From one society to another: the laws of change for major phase transitions

David Ronfeldt’s TIMN theory, which distinguishes a historical sequence of societies based on Tribes, Institutions (hierarchy), Markets, and Networks, and therefore has a kinship with peer to peer theory, recently outlined some of the principles that would characterize the change form a market based society to a network based society.

David Ronfeldt (excerpts):

“During the rise of a new form, subversion precedes addition: When a new form arises, it has subversive effects on the old order that weaken the old forms, before it has additive effects that serve to consolidate a new order. This happens not only because of contradictions between the forms, but also because “bad guys” — e.g., warlords, smugglers, pirates, terrorists — may learn to adopt and exploit a new form quicker than the “good guys.”

Addition brings the creation and consolidation of a new realm: In the TIMN progression, each form, because of its unique strengths, operates to create and prevail in a particular realm of society. The new form and its realm take over functions and activities for which they are best suited, and which the older form(s) and realm(s) had been performing with increasing faults and inefficiencies as societal complexity grew.

Combination restructures and strengthens the overall system: As a form gains sway, combinatorial dynamics take hold vis à vis the established forms and their realms. The new form’s realm begins to separate from the older realms. The new realm cuts into parts of the older, takes some actors and activities away from them, and narrows and places new limits on their scope. The new form and its realm also have feedback effects that modify the design of the older forms/realms; they go through generational changes, which include taking on some attributes of the new form and its realm, perhaps partly to adapt to its growing strength. Yet, if all goes well, the addition of a new form and its realm ultimately strengthens the older ones; they emerge stronger — their capabilities grow within their scope of activity, even though that scope is newly circumscribed. Thus each new combination proves stronger than the old — e.g., a T+I+M society is generally stronger and more versatile than a T+I society.

Combination alters the nature of causation: Causation becomes more intricate as the TIMN progression develops. Whatever the causes that bring a new form into play, once it comes into play, it affects everything around it, altering the nature of adaptation and causation that had existed previously. The rise of the new form generates feedback effects that not only help to strengthen and spread the new form, but also to modify the prior forms and activities so that they better support (and resist?) the new form’s growth.

Successful combination depends on the development of regulatory interfaces: As societies progress in TIMN terms, the forms and their realms increasingly intersect and interact, such that a society’s functioning depends not only on which forms are present, but also on the nature of the interfaces between the realms. Regulatory mechanisms (laws, policies, agencies, etc.) enable realms — e.g., the state, the market — to function well together. Regulatory interfaces also help keep those realms separated and in balance, preventing one from overwhelming another. They provide a needed kind of connective tissue.

Balanced combination is imperative: In the TIMN progression, the rise of each new form depends on the successes and failures of the earlier forms. Each form (and its realm) builds on its predecessor(s); the development of each, in turn, may be crucial for the next to arise and take root. For a society to progress optimally through the addition of new forms, no single form should be allowed to dominate; and none should be suppressed or eliminated — some kind of balance and equilibrium should be sought. A society’s potential to function well at a given level, and to evolve to a higher level of complexity, depends on its ability to integrate these inherently contradictory forms into a well-functioning whole. Balanced combination is best for long-term evolution. Indeed, balance may be the key watchword of the entire TIMN framework. Otherwise, enormous structural and ideological distortions may occur; for imbalance — too much of this form or that — may bring out the worst aspects of a form.

Imperfect adaptation to a form may be optimal for continued evolution: The task of getting a form “right” does not mean that exact adaptation (or adaptedness) to its environment is best for a society’s potential for further evolution. Incomplete adaptation may provide for flexibility. Each form may well have an ideal type in theory and philosophy; yet, in practice, none operates fully according to its ideal — nor should it. One reason may be the presence of other forms, and the importance of having to function in relation to them. Another reason may be that imperfect adaptation may allow for opportune, innovative responses to environmental changes.

Complexity increases with TIMN progress, but so does simplicity: TIMN treats the evolution of “complexity” as a cumulative, combinatorial process, in which a social system develops sub-systems that operate according to different forms of organization. Thus TIMN, like most theories about social evolution, emphasizes differentiation and specialization — but with a twist. In classical theory, evolution amounts to a movement from simplicity to complexity — with that complexity becoming evermore complex. But in TIMN, the successful addition of a new form spells a reconfiguration that amounts to a kind of simplification — a resolution of excessive complexity (or complicatedness) from trying to do too many new things with old forms. Thus a triform T+I+M society is more complex than a biform T+I society; but a T+I+M society is also more streamlined and efficient — in key ways, simpler, less complicated — than a T+I society that is trying to conduct and control complex economic affairs without adopting the +M form. The drive for differentiation cannot be unceasing; resynthesis eventually requires a simplifying kind of de-differentiation as well.

To advance through the TIMN progression, control must give way to decontrol: The evolution of complex societies is often said to involve increases in control (and coordination), partly so that all the differentiated parts work together. But social evolution does not revolve solely around ever-increasing capacities for control. Each transformational step in the TIMN progression requires some kind of decontrol — realizing that a new form and realm are taking hold, letting go of its activities, and allowing self-organization to develop around that form’s own rules. This is essential for the re-simplification and resynthesis process noted above. Over the long run, harmonious decontrol becomes as important as control; in advanced societies, power extends as much from decontrol as control. Thus, to refer back to the preceding proposition, the evolution of social complexity leads to increases in differentiation and control, but it also eventually requires some systemic de-differentiation and decontrol. Societies whose leaders exalt the tribal and hierarchical forms may have the hardest times with this.

The more entrenched an older form, the more difficult it will be for a newer form to emerge on its own merits: This mostly occurs where tribal or hierarchical actors rule in rigid, grasping, domineering ways; but it may also apply where pro-market ideologues hold sway. Much of getting a form right or wrong depends not only on applying that form’s distinctive principles, but also on balancing and relating it properly to the other forms, while protecting it from infestation by them. The more a form is infested by another form’s actors, the more it may be distorted, and the more likely may be “monstrous moral hybrids” (Jacobs, 1992) that disdain the separation and balancing of forms and their realms. Examples may include governments rife with a clannish tribalism, militaries wallowing in lucrative business enterprises, and ostensibly capitalist market systems fraught with collusive, protectionist cronyism. The stronger are tribal/clan tendencies in a society, the more likely are corrupt hybrid designs. A society of myriad monstrous hybrids is likely to be a distorted society, even a mean-spirited one. (This does not contradict the proposition, presented in an earlier post, that functional hybrids appear during transitional phases in the TIMN progression from monoform to quadriform societies.)”

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.