Social Forms


Alexander Liss




Factors. 2

Demographic Growth. 2

Individual Opportunities. 2

Mistakes Accumulation and Cleanup. 3

Distributed Decision Making. 3

Specialization and Exchange. 3

Optimal Use of Resources. 4

Governance. 4

Embedded Structures. 5

Military. 5

Bureaucracy. 6

Family. 6

System of Niches and Transition. 7



     In casual conversations, in learned discussions, in legislative bodies and in political rallies one could hear various ideas of social change, which have no chance to work.

Too often, ideas, which are implemented with best intensions, lead to unanticipated negative and even disastrous results.

     Something is dangerously amiss in people’s understanding of what is possible.

     It is enough to recall all attempts to implement ideas of communist ideology. They all fail. They all brought tyranny and massive death. Still, some claim that those were mistakes of implementation and not flaws of ideology.

     One could observe similar problem with ideas of socialism. It is easy to see social systems functioning in Europe, which are based on ideas of socialism. For some, it is tempting to establish similar systems, for example, in the USA. However, these systems in Europe arose, when Europe had the Soviet Union as a neighbor and they function in presence of the defense umbrella provided by the USA. Remove these two factors ant try to make these systems work.

     Experience shows that only a few stable forms of social organization exist. It is important to analyze them and to analyze transitions from one form to another.

     When this is done, one could ask - which stable form we want to arrive to? How to organize the transition to it from the current form?





In analysis of an existing of potential social form one has to consider following factors.


Demographic Growth


     There are rare forms of society, where attrition (including cased with wars and disease) balances growth (including caused with birth and immigration). One could find such societies in some city-states, for example.

     Mostly, population grows and distribution among age groups changes.

     The need to support perpetual population growth limits the set of potential stable forms society. To accommodate such growth, the society engages in expansion – acquisition of new resources and more intensive and efficient use of existing resources.

     Demographic growth usually translates into economic growth of the society.


Individual Opportunities


     To feel comfortable, to not feel frustrated, a person needs to expend, unless the person is psychologically broken, as it is with slaves.

     The expansion could be in any of many possible directions, but the opportunity to expand should be there. For a member of military, it should be an opportunity to grow in rank and to accumulate wealth. For a market participant it should be an opportunity to extend control over business activities and to accumulate wealth. For a member of knowledge based sector, it should be an opportunity to extend influence on decision-making and accumulate wealth.

     Wealth could take many forms: some income and privileges guarantees, possessions of income producing businesses, possessions of property, savings, etc.

     Economic growth of a society is growth of wealth of individuals combined with demographic growth.


Mistakes Accumulation and Cleanup


     In a stable society, many mistakes do not lead to disasters and not corrected. Hence, they accumulate causing rigidity of the society and imbalances in it.

     The consequence of such accumulation is growing instability of the society, which could break down at circumstances, where it used to be stable before.

     Hence, a stable society has a build-in mechanism of clearing of mistakes time after time. In a market-based society, such cleanup happens during market downturns, in despotic societies it is done through periodic purges or wars.



Distributed Decision Making


A society is a distributed system, which parts interact without explicit controlling body. This makes it efficient.


Specialization and Exchange


     The growth of wealth in a society is made possible with the specialization of members of the society and exchange of resources, goods or services. This exchange is facilitated by specialists.

     In a market-based society, there are

·        producers of goods and services, as manufacturers and service providers

·        managers of resources (including liquid resources), as owners of commodities, investors, lenders

·        traders and financial specialists, facilitating exchange of resources, goods or services

The growth of culture and civility comes with similar specialization and exchange. Sciences, arts, political developments have specialists generating ideas and building organizations, and specialists facilitating their exchange and adaptation.


Optimal Use of Resources


     Availability of resources is the limiting factor. Efficient management of resources is crucial for the society’s stability.

     Those who have control of resources could acquire goods and services in exchange for the right to use resources. Sometimes, granting of such right is strictly regulated, for example when a government employee is in charge of resources. In such cases, people in control of resources are under the pressure from people, who want to use the resources and this leads to corruption.

     In a market-based society, the connection of resources control with desires is recognized. In such society, this connection is used to optimize distribution of resources through mechanism of private property. It is in interests of an individual owner of resources to allow the use of resources under his control in the way, which is optimal for the society as a whole.

     Thus, the problem of optimal use of resources is solved through private property.




     It is natural to make decision for oneself; it is unnatural and, hence, difficult to make decisions for a society as a whole.

     Social side of an individual is not conscious. It is hard to deploy it repeatedly, reliably and consciously without causing damage to one’s psyche.

     Many societies designate a small group of individuals, who are trained for this task from childhood or prove ability to do it otherwise. Usually, they perceive the society as a whole as their own “property” and take care of this “property”.

     Unfortunately, this system does not have an efficient way of fixing of mistakes. A “ruler”, who is destructive to the society, could emerge from the system of preparation of “rulers”, or could take power on his own through other means and it is difficult to dislodge him.

     The longer such person is in power, the bigger is a psychological toll of power, the more insane he gets, and the more the society suffers.

     Democracy and rule of law mitigate it through distribution of decision-making, limiting terms of rule and providing mechanisms of removal of unfit rulers.

     Even with democracy, there us specialization – a relatively small group of specialists arises, which controls political power. New members of this group are usually co-opted and only rarely they thrust themselves into it on their own.

     The difficulties with democracy numerous It is difficult to make decisions of collectively. There are too many restrictions on possible candidates to become governing specialists. These candidates have to have skills of presentation and oratory, which are largely unrelated to governing abilities. There is danger of demagogues arising to power and circumventing democracy.

Still, with all its failings, there is no better way of organizing governance than democracy. Accumulation of mistakes and inability to clean them with autocratic forms of governing is worse than problems of democratic rule.



Embedded Structures


     The majority of stable societies have a few types of highly stable embedded social structures, which enhance stability of the society.

     From the other hand, the level of accumulation of mistakes in these structures is high and their cleanup is difficult and often traumatic.




     Even corals fight with each other; no wonder stable societies fight each other.

     They fight for control of resources (whatever is perceived as valuable resource at the time), or to incorporate another society as a subservient one.

     To fight, societies develop fighting capabilities and fighting specialists – military.

     Because societies with weak fighting capabilities are absorbed by neighbors, all stable societies have strong fighting capabilities.

     Military specialists leave military because they become too weak to fight or because they are killed in battle. In addition, they leave, when they are not capable to fight effectively. This natural attrition helps in cleanup of accumulated mistakes.




     Bureaucratic systems are used in government, military, business, etc.

     They add stability to a subsystem, where they are used.

     They allow offloading of the burden of making difficult decisions, by setting and managing rules, to which a decision-maker should adhere. These rules are managed by different people, who do not apply them. For example, in the army, people have to do things, which naturally cause internal rejection, because they go against human nature. They can do this, only because they learn to follow rules, which are set by others.  

These benefits come at a price.

     Bureaucratic systems diminish efficiency of the functioning of the society. Interests and expertise of bureaucrats (managers and administrators) differ from the goals the society; this diverts resources to serve interests of bureaucrats and diminishes quality of decision-making. Hence, inaptitude of bureaucrats is rooted in the nature of bureaucracy.

     Bureaucratic systems do not adapt well to new situation, because bureaucrats keep these structure intact as long they could achieve their goals, which differ from goals of the society.

     With all their deficiencies, bureaucratic systems deliver, what cannot be delivered in other ways. However, when they are deployed, they grow and take over areas, where they are not needed. Then, bureaucratic systems resist attempts to demolish them. This works like a ratchet.

     Stability of bureaucratic systems is appreciated in times of crises, when they survive and serve as foundation for recovery. Through a chain of crises, they get firmly embedded in the society.




     Family structure – nuclear family, extended family, tribe, is a basic social structure. Its importance depends on the presence of other civilizing social structures and on the stability of the society. The less stable is the society, the more important it is. It is important in Afghanistan and in Italy, it is less important in the USA.

     Family structure affects how governing is organized. For example, it defines governing structure in autocratic societies.



System of Niches and Transition


     The main view of a stable society is a view of the system of social niches – stable subsystems in the society. In a society there are various distributions between social niches geographic, demographic, political power, wealth. These distributions provide initial understanding of the workings of the society as a stable system.

     Interactions between members of society are largely defined by the social niches to which they belong. Hence description of patterns of interactions between social niches adds considerably to the understanding of the society.

     Next would be analysis of possibilities of migration of an individual from one social niche to another.

     Next step would be analysis of possible new social niches and dynamic of their emergence and dynamic of disappearance of old social niches.

     This already provides some understanding of how existing form of the society could transition into a different one.

Now a value judgment could be added – which forms of society one would rather avoid and which hasten. Note that some understanding of this could be unconscious and anxieties of the society could be explained by the fear of society flipping into an undesirable form.