The following was published in The Federalist on 7/23/16. The original is here or you can just keep reading ;-)
What Bees Can Teach Us About Why People Should Run Their Own Lives
Top-down, command-and-control systems will sooner or later create catastrophic failures. It’s not so with self-organizing systems.
July 23, 2016 By John Conlin
Individual honey bees aren’t very smart, yet honey bee hives, which may contain tens of thousands of individual bees, show remarkable intelligence. Scientists who study this type of swarm intelligence point out a key ingredient: no one is in charge. The hive functions just fine with no management, just countless interactions between individual bees with each following simple rules of thumb. A system like this is called self-organizing. Life itself is self-organizing.
That’s how swarm intelligence works: simple creatures following simple rules, each one acting on local information. No bee sees the big picture. No bee tells any other bee what to do. No fearless leader is required or desired. In fact, if a self-appointed “super-bee” were to attempt to take charge of this process, the entire hive would cease to function and all the bees would be doomed.
How Bees Find the Best Food
As an example, look at how the hive “knows” what is a better food source and reacts accordingly. Consider two foraging bees. Each bee returns to the hive and does an intricate dance that tells the surrounding bees the location of the food sources. In addition, the length and vigor of the dance transmits information regarding the volume of food available.
Just like the honey bee, we’ve unknowingly used swarm intelligence to develop knowledge and create wealth that allows us to collectively live like none before.
One bee has found a so-so food source, while the other has found a great food source. One bee dances for a while and the other dances far longer and thus impacts many more bees. Many more bees are thus directed to visit the better food source. Once they come back they too do a longer and more vigorous dance, again affecting many more bees than those few returning from the so-so food source.
Thus with absolutely no central, controlling intelligence—in fact, with little intelligence at all—the hive behaves very intelligently and directs the vast majority to the better food source, thus ensuring all are better off.
Although we humans like to think of ourselves as quite smart, we are much like the honey bee. Unlike the honey bee, we have complex language, the ability to use tools, and the ability to store and transmit information over generations. This lets each of us believe in our vast individual intelligence when in reality we each enjoy the fruits of millions and millions of lessons learned since the dawn of life itself.
Just like the honey bee, we’ve unknowingly used swarm intelligence to develop knowledge and create wealth that allows us to collectively live like none before. The beauty of swarm intelligence and self-organizing systems is that even for complex systems like human life and survival, behavior may be coordinated by relatively simple interactions. Here’s the key: in a self-organizing system there literally is no cause and effect. It just is.
Government Prevents the Honey Bee Principle
Yet also in the past hundred years we have seen across the globe a tremendous growth in powerful organizations that blatantly operate against the reality of self-organization and swarm intelligence. These organizations are government. Government typically attempts to do the opposite of those things that make for smart group behavior like decentralized control, response to local feedback, and simple rules of thumb. Self-organizing systems are an incredible strategy to deal with complexity. Government is not.
We must pull back from the brink and once again allow self-organizing systems to do their magic.
We have allowed these authoritative non-profit organizations (government) to become far too large and powerful. This violates almost every aspect we know about swarm intelligence. In addition, this in effect makes those who operate these non-profits into self-appointed “super-bees.”
They act as though they know better than the hive. Rather than allowing the wonder of swarm intelligence to freely operate, government “super-bees” instead direct vast swaths of our collective lives, to the detriment of all. As these organizations grow larger and larger, they are beginning to threaten the very continuation of life itself. Top-down, command-and-control systems will sooner or later create catastrophic failures. It’s not so with self-organizing systems.
One of the wonders of this country’s founding is its individual freedom-based political system, which limited government and allowed swarm intelligence and self-organization to flourish like never before.
The incredible wealth and individual freedom this country has produced in the past few hundred years versus the rest of the world proves this reality. We must pull back from the brink and once again allow self-organizing systems to do their magic. As government grows and grows, we are creating more and more super-bees. If we continue down our present path, those self-anointed super-bees will be the death of us all.
John Conlin is president and founder of E.I.C. Enterprises, a non-profit dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world, primarily through K-12 education. He is a life-long entrepreneur and an expert in organizational design and change. His book, The Unified Theory, will be published in late fall by E.I.C. Publishing.