[From Bill Powers (920622.1600)]
Bruce Nevin (920622.1318) --
I don't know that chimps lack symbolic reasoning, principles, or even
system concepts (or control of perceptions of the kinds we label with
Well, neither do I. It would surprise me, though, to find chimps capable of
the same degree of skill at these levels that are potential in humam
beings, especially considering the limitations on communication of ideas in
a COMPARATIVELY languageless culture.
But if your aim is to drive to Durango you have to first know if you're
starting out from Chicago, or LA, or Boston, or Sydney.
Good point. On the other hand, having decided to go to Durango, I don't
need to do a poll to see if that's where everybody goes. Nor do I need to
devote a lot of time studying the routes to places where I don't want to go
and that I don't recommend to others.
I think it is inappropriate to imagine leaving behind all attributes of
your primate, mammalian, reptilian, and other evolutionary forebears.
It is, I agree, important to understand the means of transportation.
However, I don't believe that we are primates riding on horses riding on
reptiles. All levels of organization have evolved on our way to being
human, not just the highest. As human beings, we are not limited to the
reptile's means of thermoregulation or child care, for example. We are more
skillful at most motor control processes than are horses or even monkeys
and chimpanzees. A man can, eventually, run down a horse.
The horse, for example, optimized for breathing.
Nonsense. A horse is optimized for betting.
So there is a goal of ameliorating our social relations with others, >and
not wanting certain chimp/chump attributes to be there.
Social relationships that are properly understood from the outset don't
need ameliorating. But I agree with your basic thesis here, which is that
we have to understand where here is before we can get to there. And I also
agree that there is value in some aspects of functional organization,
especially when many people are trying to accomplish something complex
The point I was addressing was the confusion of SOCIAL position in an
organization with FUNCTIONAL position. V. was in a position functionally,
hierarchically, superior to that of everyone else in the department. We all
agreed that that function needed to be carried out. For the good of the
paper, which we considered to be our own good (working at a newspaper is
rather neat) we agreed to act, in certain matters, as if V. were a higher-
order control system. If he decided that too free a swapping of vacation
time didn't fit in with the newspaper's general personnel policies, as he
did at one point, we grumbled but conformed, because he had to deal with
other departments and we didn't. In other policy matters we simply said
that we would not work under the proposed policy, and worked out a
compromise. All these relationships were functional and unrelated to social
You accorded him some of the outward signs of status, such as calling >him
"Boss." These signs may have "felt good" to him, and it may even on
occasion have "felt good" for one of you to "make" him "feel good" in
Yes. V. valued such things not because they meant anything inside the
department but because they meant a lot in his dealings with managers
outside the department, where social ordering was pronounced. We picked him
in part because he WAS concerned with social status and smarted under the
burden of being ignorant in a subculture that valued competence. We solved
his problem and ours at the same time, and it turned out to be a rather
elegant solution -- functionally from our point of view, and socially from
But this is simply specialization of function, you might say, according
to skills, training, temperament, and other things that would lead one
(say, in an anarchist society) to prefer helping one's fellows in one >way
rather than in another. There is no hierarchy inherent in it. >Well, no,
but there is. It is a hierarchy that follows from something >like
"chunking" of information. But I agree that there is no dominance >or
coercion, aka "power," inherent in it.
You got it. That's my design for a better social system.
An individual contributing in a hierarchically superordinate position >(in
this "chunking" sense) is able to take unfair advantage of that >position
more effectively than one in a less centralized position, on >which fewer
others are so dependent.
Sure, if the others let it happen. But once people learn the distinction
and come to see the advantages of the functional approach, their resistance
to that kind of disturbance is going to be pretty implacable. The greater
the numbers of people affected, the quicker a little resistance by each one
adds up to a brick wall.
Another dimension not to be overlooked is the hierarchical power >relation
between adults and small children.
Ah, yes. This is why I likened the relationship between leaders and
followers to one between adult and child. This doesn't have to be carried
out as a power relation most of the time -- only when the child persists in
incurring danger for self or others. It is possible to respect the will of
the child and to avoid making an issue of relationships that have value
ONLY in a power structure (like "don't talk back to me").
Also, keeping Eric Berne in mind, there's nothing structurally unsound in
deliberately adopting the role of child, and saying to another, "Tell me
what to do." If I were to try to learn to water-ski, that's about how I'd
have to begin. When I'm discouraged, I want to be comforted. It's the
system concept under which all these detailed actions and relationships
take place that makes all the difference. The kind of childhood one had
makes all the difference in how one takes refuge now and then in the role
John Gabriel (off-net, copy to CSGnet)
I really like your posting. The fifteen happiest years of my lfe were
spent in a research group run very like the newspaper group you >describe.
But perhaps on reflection you might want to change some >terminology or
emphasis. Conflict always arises around new ideas, and >Darwinian selection
whether of ideas or species really is red in tooth >and claw.
The conflict is worst when the people with different ideas are competing
for social position. When being right is confused with being valuable,
differences in theories reflect on one's self-concept. If you know that
you're valued and considered an equal, the flavor of intellectual debate
changes completely. It's only when people use intellectual interactions as
means for gaining control or power over others, when they seize on others'
mistakes as a way of clawing their way past them on the social ladder, that
the nastiness begins and the joy departs.
When social competition is removed, it becomes safe for the author of a
theory to become his/her own most severe critic. Admitting a mistake in
public is then no big deal; it doesn't indicate any unusual dose of
"character." It's just what you do when you make a mistake, if someone else
hasn't found it first. When you don't have to be defensive of your own
ideas, you're the most likely person to see what is wrong with them,
because you've probably thought about them more than other people have and
are the most likely person to catch subtle errors. In the right kind of
atmosphere, you can take a sort of Zen-like attitude toward being right --
it matters, in a way, but it doesn't really MATTER.
It's hard to maintain this attitude, of course, when you're surrounded by
people taking notes, who are just waiting for you to make some silly
mistake so they can jump on you. The only way I know of to avoid such
treatment is first to avoid giving it to others, and second to choose your
friends and associates wisely.
(Dag Forssell (920622-1)--
I'm still a little leery of selling "leadership," not because I object to
your understanding of it but because your understanding may not be the one
at the receiving end of your letters. As Bruce pointed out, and I echoed,
all of us occasionally, and willingly, follow. But that's a temporary
condition, not an essential part of the system concept. Now that the
subject has been mentioned, I can think of many times when one person or
another at the paper, who knew the nature of the problem the best, fell
automatically into the role of leader: "We need another memory board, and
make sure it's been tested. And we'd better get another disk drive ready as
long as the system is down." And everybody else snaps to it. The next time
it will be someone else calling the shots. In fact I can recall times when
too many people pitched in enthusiastically and produced chaos; then
someone would say "Joe, you take over, we're getting in our own way."
Your new letter has places in it that give that leap of the heart that says
there's something real here. I hope some of the recipients get it.
I'd delete adjectives whereever possible: contrary to beliefs in the
advertising industry, saying "a bright new future" is weaker than saying "a
new future." Think of the impression left when you answer the question,
"Is this person able to do this job?" with "Yes, he's really very
competent," as opposed to "Yes. He's competent." Or even just "Yes."
Best to all,