RM: I saw this article this morning in the LA Times:
RM: I think it demonstrates some interesting things about how cooperative control works in human groups.
RM: Cooperative control occurs when control of some variable, such as the spread of COVID-19 through a population, depends on coordinated action by members of the population. Cooperative control is necessary in this case because no one person can control the spread of COVID-19. In order to control the spread of COVID-19 everyone (or nearly everyone) in the population has to behave in certain ways: staying home as much as possible (self-quarantine), when out of the home, maintain distance from other people, no touching, wear a facemask,submit to testing, quarantine if test is positive or there was contact with a person known to have tested positive, etc.
RM: These kinds of behaviors don’t just happen simultaneously in a population by accident. In order to get everyone to follow these practices there has to be 1) competent and trusted leadership and 2) a population that is willing to give up, for the greater good, some individual control by adopting practices that are likely to conflict with other things they would like to control. The LA Times article shows how effective cooperative control can be for a population that has both of these characteristics (S. Korea) and how ineffective it can be in a population that has neither (USA).
RM: Competent leadership is needed because such a leader will to know when there is a variable that needs to be controlled cooperatively and what to do to control it; trusted leadership is needed because the leadership is the source of information about the status of the cooperatively controlled variable and they must be trusted to be telling the truth about it.
RM: A population willing to give up some individual control is needed because only such a population will heed the requests of leadership. But following such requests can create real conflict for the individual. For example, following the request to self quarantine creates a conflict with the individual’s desire to get out, be with people and make a living. But the competent leadership in S. Korea knew that such conflicts would arise and, as the article notes “…the government makes it easy to stay in by providing a “care package” that includes beautiful fresh produce, Spam (a treat in Korea), masks, hand sanitizer, instructions on how to dispose of garbage, a pep talk — and toilet paper, again regardless of citizenship status. A caseworker checks in twice a day”. Since the incompetent leadership in the US provided very little of this to those asked to self quarantine the result was a rather massive drive to end self-quarantine and get back to normal.
RM: So far, the cooperative control in the US and S. Korea has gone exactly as a PCT analysis of the situation would have predicted. In S. Korea, there is competent and trusted leadership of a population largely willing to behave as requested by their leaders because cooperation was made relatively comfortable. The result is that the spread of COVID-19 is largely under control. In the US, there is incompetent and untrusted leadership of a population willing to behave as requested by their leaders; but a large segment of that population is having trouble doing that because cooperation is very difficult for them, and not made any easier by the leadership. The result is that the spread of COVID-19 is just barely under control and is likely to spin out of control thanks to the lack of cooperation of a large segment of the population.
RM: Sometime ago I heard that S. Korea was interested in publishing Tim Carey’s and my book “Controlling People” in Korean. I don’t think this every happened but I do know that someone in S. Korea read the book and I can dream that, perhaps, it was a person with access to leadership who learned from it and that’s why their response to COVID-19 has gone so well.