Limiting Choice or The Power Paradox

It does not matter which social structure you observe: There are always some who wield power over others. That is not totally wrong or weird as evolution discovered that hierarchies are productive. All herds have some leadership structure or a pecking order. Groups of individuals can be more productive if they share the workload and they specialize. Nature seems to have a way of doing things most efficiently as Pierre Luis Maupertuis points out in his Least-Action-Principle.

Even purposeful collaboration – aka as business – is not a human invention while it does thrive through communication. The dumbest of ants collaborate truly efficiently with just ten different chemical messages. Bees – also not too intelligent – do this already by communicating by means of bodily movements. Primates use complex calls to communicate where danger may lurk. Why can they do this? Because evolution has ingrained such behaviors in their genes. Let me just point out that we have no idea how behavioral patterns are encoded in DNA. How in the world could such knowledge become a genetic context in  such a short time? It can’t be just chance modifications that have to prove themselves by being more effective than others. It seems that the ideas of Lamarck are now being reconsidered again, proposing that behavioral changes can already be engendered within one lifetime.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Lamarck is sometimes regarded as believing in a teleological (goal-oriented) process where organisms became more perfect as they evolved, though as a materialist, he emphasized that these forces must originate necessarily from underlying physical principles. The second component of Lamarck’s theory of evolution was the adaptation of organisms to their environment. This could move organisms upward from the ladder of progress into new and distinct forms with local adaptations.”

Human intuitive choices might have long-term consequences.

It now seems that DNA methylation might provide such a vehicle for genetic adaptation and for epigenetic mutation. I might bestow some of my experience directly on my descendants. Evolution suddenly turns from a game of chance into an exercise of intuitive choice from a variety of options. My decision-making not only adapts my life, but also that of my children! Amazing! My experience offers proven changes because I got old enough to replicate. Still a thesis, but it wields a powerful explanation for the speed of evolution and the accuracy with which it answers environmental needs.

Despite some core behaviors, humans have taken the evolutionary leap to learn most of what they need to survive after they are born. It takes 10 to 20 years for a human to know enough to survive in its environment. The power of our brain’s imagination is so grand that we can think about very abstract concepts that have no representation in daily life. We can use it to think about what might have happened 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang.

This abstract ability combined with our natural fear of death is however mostly misused to create beliefs that make the individual more controllable within the hierarchy, mostly through religious or political dogmas. That is no longer so, you might say, when we consider democracy and the separation of state and church. While in some areas that may be true, overall the theme remains the same. State and church are just two different systems of belief.

When looked at more closely, power is always exerted by means of limiting choice for the individual through physical, knowledge, social or monetary means. Even a judge in a Western democracy wields his power in the courtroom in the most drastic manner: ‚Answer this question with YES or NO.‘ Talk about limiting choice. Has that anything to do with democracy, truth or justice? Not really. In a truly open society EVERY individual has the opportunity to move about freely, know or learn anything, change social groups, and earn or own to his/her liking and skill. Let me point out, my dear socialist friends, that ‚having the same opportunity‘ is not identical to ‚having the SAME‘. Knowledge and money are power, so Socialists want you to have little of both in the name of equality. But nature thrives on diversity and not equality.

Current business management approaches are no different.

Michael Porter’s competitive advantage was all about market domination. How could one keep the competition at bay? The only way is to limit consumer choice. But it started already with Henry Ford: ‚We offer any color as long as it is black.‘ Buy competitors, sue for patent infringement, or lobby for regulation. After all, that is the change that we see in markets today as consumers now share ratings about products and can buy from more vendors online. But both governments and businesses are fighting back. Governments create more rules and new laws for individuals than they do for businesses. Many rules apply to both and are supposed to increase competition, but any rule is made to remove choices.

If we are to believe ministers and CEOs then it is all for our good. Things will be simpler, safer, cleaner and most of all less uncertain. Within a business, the idea is to create theoretically ideal processes to control costs and ensure quality, but with an approach such as BPM it happens once again through limiting choice. Limiting choice is however the opposite of empowerment. Often simplicity is cited as a reason for limiting choices. Why do people accept it? Humans like apparent certainty even if it is an illusion and they don’t like to have more than three options to chose from as many studies have shown.

Reducing the checkpoints for heart attack symptoms from over a hundred to three has shown a 70% improvement in prediction accuracy in emergency rooms, particularly in the third world. That seems to prove me wrong. Consider that it has to do with an overuse of diagnostics that produce a lot of data that have no meaning. Big Data will cause the same problem.

Limiting choice is not in every case the better way. In too many situations it is used to allow cheaper and less trained staff to perform work of an expensive, highly skilled individual. Remember that those with knowledge are potential disruptors to the establishment both as a citizen and customer. But what if the symptoms just seem to point to a heart attack but it is something else entirely. They will send you home happily, having no idea what else to look for. The hospital visit will certainly be rated as cheap and a success as you might die of something else and not enter the statistics.

So there is a simple way to figure out if your being conned into accepting new laws by governments or businesses. Whenever anything that is supposedly good for you limits your choices, then it is not so! The ones in control or power usually have little interest to hand it over. The easiest way to control the populace or a workforce is to limit choice by rules and laws.

When you look at the choices you get at the voting box and the choices you have at work, I hope you see how right I am. And accepting limited choice might even have consequences for your offspring.

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of ISIS Papyrus Software, a medium size software company specializing in communications and process management. I wrote several books and hold a number of patents. My quest is to bring common sense to IT, mostly by focusing in human quality issues rather than cost saving, outsourcing and automation. I am also Chief Architect at VIPorbit software which provides mobile relationship management.

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Posted in Adaptive Process, Evolution

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Max J. Pucher
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by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.
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