16 May 2007

The DNA of Social Evolution

DNA is coded by the sequence of four bases. I'd argue for a parallel in social development. At a high level, any society is defined by social order, its dominant institution, economy, and worldview. I'd argue further that a change in one of these has the potential to trigger changes in all, just as the purchase of a new software application might trigger the purchase of a new operating system which might trigger the purchase of a new computer system.

Social Order
The simplest indication of how a society is defined might be seen in its tallest buildings. In medieval Europe, the tallest buildings were cathedrals and churches. Later, castles, parliamentary buildings, banks, and corporate headquarters followed.

Since about 1300, there has been a succession of dominant institutions: church, state, bank, and corporation. In various times and places, the dominant institution is not necessarily the one that has the most physical power but, rather, the one that most structures and shapes the attention and goals of the average person. In 1100 AD, most people conformed their daily lives to the church. Today, it is no longer church bells but, rather, consumption and production of corporate goods that shapes the pattern of most lives.

Dominant Institution
A society dominated by the church is very different from one dominated by the corporation. But how power is distributed within the church or corporation also makes a difference. Quite simply, there are two extremes in the distribution of power within any institution: power held by elites or power distributed to the masses. It is one thing to live in a society dominated by the state, by politics; it is quite another to live in a dictatorship or democracy.

Agricultural, industrial, information, or entrepreneurial economies are very different, but all are market economies. An entrepreneurial economy is just now beginning to emerge. This emergence will have a sweeping influence, just as did the emergence of the information economy in about 1900 and the industrial economy in about 1700.

This is perhaps the most subtle yet most defining of the four elements. How we make sense of the world defines so much else. And a worldview, like glasses, is made to be seen through rather than seen.

Since about 1300, the worldviews that have defined the West are the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Pragmatism. Systems thinking is the set of glasses being adopted by more and more people.

We rightfully call the change from agricultural to industrial economies an economic revolution. Intellectual, social, and institutional revolutions characterize the change of each of these elements. Western Civilization has thus far been defined by a pattern of revolutions, seen in the table above.


David said...

Ron - O,

Great to see this chart again. I'm becoming a believer.

Isn't the "worldview" part a new addition?

Ron Davison said...

The worldview is not so much new as a new way to put it: I talked about intellectual revolution before but didn't really label it once the revolution was over. Worldview it is.

You are "becoming" a believer. 15 years+ for one convert while the world population expands about 3 people per second. I suppose that's pretty solid proof that this idea is doomed to obscurity.

exskindiver said...

Hi Ron,
Is it okay to just say hello?

Ron Davison said...

It's always okay for you to swing by to say hello. But now that I have your attention, I'd like to clarify what I said about revolution ... oh, wait. yeah. Just hello. Got it.
Hello Chesca!