Beware the Swarm

Column by tzo.

Exclusive to STR

It has been said that government is merely an intangible set of ideas that influence how people interact with one another. It has also been called a belief system analogous to a religion in that it generally has its own creation mythos, a pantheon of idealized superheroes, and a set of superstitions grounded in faith instead of logic.

While I don’t disagree with these assessments, I am going to consider here that these characterizations alone may lead to an underestimation of the actual government entity. Is it possible that the set of ideas that comprises “government” is so complex and pervasively interwoven into the fabric of human thought and perception that it has become an independent, intelligent entity that—like all other intelligent entities—is interested in preserving itself and continuously bettering its own condition?

Now before you think I’ve gone completely off the rails here, allow me to throw two words at you: Compass termites. I trust that clears things up, but just in case it doesn’t . . . .

[Compass termites] build tall wedge-shaped mounds with the long axis oriented approximately north–south . . . . This orientation has been experimentally shown to assist thermoregulation. The thin end of the nest faces towards the sun at its peak intensity hence taking up the least possible heat, this allows these termites to stay above ground where other species are forced to move into deeper below ground areas. This allows the compass termites to live in poorly drained areas where other species would be caught between a choice of baking or drowning. The column of hot air rising in the aboveground mounds helps drive air circulation currents inside the subterranean network. The structure of these mounds can be quite complex. The temperature control is essential for those species that cultivate fungal gardens and even for those that don't, much effort and energy is spent maintaining the brood within a narrow temperature range, often only plus or minus 1 degree Celsius over a day. ~ from Wikipedia

What I get out of this information is that termite colonies (the abstraction, not the collection of tangible components) are quite intelligent. They can engineer housing that takes advantage of the sun's movement and utilizes air movements due to temperature gradients to hold internal mound temperatures steady over the entire day. If a human engineer were to be presented with this problem to solve, I would think that he would have to break some serious intellectual sweat in order to come up with such an elegant solution.

And yet the termites themselves are as dumb as, well, termites. There is no engineering caste that pores over sets of blueprints and directs the activity. Each termite is an independent and relatively "dumb" (not to be taken as a pejorative adjective here) agent with a limited set of abilities and behaviors. Each does its own thing, but when enough of them network together, another level of intelligence arises.

Each termite is alive and is a tangible entity and all these tangible, living entities combine to create an intangible entity that possesses a level of intelligence significantly higher than any of its individual “dumb” agents. The colony is an intelligent, unseen entity that is interested in preserving itself and bettering its condition. Even though it is invisible, it exists. It receives feedback through its agents and adjusts its behavior. It reacts. It learns. It survives. It . . . lives?

Well, dear reader, you are also an intangible, intelligent entity comprised of a network of tangible “dumb” agent brain cells enclosed within an organic life-support system. Are you alive? Or are merely the organic parts of your body alive? Your body may reproduce reasonable facsimilies of itself, but you will not. Do you actually . . . live?

Interesting to ponder, but whether alive or not, let's refer to termite colonies (not the insect parts) and human beings (not the meat-machine parts) as intelligent entities. Both begin with large collections of relatively “dumb” agents that have combined into a “swarm” from which an intangible entity with a higher level of intelligence emerges.

[Swarm intelligence] systems are typically made up of a population of simple agents or boids interacting locally with one another and with their environment. The inspiration often comes from nature, especially biological systems. The agents follow very simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local, and to a certain degree random, interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of "intelligent" global behavior, unknown to the individual agents. Natural examples of SI include ant colonies, bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth, and fish schooling. ~ from Wikipedia

And so I am proposing here that the government entity may also be an example of emergent intelligence that is the result of a swarm, but in this case the swarm is not made up of tangible entities, but rather is comprised of intangible “memes.”

At some point, the government memes infiltrated human thought enough so that the government entity emerged. At this point, a particular optimization problem became the priority on which its natural ability became focused: How to best make government coercion and confiscation invisible or acceptable so that the coerced still believe they are free and produce at a high level.

The solution seems to include inserting the government memes into all things so that freedom is associated with government and not with the individual, or anything else. The parasitical entity must convince the host that its presence is necessary for the host’s freedom and survival.

And the malevolent intelligence continues to optimize the solution, continuously monitoring feedback and implementing new strategies that tend to either render itself invisible or, when seen by the masses through their government meme-colored glasses, to be seen as invaluable. It relentlessly grinds away towards the optimal solution wherein everyone is happily producing as much as possible while at the same time happily surrendering as much as possible.

Government is the assumption that certain human beings possess external authority and have more rights—thus more power—than other human beings, and that this is a good and necessary thing. This system has been in place for quite a long time, and the memes have become multi-layered and complex and have subtly infused themselves into how human beings perceive every single facet of civilized human existence.

The structural advantage of such a network is that it generally does not have a single point of failure, but if enough meme nodes do go out, rerouting can eventually become impossible and the entire network will fail. Then the termites just wander off in random directions and the colony vanishes.

But bringing down the servers is not the solution, as the network merely reconfigures existing nodes to replace any servers that go down. But by becoming a dark node and not allowing the government meme traffic to flow through you, the flow is disrupted just a tiny bit. And by infecting as many other nodes as you can—persuading them to join you offline—the freedom virus can begin to significantly weaken the government meme network. Eventually the servers will become obsolete when they can no longer connect across the broken network. Even the nodes that wish to remain online will come to realize that the paradigm has shifted and that the network is permanently down.

And if the holdouts can come to see that the replacement freedom memes lead to a better existence for everyone, then a new network can be built and a new intelligent entity can emerge—one that is dedicated to helping humanity shed its ancient shackles and finally live free.

Your rating: None Average: 8.5 (4 votes)
tzo's picture
Columnist tzo
Columns on STR: 64

tzo now lives in your head.


Jim Davies's picture

Very tempting, Tzo, to liken government people to a bunch of termites.
For now though I'm not sure I'll go along with your very ingenious idea. Coupla reasons:
1. The attribution of intelligence to a swarm seems to me very similar to theorizing that because living things such as humans and gazelles are wonderful and beautiful and elegantly functional, they must have been designed intelliently, by some superior being. The existence of a watch, it's said, requires the presumption of a watchmaker.
That theory was fully exploded by Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker. Living things are the way we are because aeons of evolution selected mutants well suited to their environment.
2. The swarm can have attributes greater than individual termites only if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; and that's a very dodgy proposition. Try it for example on the theory of democratic rule: no one person can govern, but "together" a government elected by those without such power can, it's said, legitimately do so. Nonsense.
I've no idea how the termite swarm is shaped the way it is, but would suppose that over a few billion years the little critters experimented with various shapes and this one worked so well that its members survived while those in other shapes did not.

Mark Davis's picture

“I've no idea how the termite swarm is shaped the way it is, but would suppose that over a few billion years the little critters experimented with various shapes and this one worked so well that its members survived while those in other shapes did not.”
A great example of how those promoting the evolutionary paradigm will seek to resolve internal conflicts by appealing to long, long, long time periods as some kind of magical fix-all.  The suggestion that termites experimented (I assume you mean randomly) until they stumbled upon a desirable (ideal?) shape and structure seems to assume some sort of method of passing on this information.  Are you suggesting that termites somehow educate subsequent generations or that the resulting knowledge from this experimentation somehow implanted itself into their genetic code?  Either way, we may wish to consider that perhaps insects are more intelligent than we give them credit for.

GeoffreyTransom's picture

As to how the 'blueprints' for termite mounds are passed intergenerationally: at each point in time there is generational overlap (i.e., new termites are born and mature BEFORE all the currently-mature termites die).

Thus, the "learning through observation" trope is probably more likely explanator than the "It's all hard-wired" trope.

There is no need for a purely-memetic informational transfer - with overlapping generations it is just 'watch Granpa'... just as carpentry, economics and engineering are not 'hard wired' in humans.

Also, we now **know** that our universe requires more than R4 (3D plus time as 4th) to 'work'.

It is my contention that there is 'stuff' going on in dimensions 5 to 11 (or 5 to 33 in some models) that (1) matters; and (2) we cannot observe. This has nothing to do with "new age"-y gibbeish or nonsense of that type.

Just as many migratory species of birds are now known to have specially adapted cells that enable them to 'see' magnetic topology, I have no doubt whatsoever that we will eventually discover that other species can meaningfully perceive dimensions that are closed to us: it doesn't mean that the animals in question are hippies, or 'better' in some sense - it doesn't mean a damn thing, except that when we try to understand our universe we are working with a model that has constraints that have nothing to do with the system being modelled: they're constraint that appear to be binding on the system as a whole but are really just native to **us** as observers.

So we have a constraint on our ability to observe that really does 'bite'.

Here's my favourite example of how inability to understand context can stymie analysis...

------------------- Cavemen and the Internet ---------------------------

Until we invented art and writing, the only way we could communicate was by making the air vibrate, hoping that this caused the ears of our intended audience to react in ways they understood.

After we invented writing, we could scrawl or otherwise deposit some pigment onto a surface, and hope that the resulting images made sense to the intended audience.

Then audio, video, the internet, and so on: now, I bang my fat fingers on some squares of plastic, and hope that what shows up on your screen makes sense to you.

Now imagine a pre-art caveman comes into my room and sees me tapping away on these squares (and periodically looking at a bright rectangle in front of me). If I then told the caveman that I was communicating with a person he could not see who was far far away, he would probably just stab me and search my room for food.

The caveman thinks that the only way to communicate is 'make the air wobble': communication at a distance is so far outside his 'grokked' concepts, that he dismisses it as bullshit.

We are R3 (weakly R4) beasts. We have NO WAY to determine if other entities in R4 can 'see' dimensions 5 to 33. We can determine if they seek to avoid damage to their 'projections' in R3 - on that basis I conjecture that a tree's R3 'treeness' is less important to the tree, than an antelope's R3 'antelopeness' is to the antelope (the test: swing an axe at it... if it moves, it values its projection in R3). I have no idea if I have a projection into dimensions 5 and above, or if changes in those dimensions have effects in R4. (We know that the 4th spatial dimension exists, because we can see the projection in R3 of at least one 4-dimensional object: the **tesseract**; likewise CRESH/CRETH functions in economics which can only be expressed in their first derivatives).

Trying to understand a 33-dimensional universe by reference to a 3-dimensional model of it (with a weak understanding of a 4th dimension - time), is like trying to understand a dog by looking at a photo of one of the cells from its gut lining.

Jim Davies's picture

Damn. Here was I, thinking we had it all pretty nearly buttoned up.
Thirty three dimensions?

Mark Davis's picture

These constraints do "bite" Geoffrey, but perhaps there is hope that we may "evolve" our human abilities to perceive additional dimensions over time compounding intergenerational understanding and knowledge along the way.  "We" have a long way to go, but the trip looks like a blast.  I still think insects are more intelligent than most people give them credit for and humans are not as intelligent as most believe they are relative to other creatures in our four-dimensional universe.  And context is at the heart of the matter.

Jim Davies's picture

I'd call it a puzzle, Mark, not an "internal conflict" but agree that termites would need some kind of way to pass on to progeny what they had discovered about optimal hive shapes. Those who stumbled upon that shape would reproduce more effectively than others, so would dominate after a few generations; I don't know whether the discovery would get hard-wired into genes or whether kiddie termites would simply learn from their parents how to construct the best shape. But an explanation along these lines does fit the facts, and does not require any assumption about mysterious, undefined forms of "group intelligence."
Occam proposed that when two possible explanations exist for a phenomenon, the simplest one is almost always correct. I agree.

Mark Davis's picture

The more I learn about the world the more I realize there is yet to know and how truly ignorant I am, but that just inspires me to keep going for the fun of it.  Life truly is a journey and destinations constantly changing and often illusionary.  I agree that this example of ant engineering appears to likely be learned behavior while recognizing that I don't know.
As an aside, though simplicity can be useful in finding the best way to explain the answer to a problem, it is not in itself a reliable problem solving device.  For example, it is better to explain 5 as 2+3 than, say, 3+3-1.   But for people that don’t understand math, when choosing the correct answer to “what equals 5?” choosing 1+6 instead of 2+7-3-1 just because it is a less complex answer would be wrong.  So I don’t agree that “when two possible explanations exist for a phenomenon, the simplest one is almost always correct.”  it would be better to learn some math than make guesses based on a bias towards simplicity.

Glock27's picture

Instead of getting on the merry-go-round of evolution I believe you came to the point. It became a learned response passed down. Look at the chimpanzee, it still uses a stick to get at termites and hasn't come up with a better solutions. I accept that eovoution plays a role but exactly how or why is outside my realm of experiance.

mjackso6's picture


1). No offense, but I think you're misinterpreting what tzo is saying here. I believe he's refering to memes in the sense of replicating information-based life that evolves in a Darwinian fashion just like organic life ( ). The idea of such "mental parasites" requires no reliance on "magical thinking", and I don't believe that he's trying to say that the "communal intelligence" he's talking about simply sprung up from the aether or at the behest of some supernatural being.

2). "The swarm can have attributes greater than individual termites only if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; and that's a very dodgy proposition."
Again, I think you need to look at this in the proper context. Any type of neural network or complex system most certainly has attributes greater than the sum of it's parts. An individual neuron or microprocessor chip is pretty pitiful on it's own, but when you allow a whole bunch of them to link up, the linkages most used becoming the strongest ones, you end up with the human brain or the Internet.
Even government works like this, albeit in the opposite direction; one lone fool can only do so much harm on his own, but a few thousand of them, all working together, have proven capable of putting the survival of the entire species at risk!
And there are all kinds of examples of massively parallel processing, essentially what tzo's swarm seem to be to me, producing huge results with each of it's individual 'units' only processing one small part of a much larger program.

As you say, the termite swarm has been shaped into it's present form by a few hundred million years of natural selection; it's the same forces that would allow a meme or memetic network to evolve complex behaviors.

Jim Davies's picture

None taken, mjack, and you could be right. Tzo has the happy knack of stretching minds!
On your second point, yes I see that a group can do things one member can not; ten men can push a car out of a ditch when one can't. But that's just multiplying an existing quality or skill, not introducing a wholly new one, right?
It's also true that if you put a set of bright minds together to work on a project, the team may produce a result none of its members would have come up with solo; there is interplay among them, with ideas being stimulated around the room.
But no group or team can do something that requires a characteristic none of the members possess, you'd agree? That's the sense in which I was trying to use the phrase about the whole and the sum of parts. Commission a team of advertising experts to produce a product ad in German, in three hours. None of them speaks German, and no translator is available. Much as they know about designing product ads, they won't do it.

Glock27's picture

I believed that to be an excellent response. However, I took it in a way different context looking at the Connecticut, Newtown incident. The shooter in this case obviously did not have the proper connections so they (president [o]bama and the anti-gun mafia) want to go after all the weapons that can keep us (individually) safe from murderers. These morons want us murdered. bama has 24/7 protection and will have it afterwards, and then there was some nut case who spent time in a psych facility and is elected to office. Scheesh! I guess the nodes are nerding out.

Glock27's picture

I believed that to be an excellent response. However, I took it in a way different context looking at the Connecticut, Newtown incident. The shooter in this case obviously did not have the proper connections so they (president [o]bama and the anti-gun mafia) want to go after all the weapons that can keep us (individually) safe from murderers. These morons want us murdered. bama has 24/7 protection and will have it afterwards, and then there was some nut case who spent time in a psych facility and is elected to office. Scheesh! I guess the nodes are nerding out.

tzo's picture

In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins proposes the idea that genes are the core unit of organic life and all the stuff they surround themselves with (us, for instance) are merely survival strategies. We like to believe we 'have' genes, but perhaps they 'have' us. A similar idea is put forth by Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire, where he wonders if some botanical entities appeal to us in order to improve their chances of survival.
Of course genes and plants don't plan and think in the same manner as do humans, but it seems to me that perhaps intelligence is in the fabric of the universe, and while we have evolutionally developed this resource pretty far in one direction, perhaps we are only tapping into what's there already. We like to think that the universe is mindless and we are the special case, but maybe it's not that clear-cut.
One can just take the emergence back step by step: I exist because of the result of a neural network, which exists due to stars making elements out of hydrogen. Does intelligence only appear at the end, in the human brain, or is it there in the hydrogen atoms, or in quarks? Did we introduce intelligence to the planet or did the planet give it to us?
Finally, Dawkins coined the term 'meme,' and he also fiddled with the idea that memes, like genes, perhaps use their environment (us) to survive and replicate. Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude.

Mark Davis's picture

That's as good of an explanation as I've heard.  We end up with more questions the further we go down that path.  I was a die-hard evolutionist for many years, but the more I learned about it the more I realized that it is also largely "faith-based".  I'm afraid our little human brains will probably never understand such things.  I once knew a guy who said he had taught a dog to play chess (the dog was dead at the time so he couldn't prove it - doh), so perhaps one day we may evolve to be able to...damn, did it again. ;>)

Glock27's picture

Ah-h-h-h! Finally someone with a mind that has the capacity to see outside the box.

Glock27's picture

Can't stand Dawkins. He thinks evolution invented itelf? Read several of his books and he is nutter than a fruit cake.

Jim Davies's picture

You might want to try reading them again, Glock. It may be possible to find in his books a logical flaw (though I have not) but to call him a "nutter" is a serious reflection on the reader, not the writer.
And it's hard to understand what you mean by "He thinks evolution invented itelf?" He's a scientist; he therefore observes, reasons, theorizes, tests, and repeats. He looks at what exists, and tries to explain it. The result is what you can read. The theory of evolution was proposed by Darwin and has been abundantly confirmed and improved ever since, not least by Dawkins. His exquisite account of the monkey typing "Methinks it is like a weasel" for example is a powerful demonstration that, far from needing more time to develop species than has been available since the Earth cooled, there has been ample time for all the rich variety of species we see - and more.
If by chance you meant (by scorning "invented itself") that evolution was designed by a superior being, the onus would be on you to (a) define what that superior being is, and prove that he exists, then (b) if he is alleged to have the qualities of omnipotence and benevolence, explain how he invented a process that is in its essence both random and cruel.

Suverans2's picture

You should know by now, Glock27, that even the slightest, vaguest, shadow of a hint that there might be some kind of intelligence behind creation will evoke a knee-jerk-reaction from the Chief. Shame on you; go to your room!

Glock27's picture

Deleted due to sever grammatical errors!!!LOL

Glock27's picture

Suverans2, as time flys by for humans some things they should probably not be supprised over having seen so much water and trash go under the bridge but humans remain shockable--down the rabbit hole we go ready for a tea party. Read a poll yesterday where lEO's and ex-military were interviewed about confiscating guns from public. Poll was conclusive no LEO would attempt such because they have no training and that is not their purpose plus they don't get paid enough to face off with gun owning home owners. Hope its true for all LEO's. Military said Nope. Nothing in the (Constitution) says they are to go after American citizens. Orders would be disobeyed on the spot. I am waiting to be shocked. LOL

Mark Davis's picture

I love the way you think Tzo.  I've been following a similar path recently considering the SI formulations involving animal herding, fish schooling and bird flocking.  These seemingly spontaneous groupings appear to take on a "higher intelligence" with synchronized movements complete with purposeful direction changes.  The termite mound with its engineering feats takes this line of thought to a whole new level.  Well done!
I did stumble a bit when the relationship turned from symbiotic to parasitic, but in order to relate to a government/state entity I see that you had to go there.  It made me ponder that, perhaps, government is a natural manifestation of human social networking, but then a government evolves into a state when coercion is introduced into the equation.  This turning point occurs when individual humans seek to harness the power generated by the SI for their own purposes turning the creators of this SI entity into a host for their parasitic designs.
You may have also found the missing link between intelligent design and evolution; or even a synthesis.  Again, a very thought provoking piece.

tzo's picture

Are you aware of the Traveling Salesman Problem, Mark? Ants are good at getting fast approximate solutions, even better than computers dedicated to cranking out algorithms.

Mark Davis's picture

I vaguely remember it from my QMB class in college.  I'll have another look at, thanks.

GeoffreyTransom's picture

"The structural advantage of such a network is that it generally does not have a single point of failure, but if enough meme nodes do go out, rerouting can eventually become impossible and the entire network will fail."

One of Julian Assange's contributions to node-disruption analytics is that it's not so much a question of 'enough' nodes that go out: it's more a question (for deliberate disruption) of identifying and disruptin core nodal connections.

In connections that hinge on behavoural feedback ('trust networks' like the State), introducing **uncertainty** can be as destabilising as breaking the node... and by 'upstream/downstream' effects, that uncertainty can spread without further action by the node-disruptor.

In fact, a 'good' (in the Assangean sense) disruption can leave ALL nodes intact, but compromise the trust between nodes to a point where the network collapses. (This doesn't really have a corollary in the physical-network sense though).

As to the broader contention of your piece: it is absolutely true that the State seeks to weave itself into the fabric of society (or more accurately, seeks to create a myth whereby the majority of people **believe** that .gov is an inextricable part of society: the "anarchy==chaos" nonsense).

In this it is no different to the Church hierarchy in the Dark Ages, or any of the other proto-State forms of parasitism: it is a means by which the most sociopathic segments of a society seek to live by the 'political means' ... force and fraud, diverting surplus production to themselves. That's how Djoser got his pyramid, and why Gilgamesh called himself a god (more accurately I think it was his grandson who did that).

It is also no accident that .gov designs itself so that there is no 'point of contact' where the serf can actually meaningfully alter the State's trajectory: the design is deliberate. No serf will ever encounter any State functionary who possesses any actual accountability or 'plenary' capacity (or ability to actually get something changed).

Even folks like me can't get a damn thing done within the system - despite 'gold plated' connections (my sister was a Senior Adviser to our Prime Minister until October this year; one of my best mates from Uni - whose induction into Freemasonry happened at my behest - is Deputy Commissioner of Taxation; my Lovely was a Senior Associate at the country's largest law firm and is now a Barrister... and so on). The only connections I have that are worth spit are entirely-private sector (from a period in the late 80s during my colourful immediate-post-military career)... a few of those guys are now with firms like "Executive Outcomes" - those boys can get stuff done.

Anyhow... basic point is that the 'little guy' has a snowball's chance in hell. It's something that the parasites laugh about at cocktail parties. That's a 'feature' of the system by design, as you're aware.

Glock27's picture

So sadly I have to agree with this, especially the closing. I didn't understand half of what was said at the head "nodes", "loads" "todes", connectors, deflectors, reflectors, ejectors and all. But I have hope. No one will follow my example which is opposite the believes, -isms adn -ologies here, but it is a constant daily assault of the legislators regarding Natural law, natural rights, Spooner, Bastiat. Boetie and etc Many of the are Huh! But mostly it is minions who see this stuff and even getting to a minion may change their mind and quit the senators office etc. They are sources to hammer. When all their minions keep leaving then the beginning of the loss of the war has started. One battle at a time.

Glock27's picture

Para; 1: How accurately true even if it is opinion. What legislator uses logical reasoning in his or her daily work? It has been demonstrated for us that most all the women there don’t use reason at all. But rather superstition. (Pelosey, Feinstine, Boxer.)
Para: 2—another astute observation. Self-preservation. This fits in with all humans, hey preserve the self.
Parag.5—and all this happened by accident. The termite engineering).
Para 7—until a chimp comes along with a stick to start eating up the colony.
Para 8.—I am curious about intelligent. We seem to be, but on so many occasions the human has illustrated some of the stupidest remarks and actions. Emotions and imagination over Logical rational responses are what most of us use in making decisions. I look mostly at the legislators regarding this perspective (intelligence) Connecticut is beginning to demonstrate this properly.
Para 10—It is amazing what Dawkins can imagine but I wager legislators are better at it than he is. Dawkins believes evolution invented itself.
Para 11—you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time. Not sure that works too well. Let’s see how Connecticut plays out and [o]bama’s gun confiscation scheme pans out.
Para 12—I believe this has been accomplished. Too many Americans are too busy to pay attention to politics raising their kids, having affairs, working, watching TV. etc.
Par12—no comment
Para13—Excellent point. They are stupid and so is most of America. But most Americans are not deliberately stupid.
Para14, 15 and 16: Nice theory. Step two is to put together a plan to carry this out.
My question is what is the relevant difference between this one article and all the others before and all those that will come after? One person on this site has proposed a plan to make change. So let me hopefully be a second person. My suggestion is not as dynamic as the first person. Harassing your state representatives and senators as well as your federal legislators can be effective. Many people will refuse to perform this task due to such a bitter taste of having anything to do regarding contact with the current government but I believe that thought harassment some may be reached. I harass my state and federal legislators. The hard part about this is you are talking to a brick wall, but brick walls can be chipped away making them begin to question the way of their operation. Especially if hundreds are challenging their ideology. One or two will not make it

tzo's picture

I think that the trick is just getting people to the point where they see and understand the real problem. After that, for every 1,000 people there will be 1,000 ideas as to how to take action to make change. It's all good. Criticizing anyone for their methods is wasted effort, IMO. There is no 'one way' that will fit everyone, and there doesn't have to be. You chip away your way, and I'll do mine. Whatever helps get people to the 'gee, government isn't the thing they taught me growing up' is the important first step. Get enough people there, and what they actually do after that probably matters little.
Demanding that people do what you think they should do *when there is a threat of violence hanging over them and their actions* isn't, I believe, a very good or nice idea, but that's just me. Demanding 100% adherence to philosophical ideology or bust also isn't realistic. That monster out there can crush you without blinking, and that is a very real consideration for anyone who values their own (and their family's) existence.
Education first, then the action will take care of itself. Action first, without a sufficient core, will be splattered. The history books have plenty of examples.

tzo's picture

Also, Chapter 11 from The Mind's I by Douglas Hofstadter, found here:

contains a conversation that covers this subject pretty well. Do a search to find this part of the text:

TORTOISE: Pardon me, my friends. I am sorry to have interrupted. Dr. Anteater was trying to explain how eating ants is perfectly consistent with being a friend of an ant colony.

ACHILLES: Well, I can vaguely see how it might be possible for a limited and regulated amount of ant consumption to improve the overall health of a colony-but what is far more perplexing is all this talk about having conversations with ant colonies. That's impossible. An ant colony is simply a bunch of individual ants running around at random looking for food and making a nest.

ANTEATER: You could put it that way if you want to insist on seeing the trees but missing the forest, Achilles. In fact, ant colonies, seen as wholes, are quite well-defined units, with their own qualities, at times including the mastery of language.

ACHILLES: I find it hard to imagine myself shouting something out loud in the middle of the forest, and hearing an ant colony answer back.

ANTEATER: Silly fellow! That's not the way it happens. Ant colonies don't converse out loud, but in writing. You know how ants form trails leading them hither and thither?

ACHILLES: Oh, yes-usually straight through the kitchen sink and into my peach jam.

ANTEATER: Actually, some trails contain information in coded form. If you know the system, you can read what they're saying just like a book.

ACHILLES: Remarkable. And can you communicate back to them?

ANTEATER: Without any trouble at all. That's how Aunt Hillary and I have conversations for hours. I take a stick and draw trails in the moist ground, and watch the ants follow my trails. Presently, a new trail starts getting formed somewhere. I greatly enjoy watching trails develop. As they are, forming, I anticipate how they will continue (and more often I am wrong than right). When the trail is -completed, I know what Aunt Hillary is thinking, and I in turn make my reply.

ACHILLES: There must be some amazingly smart ants in that colony, I'll say that.

ANTEATER: I think you are still having some difficulty realizing the difference in levels here. Just as you would never confuse an individual tree with a forest, so here you must not take an ant for the colony. You see, all the ants in Aunt Hillary are as dumb as can be. They couldn't converse to save their little thoraxes!

ACHILLES: Well then, where does the ability to converse come from? It must reside somewhere inside the colony! I don't understand how the ants can all be unintelligent, if Aunt Hillary can entertain you for hours with witty banter.

TORTOISE: It seems to me that the situation is not unlike the composition of a human brain out of neurons. Certainly no one would insist that individual brain cells have to be intelligent beings on their own, in order to explain the fact that a person can have an intelligent conversation.

If you read to the end, including the author's reflections, your mind will be guaranteed to spin.

Paul's picture

Well, to the extent I understand tso's article, I am a bit uncomfortable with it. Calling what termites do "intelligence" skirts too close to collectivist thinking in my opinion. It's too similar to what statists like to say, "The government thinks this or that." Collectives don't think. It's still useful to point out the distinction between what individuals do and what collectives (groups of individuals) do - one thinks, the other does not, one has free will, the other has not - EVEN IF those individuals are at base just a collective of dumb cells or dumb genes.

Of course maybe "free will" (in individuals) is my own religion, something I take on faith. I am aware of Dawkins ideas and find them very convincing, but I still find it useful to act as if free will exists even if it's hard or impossible to prove. It's an approximation of reality that works well enough for me.

I also do find the "meta-meme" (that memes exist) a useful concept - as long as we keep in view what they are at base, an expression of genes.

"Is it possible that the set of ideas that comprises “government” is so complex and pervasively interwoven into the fabric of human thought and perception that it has become an independent, intelligent entity that—like all other intelligent entities—is interested in preserving itself and continuously bettering its own condition?"

No, I think that is going "a bridge too far". It is a collection of memes, held by individuals. It is not a useful description of reality to think of this collection as itself a sort of intelligence, any more than it makes sense to think of what termites do as intelligence. (Bringing up termites seems to disprove your assertion rather than to prove it!)