Grandmother and Grandson, Hobo Cedar Grove, Idaho
Let’s state a little more succinctly the Principle of Reinforcement. Here goes:
“The Principle of Reinforcement says that between any society and the people that make up that society, there is a fundamental reinforcement of relational structure and level of empathy that occurs between the majority of individuals in that society, and the larger societal organs (such as government) themselves. If the authority of one is removed from the other, then the one whom authority is removed will exhibit emergent behavior inherent in its relational structure and level of empathetic development.”
The short version is that societies and the people that are inside a given society reinforce each other. But if there is a mismatch, things will rise or fall to the level of the remaining party. Authoritarian governments won’t tend to last among people who fundamentally believe that they should be free, and create checks and balances that control authoritarian tendencies in their governments. But the converse is true — something like a legalistic democracy won’t last if people are still organized along tribal lines.
This gives insight for managing social/organizational change, whether at the company level, or for national governments. One of the key insights is, if you want stable transitions, as a general rule, you can only evolve an organization (or a country) one level at a time from its current v-Meme level. The self-similarity property — that says that people and the societies they make up will share the same v-Meme if they are stable, is important here. Too large a difference in the way that either governments or the people they govern process information is an invitation for revolution and crisis.
Let’s start with an example of how social change is NOT supposed to work — or rather, how events evolved exactly as SD and the Principle of Reinforcement would have predicted.
Consider the situation in Iraq. We all now know that invading Iraq was, at least in the short-term, a very bad mistake. Iraq is now in chaos, and ISIS (the Islamic State) now controls a huge swath of the country, with all sorts of psychopathic 7th Century videos of beheadings gracing our 21st Century technologies. The current Iraqi Army (very poorly defined even as an entity in contemporary news media — are they a mix of Sunni and Shiite, or just Shiite?) are prone to running.
What’s the simple view? Wasn’t Saddam Hussein an evil tyrant? Wasn’t he just keeping the people down? We came in, with a superior, united, modestly international force, and wanted to give them a Constitution that would make their world better. And if there was a little more efficiency in the whole oil production deal, wouldn’t we have all been better off?
Looking at things from a more realistic v-Meme perspective, one can see where the problems occurred. Saddam himself, likely a psychopathic narcissist (collapsed Authoritarian Red v-Meme), and certainly not so much an enlightened despot, at least across the board, used what one might generously call his Tribal – v-Meme/Purple Management skills (he himself heavily identified as a Tikriti, and had no problem terrorizing others outside that group to achieve his aims) to unite and modernize a country filled with relational and empathetic schisms. Shiite vs. Sunni was only part of it — Baghdad itself was a sophisticated Middle Eastern city, with modern amenities, with some representation of performance-based, modern trans-cultural communities. Contrast that with the Marsh Arabs — some of the more profound victims of Saddam’s 20th Century development plans, including massive re-routing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — who occupied a decidedly tribal/magical perspective, as well as being stigmatized for their Shia Muslim faith.
Describing the entire landscape of Iraq in terms of SD v-Memes would be a paper in itself. But the short version was that Saddam was an Authoritarian (probably little argument there!) and came to power through brutally uniting the tribes that made up a bunch of Iraq. There was simply not the level of empathetic connection in the society, so defined by identity in the various tribal and authoritarian groups, to support a legalistic/performance-based democracy, even in the best of circumstances. That’s two levels on the Spiral. And that’s not even beginning to unpack the various Authoritarian schemes from the Western powers, chiefly the U.S., that doomed a modern Iraq from the beginning as well. What might stick in some people’s throat is the SD analysis that Saddam was, even as a dictator, more empathetically evolved than the country he governed. So much for equating empathy with sympathy and compassion.
Had the entire country’s populace been more evolved empathetically, with less focus on independent groups, and more emphasis on the individual, with a substructure of laws that granted some level of individual rights with exceptions for Saddam — then yes — taking out Saddam would have released the more empathetically developed populace from his tyranny. But as we found out, and manipulated for our own control (mistakes made include, for example, disbanding the Iraqi Army after Saddam’s initial defeat) that same population, the society wasn’t ready for democracy. That good hunk of Iraq was still locked in Sunni/Shia rivalries, with the tribes largely left on the outside, and subject to even greater persecutions when Saddam’s rigid authority was lifted.
That led to the chaos that we see now, compounded by the destruction of infrastructure caused by the U.S. invasion. Nothing like spooling Baghdad, a city of 7+ million, back to the Survival v-Meme level, by bombing water treatment facilities and basic infrastructure.
That’s what the Principle of Reinforcement tells you. You look at the society itself, and then you look at how the society lets people manage relationships, or the other way around. If you want a performance-based legalistic democracy, and the social authority doesn’t conform, you better have it as the ground level in the general population. Because once you remove that social authority, you’re going to get what that ground level is.
If you don’t have the empathetic evolution somewhere — either in the people themselves, or in the authority, you’re going nowhere.
Takeaways: Understanding, as objectively as possible, the empathetic development of a society, culture, and its participants is extremely important (through SD or other means) in understanding how that culture will change when large-scale change occurs — be it from a hurricane, war, or corporate merger. Though there may be selected spots of good or bad behavior, overall, the self-similar nature of empathetic connection will establish itself. Ships will rise, or sink, to their natural level. And that is tied intrinsically to empathetic development.