naturally recoil at this “Force” stuff — both the Georg Hegel and George Lucas versions — it sure seems right, so I’m going to go with it.  And since the point of studying History is to apply stuff to other stuff, I wonder what the Social Darwinists would make of all this?

I suggest that human organizations, too, are effectively organisms, obeying the same basic organic laws.  That’s either hippie bullshit or blindingly obvious, depending on your perspective — it sure as hell isn’t an original thought — but again, as always, folks don’t seem to follow it up.  Organizations display learned behavior.  More importantly for our purposes, organizations are subject to Lamarck’s Complexifying Force.  Any organization of sufficient size instinctively starts going outside its core competency.  We like to joke about “get woke, go broke,” but it doesn’t have to be strictly political.  Take any business you’re familiar with.  I guarantee you, once it got past a certain size, its managers started droning on about “corporate responsibility” and whatnot.  I’m not saying that’s bad — it was great back when George’s Local Plumbing used to sponsor your Little League team, America would be a lot better off if we got back to that — I’m just saying it’s true.  It’s as predictable as sunrise.

As business, so government.  Small towns are actually a better illustration of the principle than big cities, because they’re small enough to easily study.  Small town governments, without exception, do a whole bunch of shit nobody ever asked them to do, and don’t do a whole bunch of things community members actually need.  It’s not ideological, since tiny burgs in Flyover Country that are redder than red are just as goofy and inefficient as college towns on the coasts.  This is the Complexifying Force in action, since governments, too, are organisms…

Indeed, if you really want to Lamarck that shit, you could postulate that the more sclerotic the bureaucracy, the more characteristically “organic” it becomes.  Stripped-down organizations that consciously try to stay in their lanes — e.g. startup businesses — are nearly machine-like in their focus.  Since government doesn’t really have a lane — even the best government is essentially reactive — they start at a disadvantage, and as they grow (as they always do), their “organic” tendencies grow more and more pronounced.  It isn’t long before you end up with the EU, writing strict regulations on the curvature of bananas and commissioning big expensive studies to find out if you can officially call feet-reeking cheese produced outside the the actual city of Limburg “limburger.”

For the record, all of this is just some meandering thoughts on an interesting episode in intellectual history.  It has no application to dissident politics whatsoever.  I’d never suggest, for example, extrapolating that, since our pozzed organizations are all thoroughly organic, they might react like organisms do to viruses, or cancer.  The “viruses” not being secret shitlords in their cubicles, of course, because c’mon, that’s really stretching a metaphor.  And “be the cancer” is a seriously crappy rallying cry anyway.  All of this is baloney, and I think Lamarck would agree.

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2 thoughts on “Complexity

  1. TBoone

    Interesting. Which pronouns doth Lamark claim?

    How shall I evaluate the merits of Lamark’s posits whither I can use appropriate Woke language syntax to communicate my deep thoughts on said manner?

    Oh bother, it’s almost as if our very common language has been contaminated. Perverted even. Impacting our ability to share ideas, ideals and buttress common morals. Whence one allows innumerable self identification pronouns, in a binary world, shall not chaos and stupidity reign? Well, Evil, anyway.

    If ever Gears of Conformity called out for a thorough Sanding…. If grainy be my meaning… I will Sand by my folly…

    1. Martinian

      Heh, Orwell’s “Crimestop” to a tee. He has Emmanuel Goldstein write:

      “Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.”

      Hence we have students trained for laser-like focus on an author’s skin color or nationality or pronoun usage, to wit, any factor that is completely irrelevant to the content of the text.

      But that phrase “protective stupidity” is a true gem. I’ve been in the Ed Biz with adolescents for about a decade now, and for all I could flippantly complain about the idiocy I see daily, I don’t really blame them all that much. Instead, I think that the real problem is that we allow, and thereby incentivize/encourage, so much underperformance. Someone smart said, “Decline is a choice.” Well, instructors (i.e., quality-control guardians) choose to let substandard work pass rather than fail; parents (i.e., also quality-control guardians) choose coddle rather than discipline; governments (i.e., also quality-control guardians…don’t laugh!) choose to subsidize rather than not. Pretty much in all cases some degree of pleading ignorance is a sure strategy — or at least it’s a no-risk card to play on the off chance you might get lucky. Are we surprised that society itself becomes dumb when the consistent choice consistently rewards so many?

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