Social Power, Entropy & Indolence

Scott Holmes (sholmes@PACIFICNET.NET)
Sat, 16 Mar 1996 15:25:56 -0800

common fate of entropy (if I may further a faulty analogy). I was
heartened to see reference to Gregory Bateson, however, before it
collapsed. Bateson's views on "power" apply to much of social science
in general. We seek analogies in the physical world to explain what
we see in the social world. These analogies don't fit very well but the
nomenclature does become attached.

Many years ago, I did a seminar paper on Social Darwinism. I didn't
realize it at the time but Spencer's attempts to apply a biological model
to social phenomena demonstrate just how dangerous such attempts are.
I recall some discussion of Mackinder's notion of Liebenschraum as well.
As Bateson pointed out, borrowing from the physical sciences is just as
hazardous. Power is well understood (read defined) in physics. In the
social sciences we see events that appear to be explainable through
cause and effect mechanisms but we are unable to pin down the causes
nor can we duplicate the effects. We do sense, however, that there is
something akin to power acting. At a macro scale probability and various
mathematical models seem to do quite well but then loose their effectiveness
as we move from the general to the specific.

Not only is there a problem with borrowing terms from the physical and
biological sciences, there is a problem with the fluidity of nomenclature
within the social sciences. This is very well demonstrated with the
rather fruitless arguments over the term "patriarchal". The humpty dumpty
reference was well placed. The conditions or "social dynamics" (again
furthering a faulty analogy) do indeed exist. What hasn't been touched on
is why they persist.

I suggest that we should perhaps turn this inside out. Rather than
look for instances of power we should look at instances of indolence.
Perhaps much of what we see as power is actually the result of a general
indolence. Those people with just a bit more ambition, a bit more
initiative move in to fill a vacuum. The brief discussion of the
management of this list illustrates this. Owners and managers of lists
are there because they want to be. (I really haven't seen anything like
the exercise of power on the part of this list's managers, however).

My personal view on governments and political structures is that anarchy
is the ideal condition. Anarchy, however, is doomed to failure because of
the general indolence of people. Very few people, it seems, are willing to
take responsibility for their own actions let alone the welfare of those
around them. Because of this indolence, people with ambition (good or bad)
move in and start to run things. Soon they become entrenched, traditions
develop and the structure imposed becomes the norm.

This is where Machiavelli steps in. Just as Eskimos have a large selection
of terms for snow, he provides a nomenclature that allows for further
analysis of this phenomena of social power. But here we are again, still
trying to figure out what it is we are trying to figure out.

I'll go back to writing software for the legal profession now; another
wonderful group trying to hammer square pegs into round holes.

Scott H.