Monday, August 05, 2013
Bureaucracies Are the Heaviest Superorganisms of the Social World
Jonathan Haidt argues in The Righteous Mind that creatures that can create 'superorganisms' come to dominate their field.
There are billions of insects, and thousands of species of insects, but the social insects comprise the majority of all insects by weight.
There are billions of mammals, and hundreds of species of mammals, but human beings, plus the animals they cultivate, comprise the majority of all mammals by weight.
I think we can make a parallel statement about bureaucracies. There are, at least, hundreds of millions of organizations, but I think it safe to say that bureaucracies - corporate and government, especially - comprise a majority of all organizations by weight. And wealth. And power.
I draw another conclusion from this comparison - the superorganisms may be the dominant form in their field, but they are far from the only one. Superorganisms are also brittle, vulnerable to attack and infection precisely because they are so integrated and coordinated.
The foundational organizational form of human life is the family. Any given family is vulnerable to all sorts of threats, and all families (if not lineages) succumb eventually to time. But the family form is so adaptable that it has held its own in every social environment that humans have created. Including our current environment that is dominated by bureaucracies.