Stable Social Structures

Alexander Liss


Ideal Society *

Structure of the Small Group *

Society on the Large Scale *

Natural Structures *

"Scouts" and "Scapegoats" *

Rules and Laws *

Dynamic Power Structure *

"Scouts" *

Responsible Individualists *

Support Structure of the Edge *

Freedom as the State and Freedom as the Process *

Diversity and Social Development *


With all variety of possible Social Structures and all utopian theories of just organization of the society, during the entire history of humanity we observe only a few real social structures. This is true on small scale (structures of small groups, communities, businesses, etc.) and on the large scale (countries, international organizations, etc.). Some of these structures we accept as just, or at least justifiable in their circumstances, others we reject as inhumane and dangerous. However we are social creatures and our judgment is greatly influenced by the society we live in. This influence is enormous, as immigrants, who have the experience of moving from one society to the other, can attest.

When we live in the society, which does not change much and which is relatively separated from other societies, this inability to judge properly different Social Structures is not a big handicap. However in the fast changing interrelated word we need to analyze Social Structures scientifically.

We offer here a system of concepts, which allow one address difficult issues of the Social Structure, dynamic of social development and political freedom. We start with an "ideal" society, which has no social structure, proceed to simplest social structures on the small and on the large scale, and finish with the dynamic of movement from one social structure to the other.


Ideal Society

We are social creatures - we do not exist without society. Hence we have two sides of ourselves which are interrelated - an individual side and a social side. The social side is something common to all humans - ideas travel long distances and across all boundaries. From this point of view the question is not how we get connected, but rather how does it happen that we erect barriers between ourselves. This approach is very useful for the analysis of Stable Social Structures.

We start with the ideal society, where the balance is achieved naturally without special structures. The society is stable, hence any combination of internal and external imbalance, which can happen accidentally or because of some internal or external pressures, has to be counteracted by some social reactive forces. In the ideal society these forces are created because all members of the society, if we look at them from the social side of human being, are united and act as one to protect the stability of the society. When we look at members of the society from the individual side of human being, we see the active exchange of ideas and building of the consensus.

In the ideal society every member experiments with changes and shares the acquired knowledge with others. Also in the each act of interaction between the members of the society the current balance between individual and social sides of the human being is studied and tested. This is an intense world.

The ideal society cannot have immature members, who rely on others even partially for the decision making. However, it can have special groups of members, as children and elderly, for example, which live in a "cocoon", isolated from the active process of collective learning and decision making.

In the ideal society all members of the society are independent and the society functions because of the responsibility of individual members (they cooperate for the common good), and the mutual respect (they do not suppress or betray each other).

This is a state of the ideal political freedom, because each member of the society acts based on personal understanding of what is right without external suppression. It does not mean however that members of the society do what they want, because what they want in the particular moment can go against what they understand is right. Any society requires governance, however the ideal free society relies on self-governance.

Members of this society do not have the room for the deception and cannot afford privacy. Everything should be open for the examination by other members.

The ideal society cannot have specialization and special members, because this can be done only with additional social structure, which we do not have in the ideal society. This makes the ideal society less effective in some activities, then some other, non-ideal societies. Hence the ideal society has little chance surviving on the large scale, if there are around violent non-ideal societies.

Sometimes, this type of society can be observed on the small scale, for example, in some groups successfully functioning in extremely dangerous situation.

Note that we needed to define this ideal society as a reference point for the concepts of social structure, freedom, etc. In no way we advocate for the creation of the ideal society, we call it ideal to distinguish it from real societies.


Structure of the Small Group

If there is a group, which functions at least sometimes as a distinctive entity, then there is a distinctive set of concepts and images all members of the group share and which are used for self-governing. This is a basic binding force of the group.

In the highly civilized group, each member of the group feels responsible for the survival of the group as an entity, and respects other members of the group as individuals. In this case the binding force is enough to keep the group together. When the group gets into a difficult unanticipated situation, it has the tendency to respond with creation of additional structures to preserve its integrity. It requires a lot of understanding and cooperation to withstand this tendency. Only the civilized group can withstand this temptation of creation of additional structures, which make the group more rigid and more articulated as a separate entity. Hence this case is rare.

The group cannot survive, if it does not experiment, if it does not monitor its external and internal circumstances. This work is so important, that some members of the group specialize to perform this task and they get special rewards from the group for doing so (additional respect, for example). This is already the additional group structure. We call these specialists "scouts".

The group presents a contradiction: each member of the group is an individual and the representative of the group in the same time. The group has to engage in perpetual testing of this contradiction for its self-assessment. The task is difficult. Many groups dedicate one member or a small part of the group, who are in the need of the group the most, and hence who are vulnerable, to become a subject of the perpetual pressure to surrender their individuality in behalf of the group. This allows an easy monitoring of the balance between individual and collective in the group. We call these members of the group "scapegoats".

"Scouts" and "scapegoats" form the basic structure of any group small and large.

The next additional group structure, which strengthens the group, is the governance structure. It consists of two components - the "chief", who takes over the task of making decisions in the case when there is no consensus, and the support group of the "chief".

The elements of this structure - the group itself with basic binding force, the "chief" and his support group, have to be in balance. All parties work together here. The "chief" prevents building of consensus and members of the group allow themselves the appeal to the "chief" instead of building of consensus. The "chief" demands additional control rights from the support group, and the support group voluntarily surrenders some of its control abilities to the "chief".

The actual balance depends on the character of the members of the group, and on circumstances. This balance is changing all the time, and the group dedicates part of its recourses to the process of this balancing. This takes form of rules and rituals.

Some members of the group are dedicated as "guinea pigs" of the social experimentation. There are members who are on the edge of getting into support group, and some are on the edge of getting out of support group. These members are in the state of perpetual testing.

The structure, which we have described here, is very general. Even some groups of animals have it. We can observe it in prisons, in schools, in gangs, and at work place.

We can summarize it as follows: usually the small group includes

In some groups this structure is more distinctive, in other it is less. Under the pressure of circumstances, when the need for the group cohesiveness grows, this structure has the tendency to strengthen.

Members of the group accept this structure as natural. They do not revolt against the suppression by the "chief", do not despise submissive behavior of the support group, do not stop abuses of "scapegoats", do not question the respect enjoyed by the "scouts". The balance of the group means, that everything is perceived as just.

Different traits of character are needed to occupy different positions in this structure.

The "chief" has to be sensitive to the needs and desires of the group as a whole, to bring decisions in the behalf of the group. If the member of the group does not have this trait, then this member can not stay as a "chief" for long. The "chief" has to be unpredictable enough, because otherwise the support group can take control of the "chief" and tilt the group decisions in favor of this group only, which will lead to dismissal of the "chief". Also the "chief" has to take measures to prevent the building of too much of consensus - this keeps the "chief" visibly needed figure in the group. Actually, the "chief" does not lead, the "chief" helps the realization of the desires of the group as an entity. This places the "chief" in the position, where the individuality is sacrificed for the sake of the group, at least temporarily. The group employs the most primitive traits of the "chiefís" personality - the drive for the control (power) and the desire to conform (to be part of the group). This role can take a heavy toll on the internal structure of one, who plays it. And it often does.

Some members of the "chief's" support group are immature - they need the father figure, which takes responsibility for the difficult decisions.

"Scouts" experiment (mentally or actually) beyond the group, hence "scouts" have to have wider view than other members of the group. "Scouts" have to be consciously attached to the group - the ordinary subconscious attachment does not give the room for experimentation.

"Scapegoats" have a strong need for the group, that why "scapegoats" do not leave the group in spite of all abuses. The strength of the group ties can be measured by the degree of abuses the "scapegoats" are willing to tolerate. The masochists, who enjoy abuses, cannot be "scapegoats" - they do not give the needed feedback to the group.

Independent members are the main part of the group. The "chief" governs because the "chief" represents their collective mentality. They tolerate the support group as the way of organization of the immature part of the group. They judge the performance of the "scouts", and they choose the "scapegoats". The entire structure is strongly correlated with the mentality of each member of this part of the group. What happens in the group happens mostly because of their collective will.

Actions of the "chief" represent mostly the (hidden) collective will of the group; this is the reason why very often these actions are the center of attention from outside of the group as well from inside.

If the "scout" takes the role of the "chief", then he becomes the group "leader". In this case the group becomes very dynamic and stable because of its movement and expansion. The quality of such group depends heavily on the leader. However, this combination is rare - the demands of these two roles, "scout" and "chief", contradict each other. One has to look ahead the other has to express the will of the group.


Society on the Large Scale

Natural Structures

Any society has some natural Social Structure, and any other structure in the society has the tendency to be coordinated with this natural structure.

Natural structures are obvious. They are produced by the natural division of the society, for example, by the place of habitat, blood relationships, physical and mental differences, etc. The division of the society produced by special social structures often falls along the existing natural division lines. These two forms of division eventually only reinforce each other, and this becomes a part of the Stable Social Structure.

The blood relationship produces quite a few natural structures; many of them were and still are the foundation for the power structure.

The head of the family has natural control over descendants. Even in modern society, where family ties are weak, the head of the family exercises formidable powers, especially in hard times, when the family needs leadership. This hierarchical structure is so natural that many social structures simulate it.

Simulation of this structure can be stretched to the limit: business owner and employees, sergeant and solders, Mafia boss and members, etc. This shows only how strong is this structure, that its simulation makes people feel comfortable.

King is expected to simulate the head of the family. The art of simulation is hard, and it is learnt from childhood - in this case the power is passed from the parent to child. Sometimes this position is taken by someone who had proven to be a "parent figure" to the society - a charismatic leader.

When the head of family passes away the rest of hierarchical structure has a few ways to define "highest" members, depending from which point of view one looks at it. One is defined by the closeness to the head on the descendant tree - children, grandchildren, etc., the other - by the age. Both are used in different combinations.


"Scouts" and "Scapegoats"

"Scouts" and "scapegoats" are two most basic special groups of the society. "Scouts" like their social position and try to prepare their children for it. "Scapegoats" hate their position and try to push their children out of it, but the society does not give them much of opportunity to do so. Inevitably we have two classes, with more or less fuzzy boundaries - there is an opportunity for the adventurous and socially responsible to become a "scout", and there is a possibility for the weak, having nothing unique to offer to others, but needing others, to become a "scapegoat". This is true for individuals and this is true for groups.

"Scapegoats" have only a few ways to escape their social position. The attempts to blend into society - be like others do not work. The attempts to gain some special protection do not work either. They became "scapegoats", because they need society much more than society needs them. The way out is in creation unique features, which society wants - not to blend into society, but offer to the society special service.

When the society needs military specialists, often "scouts" play this role. "Scouts" become explorers, scientists, inventors, artists, businessmen, etc., when there is an opportunity to play such social role.

Because "scouts" consciously study and experiment with the boundary between individual and collective sides of members of the society, there is less need in the "subconscious" experimentation of the society, which is the cause of the creation of "scapegoats". Hence the society with developed group of "scouts" has smaller group of "scapegoats".


Rules and Laws

Theoretically it is possible to have the society with rules of behavior, laws and rituals, but without any additional governing structure. This is a next step of structuring after ideal society. Similar to the ideal society, this is not a description of the real society, but rather a reference point in our analysis.

This society is one step from the ideal society, which we see as a society of political freedom. The process of the liberation of the society with the law structure goes in the direction of smaller dependence on this law structure - members of the society should be able to solve their problems based on their own understanding what is right and perpetual communication with each other. The rule or the law should be invoked only when such solution is impossible.

The first line of the enforcement of the rule or the law is ostracism of transgressors. It works because members of the society want to be in balance with the society - they want to be respected. The cut-off of the transgressor from the vital activities of the society is usually too high price to pay for the potential transgression.

However, this works only in small societies. In bigger societies the enforcement of law requires court and police in some form. It also requires the punishment for the transgressions.

The enforcement of law and rules works first of all as means of restoring the balance in the society. When it restores the balance all involved parties interpret this act as just. Even the punished party feels relief from internal tension with the restoration of the balance, which comes with the punishment.

However there are situations, where original balance cannot be restored - something irreversible happened. In this case the society resorts to some special decisions, which create new balance. These decisions are not justice in original sense, and all parties involved usually understand that. However they accept this, because as social creatures they understand the importance of the stability of the society. Still this situation creates a lot of problems, which are dealt with as the society goes on.

One set of problems is related to the concept of "irreversible" change. Some societies view the death and the birth as "irreversible". Other societies view the theft and act of infidelity as "irreversible". And they act accordingly - they can cut the hand of the thief, the obviously irreversible act, which goal is creation of the new balance in the society, not to restore the original balance.

The other set of problems is related to the way the society relates to law. Usually members of the society do not treat structure of low as measure of last resort - they lean against it. This creates the other use of the structure of law in the society - the incremental change from one balanced state to the other through process of litigation. In turn this creates a strong temptation on the part of the members of the society to use this process in their personal advantage.

There are cases, when this process of incremental change through litigation can be beneficial. If the society is in stagnation - it does not change much over the time, then this process can serve as a search mechanism for the small niches - small yet unexplored variants of the state of society. However the excessive litigation mostly works to the detriment of social development. It slows down the social development, it randomly and sometimes dangerously limits the ability of the society to experiment with the course of social development.

Mostly, society discourages litigation. It makes it costly, slow and often requiring the use of special services - the society encourages the solving of the problems without litigation.

On the other hand, the society with the law structure has a developed system, which supports and protects this structure - judiciary. Litigation is a livelihood of judiciary and a source of their share of power and their ability to change the society. Hence judiciary promote litigation.

Extensive litigation is a definite sign of the society in trouble: people do not have enough good will to find solutions between themselves, and the relationship between people and the government is strained. They delegate their right to make decisions to judiciary, inevitably increasing the arbitrary power of judiciary and decreasing their own freedom.

The escape from this situation is the rising responsibility of its members, who have to solve the majority of their disagreements without involvement of judiciary (using judiciary only as a threat). Any developed society has tools, which help doing that, starting with high moral values and respect for the contractual obligations.

Social structure of law has to adapt to changing conditions. If it fails to do so, the society falls in spite of possibly rich developed social structure. Note that in majority of real societies there is no good mechanism of adaptation of law structure to new circumstances - it is hard to change existing law. This leads to growing rigidity of the society and eventual imbalance of the society and circumstances in which it functions, with disastrous consequences.

Restoration of the original balance with the litigation has to be fast and cheap. However the permanent changes in the society have to be difficult to make with the litigation. Also it is desirable to have some mechanism of perpetual reexamination of law as a system, that it is possible to adjust the system of law and Social Structures to new circumstances.


Dynamic Power Structure

When the small group is stretched beyond the point of no return - beyond the state where it is still stable, it dissipates. Large society usually does not have this luxury.

When the social structure of the large group crumbles, this causes a serious internal crisis of the members of the society. People have the tendency of identifying the binding social force with particular social structures and not with the natural interconnectedness of social beings.

When the social structure is ruined, members of the society get into desperate search for new structure. Because they do not feel the original attachment to each other this search easily becomes violent and inhumane.

The danger of this situation is so high, that truly stable societies have the dynamic structure of power, which becomes more rigid in the situation of higher instability and less rigid in the less difficult times.

Note that the presence of some special independent social structure, as common religious structure, softens the social crisis.



"Scouts" are the most fascinating social phenomenon. Many internal conflicts of "scouts" can be solved by mere recognition of their place in the society, because they always pull out of the society and their biggest fear is to be out of it. But this internal contradiction is their nature, and the society needs them as they are.


Responsible Individualists

"Scouts" are individualists - they treasure their individuality, the ability of independent thinking, the ability to make independent decisions, which are different from decisions made by the majority, and the ability to insist and defend their unusual decisions in face of the pressure of majority. From the other hand they are, in some respect, more attached to the society than non-"scouts". Non-"scouts" make their decisions as fish in school: they turn together because of the system of hidden interconnected rules of behavior, which make the school an entity. "Scouts" do not have this luxury - they question the very rules, which allow the society to act as an entity, hence they need some other strong ties to stay with society. These ties are their conscious understanding of their belonging to the society. Hence, while circumstances allow it, they experiment with rules of society, they perceive themselves as independent units, but if there is a danger to the society, they are the first to protect the social stability even at the danger to their own treasured individuality, or even life.

"Scouts" have especially hard time when they see the society in the state, which leads to its distraction. Non-"scouts" "go with the flow", when society changes its structure they continue to "go with the flow" in different direction. "Scouts" do not have this option - they are the first to see the danger and by their nature as responsible members of the society, they cannot allow themselves to close their eyes on it. If the social situation is very bad, then this produces dissidents - people who cannot keep quiet, even if they put themselves in the harms way.

There are social positions, where "scouts" do not feel comfortable. If we return to the metaphor of the school of fish, this is a place inside the school. "Scouts" belong to the edge of the society. However the edge of the society is extremely important to the social stability. With the same metaphor, the fishes on the edge of the school are eyes and ears of the school - they define where the school turns.

Hence society places high demands on its "scouts". It does not forgive "scouts" many things it forgives easily non-"scouts". In some respect "scouts" are bearers of public trust.

"Scouts" mostly are not attached to each other directly - each explores own area. However all together "scouts" form a special system on the edge of the society. This can be understood with the metaphor of biological cell. The membrane of the cell is formed with special molecules, which are not attached to each other chemically. Because of their chemical properties they assemble on the edge of the cell. They stay with each other because of the geometry of the edge - the only place where these molecules can be in balance. This "accidental" system is so stable that a great deal of the cell's functionality can be explained as the work of the membrane.

Similar with "scouts" - a great deal of the functioning of the society can be explained with the concept the "system of scouts". One of the examples is an introduction of innovations in the market. In many cases there are a few successful innovations introduced simultaneously by different "scouts", but each innovation introduced separately would not have success.

Hence "scouts" are responsible individualists; they are responsible members of society by their activity and by their mentality.

However, as we understand it, there is no other form of individualism. "Irresponsible individualist" is a sociopath.

Sociopath perceives visible social boundaries as marks of absolute separation and absolutely independent functioning of different parts of the society and especially an absolute independence of the existence of sociopath from the other members of society. While the normal reaction of the social creature is to feel the reactions of other members of the society, feel the unity with other members, the sociopath does not have this feedback and treats other members of the society as separate species. The system of values of sociopath is logical; simply it has different basis - the basis, which contradicts the reality of the social being. Sociopath is interrelated with others, but does not see this relation.

Hence, we insist that the term "individualist" has to be reserved only for responsible members of society.

Some confuse detachment of sociopath with the independence of "scouts". This confusion can be very costly. This leads to inability to distinguish between "cool" criminal and courageous explorer. This leads also to inability to appreciate the important and difficult social role, which "scouts" play.


Support Structure of the Edge

The metaphor of the cell and its membrane can go only so far. The geometry of three-dimensional space defines the compact area and its edge. This is not so with the society and its edge.

The "edge member" of the society gathers unique knowledge and develops unique skills. In the society with developed specialization all this is done on the very edge of the memberís ability, and there is little left to maintain the integrity of the society. This is done with the "helpers" - each "edge member" has "helpers", which allow the balance of the "edge member" with the internal (non-edge) groups of members and with the other "edge members". Obviously one "helper" can perform a few roles, but this is difficult, because each "edge member" inevitably develops unique point of view, unique mentality, and it is a big strain already to be a mediator for one pair of points of view. This gives an interesting quantitative estimate of classes of helpers.

If there are N "edge members" then the stable society has at least N*(N-1)/2 classes of mediators between them - "helpers". In addition each "edge member" needs a class of mediators with the "inner part" of society. Hence, if the society wants to use N "scouts" it has to supply at least (N2+N)/2 "helpers". This is an explanation of the empirically observed "N2 law" - the scientific group, which has N actively working (publishing new results) scientists has in the order of (N2+N)/2 scientists, which practically publish no new results.


Freedom as the State and Freedom as the Process

In all real societies there is always a degree of suppression, which allows the society to exist. Hence in the real society there is no "political freedom as the state" however it can be "political freedom as the process". The political freedom as the process is a form of governance, where self-governance perpetually replaces other actual forms of governance in the society - each time the society is ready to move to self-governance in particular sphere it does it.

There are many misconceptions related to freedom.

Some perceive the freedom as an absence of restrictions and advocate for the political freedom as anarchy.

Other insist that members of the society have to consciously accept presented in the standard form "good of the society" as the superior value, and suppress voluntarily their understanding of what is right and wrong every time there is a contradiction between their understanding and the standard.

One misconception is particularly peculiar. There is a movement, which members work hard to force the government to introduce the laws and procedures which allow people to live better, freer, free of encroachment of the government in their lives, etc. It is interesting, that the government eagerly cooperates with them - the more public wants from the government, the more funding and rights the government gets. These people do not understand that freedom cannot be achieved with special restrictions enforced by the government.

Many people share some form of these misconceptions. This is why we came up with two concepts: "freedom as the state" and "freedom as the process". We insist that our natural understanding of freedom is better described this way. Freedom is not an absence of restrictions - this is rather the way restrictions are handled. Also freedom cannot be defined through suppression of one side of human being (individual) by the other side (collective), but rather as the balance. Absence of this balance means absence of freedom, and there is no any standard procedure how this balance can be achieved.

We cannot observe "freedom as the state" - this is an ideal, a goal. However we can have "freedom as the process", the process of perpetual liberation. Hence, free society has to work for its freedom all the time. The moment this special work stops the freedom is lost. Freedom is a process of perpetual change, and hence it is a process of perpetual struggle against forces, which resist this change.


Diversity and Social Development

If we look at society at the level of Humanity, we find unusual problems and requirements.

There is an obvious need to protect ourselves from really dangerous tendencies. The advances of the weapon of mass destruction make this need ever urgent.

Besides the really dangerous social development where there is a danger to Humanity, there is a need for the diversity of the social structure of Humanity. Humanity needs coexisting and radically different social structures, because it does not have any criteria how to choose a social structure, which allows the Humanity to survive at the next turn of the development.

This kind of coexistence is very difficult to achieve because radically different social structures induce radically different mentality of its members. The normal social functioning from one point of view is perceived by the members of different social structure as intolerable. Still we have to learn how to live with it, because it gives us better chances to survive all together.

The other need for the social diversity is not so obvious. The development of the society goes from one Stable Social Structure to the other. Which social structure is stable is determined by the internal and external circumstances. The society cannot make too many social changes, hence some Stable Social Structures can be reached from the current state of the society and the other cannot. If we have many different social structures, we have wider choice of available for "experimentation" Stable Social Structures.