December 23, 2003

The Anti-Totalitarian Net: Preface

Arnold Kling writes with disdain at the idea that the Dean movement is a smart mob. He further says that such things simply do not exist. With that, he stumbles badly.

You really have to go back to the apes to understand what's at stake. Ape groupings vary in size based on a formula related to brain size. Humanity is about 50% higher up on this formal than the most organized of the primates. But human group sizes only get up between 100 and 500 before they start to go wrong and the most common value for organizational success (even in the modern world) is 150 before you have to sub group. Ape group structures break down before that point with the best organized apes having groups numbering in the 70s (derived number).

Looking at the comparative evolutionary success of humanity compared to the primates and it becomes obvious that anything that can up the numbers by even a bit becomes a world shaking deal. Thus smart mobs become highly important. If you can add even another 75 people onto your functional group size by taking advantage of the asynchronous nature of much of modern communication, you've created a gap between current best practices and the new bench mark as big as the current gap between us and the apes.

But looking past the creation of smart mobs to the claim that the Deaniacs are one. It seems highly dubious that they actually are. It's much more likely that they have tapped into the hype of smart mobs and envisioned that they are one. This does explain something about the Dean phenomenon, the lack of traditional Democrat coalition building. A mob is not a coalition. A mob is consensus. As Arnold Kling is somewhat worried about, sometimes the consensus of the mob is radical and dangerous, the mobs numbers making it difficult to stop.

I heavily doubt that consensus can be extended to the point of getting a majority of voters. Paradoxically, if consensus sweeps too many factions into its monoculture, Madison's Federalist #10 starts playing out in very unpleasant ways as a large republic without a mosaic of bickering factions too small to create a persistent majority on all issues will soon descend into the tyranny of the majority.

I don't think this is going to happen but I believe this is the fundamental source of Arnold Kling's unhappiness.

Posted by TMLutas at December 23, 2003 03:39 PM