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Institutional Will

Do institutions have a will that transcends, and can run contrary to, those who create and staff them?

In the early seventies my high school participated in a program that allowed students to access the Illinois Institute of Technology computers for instructional purposes. In a room off of the school library sat two Teletype 33 terminals, one of them equipped with foam telephone ear cups and a modem. We would code our programs onto paper tape and then, during our school’s allocated time, feed them into the IIT mainframe for compiling and executing. The second thing I learned after how to get the mainframe to understand that I was sending it a program, was that computer programs have a will of their own that is totally apart from my will. My will is to get the answers to the formulas I am trying to solve. The program’s will is to follow the next instruction. Occasionally, to the programmer’s embarrassment and the rest of the computer club’s amusement, an errant program would set off in a Quixotic attempt to consume all of our allocation of CPU clock time, empty the box of paper and wear out the printer ribbon, in an infinite pursuit of pointless activity. An example of this might be if I told the program to stop when a particular value reached “25″, but then inadvertently instructed it to count up in units of two. Since the counter stepped from “24″ straight to “26″, it never did reach “25″ and the program tripped merrily along, consuming all of the resources it could acquire. Later I was employed working on a Burroughs computer. It had a lovely missile-launch style red button labeled “CLEAR MEMORY” shielded underneath a spring-loaded, hinged, clear plastic cover. When programs ran amok, we could lift the cover and administer an instant memory wipe to the CPU, returning control to the system operator.

How does computer programming pertain to Institutional Will? Institutions, whether they are small temporary government programs, or über institutions like a constitution, are nothing but computer programs executing procedural instructions on a societal mainframe. Just like electronic programs, institutions can evade their constraints and wildly consume resources, until a counter-procedural force stops them.

Years ago I promised to Veryretired, a long time denizen of the Samizdata commentariat, an essay on why civil disobedience is wrong. He has yet to receive that essay from me – and he never will, because I encountered the problem of Institutional Will. When institutions, like errant electronic programs, slip their intended constraints, it is only through disobedience to procedural instructions on the part of human individuals that they can be stopped.

I am not saying that institutions have any moral presence: as an individualist I believe moral presence and agency must be assigned exclusively to individuals. Institutions do, however, have a will that transcends the wills of the individuals acting within them. How can this happen?

Legislation is horrifically complicated in these later times of our republic. But even worse, much of it is “enabling legislation” that puts in place institutions that set their own parameters in pursuit of an ambiguously defined goal. Whether through complexity or non-specification, there exists the possibility that institutional “programmers” will create a runaway institution, freed from all constraints.

Usually institutional errantry is the result of a complex interplay of processes, where no single individual understands them all, but it is possible to demonstrate it with a simple hypothetical case. Imagine that an institution’s governance puts in place a policy called “Policy F”. “Policy F” specifies that anybody who challenges “Sub-chapter XII(b)” is to be terminated from any further participation in that institution. Perhaps because a different sub-committee moved “Policy F” to page 231.76.0.1(A(c)) of “Sub-chapter XII(b)”, the rule has been put firmly in place without open and thoughtful review. Eventually somebody reads down to page 231.76.0.1(A(c)) and says “Hey! Wait a minute! This is a really bad idea!” At this point, in order to comply with the rules, he is immediately expelled from the institution. After all, “rules are rules”, “of laws and not of men”, etc. This happens a few more times, and that institution is soon disproportionately staffed with people who by nature are disinclined to challenge the system. An institutional mindset is forming that diverges from that of the institution’s creators.

In any living organism, some mutations are beneficial and some are not. In an institution, procedural mutations that serve to perpetuate the institution’s existence will be selected for, whereas the absence of self-perpetuating mutations will allow an institution to eventually fade, as the underlying need it serves fades. As time passes, institutions form and dissolve, but some of them will mutate to serve their own continuance. After enough time passes, we will be (in fact, are) overwhelmed by the accretion of institutions whose sole remaining function is to perpetuate their own existence. It is not that procedural mutations will lean in that direction, only that the long-term institutional survivors are the ones whose mutations prioritized institutional perpetuance over the original purpose their creators assigned to them.

To be clear, my point is that Institutional Will is, and can be, neither benign nor malevolent, merely that it exists. Institutional Will is to amorally follow the decision tree; to apply at every decision point the specified action and to proceed onward to the next decision point. Whether in a computer program or in a major governmental institution, this process will continue until it either terminates itself or is terminated in defiance of its internal processes. When an institution is no longer beneficial and yet refuses to be terminated, that defiance must sometimes take the form of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is the opposite of unquestioningly following orders. Civil disobedience is a sometimes necessary application of one’s moral agency, required of anyone capable of knowing right from wrong.

So in case you were wondering, Veryretired, I have reversed myself on civil disobedience. Sometimes it is not merely acceptable, it is imperative to defy errant institutions that have rejected their Constitutional bindings and are trampling original intent. It is about the survival of individuals qua individuals in the face of an institutional leviathan.

42 comments to Institutional Will

  • Julie near Chicago

    A very interesting piece, fellow Mid. For one thing, when one was blessed to be allowed access to the Inner Sanctum, the Computer Room, one could sometimes tell that one’s program was looping by the behavior of the tape drives. Sometimes they wound back & forth, back & forth…or in another more recalcitrant mood, they would refuse to move at all.

    Rather like the lurchings of Congress, in fact.

    I believe that Natural Law theory, at least as understood by its proponents of the last two or three centuries, have reached your same conclusion: that Natural Law imposes an actual obligation on persons to disobey “positive” law which is unjust.

    Along those lines, military personnel and police officers are supposed to refuse to obey illegal orders. (Which, obviously, puts them in a heck of a bind.)

    I believe also that the Founders considered it the duty of citizens to refuse to comply with unjust laws. So all of us are potentially in that same bind, if the Institution wishes to push back against our disobedience.

    One can fall on one’s sword in two distinct ways, I guess: One may do the right thing, which is the wrong thing; or one may do the wrong thing, which is the right thing. Some choice!

    I too grew up with the understanding that since our system of government provides explicit mechanisms for the changing or repealing of laws, the correct–the right–the MORAL thing for us citizens of FREE countries to do is to obey even those laws with which we disagree, until such time as they are changed through the prescribed process. …It’s nice to know that one can still come to the Light, even when the hour is rather late. :>)

    Thanks for this thought-provoking piece. I believe it needs posting to the Individual-Sovereignty Yahoo group. Properly accredited, of course. :>)

    Julie

  • John McVey

    I suggest integrating your thoughts with Ayn Rand’s idea of psychoepistemology and of automated thinking habits and automated content. From there you can then go on to culture and social institutions in general, including understanding where Billy Beck is coming from when he speaks of bad premises laid very deep and the evil of people turning their minds off in deference to training bereft of concern for propriety. In turn, you can then move onto the topic of from when all this method and content so automatised originates, especially as it pertains to culture and politics.

    Once you have that, and if you can put aside for the moment discussion of a whole raft of interesting subdevelopments (eg racism, classism, and many other forms of collectivism) that you are now in an excellent position to tear to shreds, then you can raise the issue of free will, including in both an inward and outward expression of disobedience – inward disobedience consisting of checking one’s premises and arresting a bad psychoepistemology, and outward disobedience consisting of challenging the culture and rules of groups and institutions – noting the intertwined nature of these inward and outward expressions. Take care to identify how poor choices lead both to bad psychoepistemology and bad institutions, that they are complementary to each other, and how it is disobedience against irrationality in both mind and body as an integrated whole that is the start of any reform. I recommend integrating this to that which I noted she has already noted – you may find her article “Philosophical detection” very useful, but you’ll need to read and think far wider than that.

    As an interesting side note, you may also want to check out the legal mechanics briefly mentioned nearish to the end of “Hugh Kenrick”, the second book in Ed Cline’s Sparrowhawk series. I recommend the whole series of six of course, but it is a few lines in Book Two in particular that are relevant to your question.

    In answer: both yes and no. There are no such things as institutitions that have their own wills totally independent of flesh and blood individuals – Hegel et al are talking out of their arses – because rules and procedures etc don’t get followed unless people choose to follow them, but there are such things as mindless obedience to rules and automated behaviours that people fail to choose to question. One of the quotes from Chesterton I like is “I don’t believe in a fate that befalls men however they act, but I do believe in a fate that befalls them unless they act.” If one notes that the root of action is cognition and choice then what he said makes perfect sense, ties in nicely with what AR has written about, is the basis of both what you (and others) have written about (including but not limited to other Samizdatistas’ comments on metanarratives), and explains the mechanics of many of the evils of the world.

    But Ayn Rand has already noted this, and more besides. The honest, rational and forthright libertarian will catch up with her, eventually.

    JJM

  • This happens a few more times, and that institution is soon disproportionately staffed with people who by nature are disinclined to challenge the system.

    Not only that: even when originally blind compliance is not in the nature of a particular member, soon enough he has enough interest vested in the existence of the institution to make him similarly disinclined to challenge it.

  • I like the ‘inward disobedience’ point, JJM – thanks.

  • Shirley Knott

    In what conceivable sense of the terms do “electronic programs… evade their constraints and wildly consume resources”?
    The problems are always that programs do *exactly* what they are constrained to do combined with ignorance on t he part of the programmer.l
    The problem is a *massive* equivocation over constraints and intent.
    Epic fail of an article.

    Shirley Knott, professional programmer

  • JadedLibertarian

    There is a problem of conflicting expectations.

    There are lots of programmers standing at the government terminal, all feeding in different programmes in the assured belief that their programme is the true function of government.

    I ask for liberty, a reduction in the likelihood of being murdered in my sleep and to be generally left alone. But that would strike most people as a very odd view of the function of a government.

    The other day I was arguing about minimum wage in the comments section of the Telegraph and someone said “an income is a right”. I retorted that if an income is a right, then that necessitates forcibly taking from those who work to fund those who refuse – and I said this is wicked.

    The retort was that it was not wicked but “civilisation”.

    The article is here if anyone is interested. All very troubling stuff in the comments of an ostensibly “conservative” paper.

    (Link)

    Now add into this picture of conflicting expectations the troubling tendency of this computer not to just say “Error!” but rather to try and create fusions of conflicting programmes, and you start to get a picture of the beast we have created for ourselves.

    No one has ever founded a consensus on what exactly government is for. Like your computer, government can never work unless people are clear on what exactly its function is (and is not).

  • In what conceivable sense of the terms do “electronic programs… evade their constraints and wildly consume resources”?

    Memory leaks for example.

    The problems are always that programs do *exactly* what they are constrained to do combined with ignorance on t he part of the programmer

    Which is rather the point of the article.

  • Gary

    I’m a first time viewer and like your post. I am a public school employee and see the litany of nonsense daily. I believe that most people enter the business with good intentions, but the organization sustains the company men/ mentality which I agree is continued perpetuation of the institution.

    I haven’t been expelled from it for being heretical, but my career advancement is dead because my point of view isn’t aligned with the culture. This is why W. Edwards Deming believed that an organization can never be fixed from within; those within are the problem and sustain the destructive culture. It’s all they know. Therefore, I believe that there needs to be a “hostile takeover” of all government institutions or we will get more of the same.

  • DocBrown

    Congratulations. You have rediscovered Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy. (Not a mean accomplishment!)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Pournelle#Iron_Law_of_Bureaucracy

  • Laird

    Julie, I think your point about Natural Law imposing a duty to disobey an “unjust” law, while interesting in its own right, is not quite the same one that Mid was making in this article. He’s merely discussing the mechanism by which an institution can seemingly develop “a will of its own” and slip the bounds of its original constraints. Whether that results in “unjust” policies is an entirely different matter, and indeed “justice” in many cases is in the eye of the beholder. Furthermore, it seems to me that one corollary to his idea is that if an institution “jumps the track” and ceases to further the purposes for which it was created, it becomes the duty of a “rational agent” to oppose it even if the result is not unjust, in fact even if it can be seen as beneficial.

    Shirley, you appear to have entirely missed the point of the article. It’s a metaphor. Look it up.

    DocBrown, while the two are indeed similar, I think Pournelle’s Iron Law is not quite the same thing that Mid was discussing. The Iron Law focuses on the intentionality of the individuals operating within an institution; Mid’s article focuses on a mechanical process which requires no such intentionality to reach the same result. At least as I understand both.

  • RRS

    M -

    If I understand correctly, I am dismayed by a concept of institutional will coming from you.

    That appears as a collectivist concept, much like the Common Will or the Public Will.

    Unless we are to engage in semantics only, Will is the determination (choice) of objectives, whether it be the objectives of the person(s) creating a mainframe program, access system, or controls for operation. That was willed by humans who determined the objectives of those actions. The ultimate “program” may reflect the confluence of the wills of teams of individuals, but the will originated from humans, not from the pattern of their efforts.

    Certainly it is true that institutions such as the “Public Education Systems” appear to operate with certain systemic objectives. However, it requires minimal examination to understand that those objectives are the confluence of the objectives of those operating the functions of the institution, and more particularly of those within the systems who dominate the directions of the confluences. That is not Institutional Will.

    Most of the institutions we deal with in Western Civilization (where there is Open Access to association formation) have arisen out of civil (non-governmental) instrumentalities resulting from cooperative activities. Those instrumentalities require “staffing” and “operators” who ultimately develop objectives of their own that deviate from the objectives of those cooperative activities that generated the instrumentality in the first instances. Thus does the instrumentality become “institutionalized.” Institutions, so directed by other objectives, even if confluently determined, tend toward preservation of a status quo, or very, very slow changes or adaptation; basically stagnation until circumvented or reformed. Noe of that evidences an Institutional Will that is anything other than the confluence of the objectives of its members.

  • RRS

    Well it took me so long to type I got sittened.

    Hope it will appear some day soon.

  • Midwesterner

    John,

    In 1984 and 1985 I bought and read everything I could find in print that Ayn Rand had written so I have almost certainly read what you refer to but don’t specifically remember it. Prior to that I had read laymans summaries of Benoit Mandelbrot’s work and got interested in the transition from complex systems to chaotic systems. Recently I had the pleasure of watching on TV a talk about chaotic systems by Clint Sprott on The University Channel of UWisc. It is available online here and is intended strictly for a layman audience.

    The unfolding Fast and Furious scandal and the slow, disappointingly small trickle of ATF law and order types defying the institution to expose a system gone seriously off of its assigned mission, got me to wondering about how a system could, either through design error or mutation, select for the sort of membership that would embrace or at least not defy that extreme of a level of misbehavior. Notice that whistle blowers are virtually always shunted out of positions of influence. That was my basis for choosing that for “Policy F”. It is already present in all of our problem institutions. That isn’t a coincidence, it is the feature that insures institutional survival.

    I reached the conclusion that as system complexity increases exponentially*, a chaotic system is assured, ergo a certain percentage of seriously renegade organizations will occur. A certain number of those will prioritize their own institutional survival and we will reach the state we are in.

    *Sprott demonstrates an example of chaotic versus non chaotic systems with models of one sun, one planet and two suns, one planet. The math that can predict the long term behavior of a single planet around a single sun has been established for centuries. The math that can predict the long term behavior of a single planet around two suns while seemingly possible, cannot predict. This is because the tiniest margins of error are multiplied exponentially and within a very brief time planets orbiting two bodies, even if only starting from only one millionth of a degree difference, will very soon have totally dissimilar behaviors. In chaotic system the tiniest infinitesimal difference in starting states can yield an entirely different outcome.

    My intent with this article is to demonstrate that the existence of errant institutions is guaranteed as institutional complexity increases. That a certain number of these errant institutions will survive. And that the only way to avoid institutional conquest of a society of individuals is to defy these institutions. As commenter Gary says above, we need to stage a hostile takeover of these institutions. As commenter Laird understands, we need to defy all institutions that have exceeded their original purpose without regard to the specifics of any particular excess. If any overstep is tolerated, then the process of overstepping can itself become institutionally established.

    From there, I believe we must dismantle these institutions and do everything we can to avoid granting any enforcement authority over individuals to the national government. When criminal law is reserved to the states, different states will follow different paths even if they start from the same starting point. Chaos theory guarantees this. Some states will still be conquered by errant institutions but the states will fall at different times and there will always be the other states to protect the federation and in extreme cases provide the necessary external intervention to reinstate constitutional restraint on those states’ governments. This is what was intended by the authors of the fourteenth amendment.

    A question that arises from this, one that I have not yet given thought to, is whether – fourteenth amendment style – we should interfere with the specifics of any one states capture by institutions or should we wait until it is time to lift the plastic cap of state sovereignty and press the governance reset button. I haven’t given that problem much thought.

    Reserving jurisdiction over individuals behavior to the states will probably be a viable approach because, as some states are conquered by institutions, other states are achieving maximum personal liberty. The states with the most personal liberty will always be the strongest by all measures and able to defend themselves from less free states.

    An example of how states can redirect the behavior of other states even passively, is how Texas is currently drawing the populations of California and Illinois (and others) because of its success. I do not trust Texas politicians to continue their liberty and prosperity records in national office because in the case of Texas, the structural, institutional, systemic constraints are designed not to help politicians do the right thing, but to make it difficult for them to do much harm. Perhaps I am cynical but I think I have laid a reasoned case to support that opinion.

    None of these possible interpretation of applying chaos theory and evolution theory to institutional behavior changes the basic conclusion I state in the article. Institutions must be defied. The institutions that are making the most trouble are the ones that have evaded constraint and are no longer responding to external input. Whether from within or from without, they must be defied. A big question now is “How high does this institutional problem go?”

  • pete

    I agree with Shirley.

    And computer programmes don’t evade responsibility, attempt to cover up rubbish output or pretend that it is correct, or blame others when things go wrong, all of which are characteristics of human bureaucracies.

  • It is called an ‘analogy‘, Pete. I am also fairly certain Mid was not suggesting institutions literally transform people Tron-like into computer programs.

  • Midwesterner

    RRS, I am interesting in hearing your comments in light of my 5:56PM comment.

    To elaborate on the possibility of ‘will’ that is separate from the “confluence of the objectives of those operating the functions” I explain how complex, perhaps beyond the comprehension of any one rational actor, processes can generate results that are virtually random. Certain of these random outcomes will be adaptions the serve the perpetuance of the institution. This may in fact be “a collectivist concept” but it is in no way an endorsement of collectivism. The opposite, in fact. Collectivist institutions are determined enemies of of individuals. But denying the existence of processes that result in collective behavior that is at odds with the individuals charged with carrying out that collective behavior is dangerous and leaves us open to spending outselves on futile attempts to govern ungovernable institutional leviathans.

  • Midwesterner

    pete, if you change your statement to “programmes don’t choose to evade responsibility”, I will agree with you.

    If you follow my arguments, you will find that I am not ascribing thought to complex institutional processes, only behavior. And in any large enough collection of behaviors, some of them will lead to certain outcomes. Some computer programs, through no element of programmers’ intent, will none the less evade the controls intended for them. Especially as complexity increases.

    On the societal scale, it is essential for the human actors working within complex systems to recognize and act against these institutional configurations when they occur. With the of-necessity limited perspective of any one individual, it is possible to not realize the larger effect of one’s individual acts. This is why we do need to look at institutions as something different than the sum of the people in them.

  • This is why we do need to look at institutions as something different than the sum of the people in them.

    Indeed, the key notion is “more than the sum of its parts”. Emergence is exactly what is being discussed here.

  • RRS

    M-

    Perhaps, given distinctions cited by Laird, I did not comprehend your views to suggest that various forms of activities within institutions produce, chaotic or mechanistic results that not only were not the objectives of the members, but something possibly “unrelated” to those objectives. Such perceived results you seem to equate to having an effect similar to results obtained by human will seeking specific human objectives.

    Sadly, there is no “unrelated.” Ask the Butterfly.

    Given how institutions arise (in an Open Access social order) I think we will be hard pressed to find any confirming examples of such results which do not have adequate explanations .

    Elsewhere on this site this week, I pointed out that institutions (such as Public Education, etc. etc.) are subsumed into governments. That process is facilitated by the value to the members of the coercive powers then available for their objectives. That is quite distinct from any institution subsuming governmental authority. Are there examples of the latter?

    In further response to your 5:36 post, we may differ on how institutions arise. Your views on that may help in understanding the other views. But, I will differ on what to do about “errant” institutions. “Attack” is a waste of effort for we would simply be opposing the objectives of “entrenched” interests. “Reform” has generally proved so fruitless because conditions change more rapidly than the reforms can be agreed, let alone instituted (no pun). The answer is circumvention, cooperative efforts to generate new instrumentalities for the objectives of the present.

  • RRS

    Man! Ah duz get th’ smites today

  • Jacob

    Kafka.
    Aren’t you talking about Kafka? He described institutions becoming mechanical, impersonal and running amok.

  • Midwesterner

    Sadly, there is no “unrelated.” Ask the Butterfly.

    If you are saying that an entirely unpredictable outcome resulting from the intent of the actors means that the outcome was “related” to the intent the actors, I don’t follow you. Simply because the outcome is deterministic does not mean it is predictable. And if the outcome is in fact unpredictable, then the intents are predictively unrelated to the outcomes.

    Given how institutions arise (in an Open Access social order) I think we will be hard pressed to find any confirming examples of such results which do not have adequate explanations .

    I think you are misunderstanding the modeling of chaotic systems. They are not random systems. The state of any chaotic system can be easily explained by analyzing the process. This is because when actually seeing the present state, rather than predicting it, you have removed the infinitesimal errors that accumulate to create the chaotic dynamic. The results are always easy to explain in hindsight. It is foresight that is impossible.

    That is quite distinct from any institution subsuming governmental authority. Are there examples of the latter?

    You mean like can I think of any examples of corporatism? Er, yes? Even at the highest levels of our national government the evidence appears strong of institutional capture of national economic policy by the financial industry in the likes of Goldman Saks, etc. And that is aside from the Federal Reserve which is I think still maintaining the legal fiction that they are a private entity. And have not guilds and trade unions historically usurped government muscle to their own ends? Maybe I misunderstood your question because this seems overwhelmingly obvious to me.

    But, I will differ on what to do about “errant” institutions. “Attack” is a waste of effort for we would simply be opposing the objectives of “entrenched” interests. “Reform” has generally proved so fruitless because conditions change more rapidly than the reforms can be agreed, let alone instituted (no pun). The answer is circumvention, cooperative efforts to generate new instrumentalities for the objectives of the present.

    If you would circumvent the Federal Reserve System’s subsuming of Constitutional monetary constraints, I think you will find that subsumed government institutions like the Treasury department with the aid of institutions like the IRS will interpret that as an attack. Your distinction between attacking and circumventing will, I think, be lost on them.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird,

    Mid’s final paragraph:

    “So in case you were wondering, Veryretired, I have reversed myself on civil disobedience. Sometimes it is not merely acceptable, it is imperative to defy errant institutions that have rejected their Constitutional bindings and are trampling original intent. It is about the survival of individuals qua individuals in the face of an institutional leviathan.”

    It is this, Mid’s conclusion–and in particular its first sentence–that I was addressing.

    To commence his essay, Mid provides some introductory commentary; after a triple-spaced break he announces what is to be the main point of the piece, which is that he was wrong in believing that civil disobedience is never justified. He then uses off-the-rails programs (one might almost say that they have “exceeded their mandate”) to illustrate his view of how institutions also eventually tend to errancy; he finishes, in the paragraph quoted above, by stating his conclusion that civil disobedience may indeed be “not merely acceptable,” but actually “imperative” to defy such errant institutions.

    This is precisely the position of Natural Law theorists that I mentioned, although it is illustrated in an unusual and refreshing manner.

    Regardless of whether or not the Institution actually proceeds as would a computer-program-cum-natural-selection is a different issue; but it’s an interesting and illuminating analogy nontheless.

    :>)

    –J.

  • RRS

    M-

    How have we arrived at the subjects of “predictability” and “intent?” What actors do within institutions have results, whether Intended” or not, whether “predictable” or not, and regardless of whether the confluence of actions of individual will are intended or predictable or not, the results are related to human actions generated by human will within institutions.

    Those do not predict weather patterns, perhaps nothing does given the variable and variability of inputs, including “butterflys.”

    If you are suggesting that we should consider applying the conjectural processes of “chaos systems modeling” for comparisons to the operations and results of human institutions, consider the human element (and limitation) of the modeling processes.

    As an aside, certainly we have examples of a subsequent “present” having been successfully “predicted.” Surely it is accepted that many go back and identify actions that would have “predicted” this present.

    Corporatism (why “ism”) as you cite, has occurred where those within the mechanisms of government have extended (or sought to extend) their functions into other institutions (corporations) which arose for other objectives. GS did not lend funds to the Treasury, it was the reverse – and why? Surely it benefited GS as an institution to have the coercive force of government make available public funds for its purposes, but, those wthin government subsumed functions of that institution .

    As a result, what authority of government has GS subsumed? Can you not identify what actions of GS those in government have susumed?

    You know your history. The Federal Reserve was created as a governmental subsumption of certain functions of what had been the private banking system. It was not generated as a cooperative (among private banks) instrumentality to solve mutual problems of intermittent illiquidities. The progressive subsumption of “banking” continued with FDIC and continues, through TARP and onward.

    Yes, those within institutions will regard circumventions as an attack. We have the notable example now in reaction to the circumventions developing around the entrenched educational systems. However, I do not regard the mechanisms of governments as institutions, although the administrative functions within the mechanisms do become institutional in character (see, Bureaucracy by Gordon Tullock).

    The citation of actual examples (not models) would be meaningful.

  • Jacob: no, I don’t think he’s describing Kafka. Kafka seems to be dealing with the same premise as the Iron Law, which was addressed in earlier comments on this thread.

  • From Mid’s post:

    “Eventually somebody reads down to page 231.76.0.1(A(c)) and says “Hey! Wait a minute! This is a really bad idea!” At this point, in order to comply with the rules, he is immediately expelled from the institution. After all, “rules are rules”, “of laws and not of men”, etc. This happens a few more times, and that institution is soon disproportionately staffed with people who by nature are disinclined to challenge the system.”

    As the above passage itself indicates, there is a prior fault in the handling and transmission of the relevant concept – rule of law – which lies in the failure to communicate its’ status as an instrument (and an extremely delicate one) conceived to serve the imperative of individual freedom. How many times have I seen the term “rule of law” appear with “freedom” after the conjunction “and” – as in, “freedom and the rule of law”. That soundbite formula positions the two of them as if they were equal values rather than the latter a mere functionary to the purpose of the former.

    Institutional mutations are thus made possible by popular misconceptions. Civil disobedience therefore requires articulate voice, but it is up against popular misconceptions compounded over… a considerable length of time.

  • Midwesterner

    RRS,

    In that other thread, you said:

    It is not so important to assign “blame” or even responsibility to the individuals (or groups) that cause specific actions through governments as it is to determine how and why they are able to, and do so.

    That is the principle of identification of the forces affecting the functions of governments.

    Yes. I agree with that goal. And the principle force affecting the function of any institution large enough to exceed the understanding of the people creating and staffing it, is the unpredictable results of inputs in a chaotic system.

    Imagine an institution consisting of a basketball hoop and one person assigned to shoot a basket every time a signal bell rings. The system works fine. But now, the demand for more baskets to be shot has lead the creators of the system to make a simple modification. They have added four more people to shoot baskets when the bell rings. But they didn’t realize they needed to add more baskets. So now, when the bell rings, five players must try to shoot five balls through one basket at the same time.

    System failure. Because it is a simple system, we can easily blame stupidity. But that is only because it is such a simple system. When systems become complicated enough, when the consequences of their processes have the capacity to modify subsequent processes, the mechanism is in place for them to transform into chaotic systems. I really encourage you and anybody else interested to watch the 1+ hour lecture by Sprott. The unpredictable meanderings of process in (literally) incomprehensible institutions is the force “affecting the functions of governments.” The “human element” no longer controls the outcome. No matter how strongly those five basketball shooters want the balls to go through the basket, the system is what is preventing it, not the will of the shooters.

    When a system becomes too unstable for a human to anticipate the consequences of their actions, their choices within the allowed system parameters cease to be a factor. This is the point at which individuals must recognize that the system has developed a will of its own. This is the point at which they must defy the institution. Defying the good intentions of the creators is pointless, counter productive and probably wrong. Defying the intentions and competence of the other workers in the institution, likewise. When any system goes “off-the-rails” it is time to end that institution and if its original function is essential, then start a new institution from scratch with no vestiges (or staff) of the previous off-the-rails institution.

    Once this state of chaotic behavior has been reached, unpredictable results from what the actors intend to be the same inputs, the forces of natural selection apply. Natural selection does not require life or thought, it is simply a filter that lets some entities advance and makes others stop. Perry mentioned “emergence” so I went looking and sure enough, Wikipedia provides useful information. Here is a general discussion of it, and here are mentioned some noteworthy philosophers who have applied it to political philosophy, among them Hayak, Popper and Bastiat.

  • Midwesterner

    mike,

    Agreed. Our difficulty is overcoming generations of entrenched misconceptions. But the inexorable march of reality is certainly raising doubts and opening even some of the most closed minds. Just reading mainstream punditry shows a sharp skew in direction is occurring. It is during the present widespread uncertainty that we have our window to persuade the newly unsettled minds. If they find ‘faith’ in some new “ism” before we succeed, he 21st Century could make the 20th look placid.

  • RRS

    All this has been intriquing, but seems to reveal that we are probably not talking about the same thing in reference to Institutions.

    Your references seem to conflate Institutions with systems.

    That is why I emphasized consideration of how institutions arise. They are not devised nor created, though systems may be. Yes, systems are devised and installed within institutions (the various public education systems within the social institution of education which arose from the instrumentalities for the preservation and transfer of “knowledge”) .

    Even so, It is hard to conceive of an example of a “system” having a will. Its operations, by reason of design (by humans) or of the actions of its human agents, may produce results unrelated to human intent, but not unrelated to human action.

    Circumvention of existing institutions requires the generation (you pick emergence) of “new” (or different) instrumentalities as a result of human interactions and cooperation – such as we are seeing evolve (spontaneously) in reaction to the rigidity, failures, and “status quo” nature of what has become our institution of public education; an instituion that has now largely been subsumed by governements at the several levels. We are about to see circumvention of different orders in the fields of post secondary education.

    Given what we are learning in exploring genetics and epigenetics, we may need to re-examine the concept of will as a fundamental human characteristic. However, there is no adequate empirical (or other?) evidence to support conjectures that the operations of institutions or systems disclose the existence of will other than that resulting from human actions.

  • Paul Marks

    Allow people almost unlimited power to spend (other people’s money) and to pass almost any regulations they like – and most people (not all people – but most) will use it.

    Call this “institutional will” or call it “original sin” – but even way it is the case.

    The way to deal with it is to not allow the vast powers – to limit powers very srictly (and with clear rules that are not open to “interpretation”).

    Not to elect human beings and to expect them to be saints.

  • RRS

    PM -

    An Occam’s-like set of solutions is just fine and dandy.

    Now, how do we make them work?

    How do we “not allow” (such as departures from Constitutional strictures – that seduce the electorate with the “goodies” of varities of “entitlements”)

    How do we limit election to those who will not claim “the institutional will called for these actions” ???

    To create conditions where things (actions, motivations, etc.) will not occur is nigh on to impossible. Perhaps that is why history is replete with the rise of negating tyrannies.

  • RRS

    PM -

    An Occam’s-like set of solutions is just fine and dandy.

    Now, how do we make them work?

    How do we “not allow” (such as departures from Constitutional strictures – that seduce the electorate with the “goodies” of varities of “entitlements”)

    How do we limit election to those who will not claim “the institutional will called for these actions” ???

    To create conditions where things (actions, motivations, etc.) will not occur is nigh on to impossible. Perhaps that is why history is replete with the rise of negating tyrannies.

  • Midwesterner

    RRS,

    Under a pure common law system, I think your definition of “institutions” is accurate. They are an emergent phenomenon. But under parliamentary or legislative law, a designing body is given the power to both create and destroy institutions. They may do it because they think they can improve them, but they are in fact altering them in sometimes unanticipated and sometimes even unimaginable ways. One need only look at institutions like charity or family or money after law makers have ‘improved’ them. What takes the place of the original institution is still an institution, even though it has been altered by law to incorporate imposed systems.

    Think of family in a common law setting. It is self correcting and the participants behavior can alter the institution of family. When unreasonable or dangerous situations arise, the common sense element of common law adjusts to them directly, at the point of the family’s contact with the law. Now think of the contemporary approach to family. Has family ceased to be an institution? No, but it is no longer one that responds to the families who participate in it, it is now (if you want me to qualify my term) an artificial institution. Food stamps and child protective services and divorce law and alimony judgments and compulsory government schooling have all been done with good intentions. But the institution of family is now responsive not to the families and to the common sense of those involved, but to various imposed systems (food stamps, child services, etc) and their unanticipated, in fact unanticipatable interactions.

    I think it would be a mistake to blame this on the particulars of any one of the programs or laws or “systems” (although I am sure they are generally very flawed), the problem arises from the net result of their interactions. The institution has become so complicated by all of the interacting imposed systems, that it no longer yields predictable (say nothing of beneficial) results. What is the institution of family when family courts compel cuckolds to fund the upbringing of children not their own even though the court acknowledges that they are not his children?! And that is just one small example of unanticipated consequences.

    Circumvention of existing institutions requires the generation (you pick emergence) of “new” (or different) instrumentalities as a result of human interactions and cooperation

    First, “emergence” is a distinct and narrowly defined phenomenon. While emergence may “generate” something, that is not what “emergence” is. These paragraphs give a general idea but the key feature I am writing about is “A component has a particular functionality but this is not recognizable as a subfunction of the global functionality. Instead a component implements a behaviour whose side effect contributes to the global functionality [...] Each behaviour has a side effect and the sum of the side effects gives the desired functionality” (Steels 1990).” Systems (and the greater institutions they are part of) serve those who create the rules. In a common law system, the rules are a product of the parties to a case and those effected by it in a process overseen by a judge. Even unintended things that make those persons’ lives better will slip into becoming standard practice because the emergent systems evolve to better serve the rule writers. But in an imposed system, since it is not being modified by the direct participants at each instance, the “desired functionality” is not what best serve the parties to the case and the judge. It will also evolve to serve those writing the rules, but the rules are the product of experts and professionals working in various agencies and bodies. So the system will evolve to serve the well being of the rule writers, aka bureaucracy. The emergent behaviors will be the extension and further empowerment of the bureaucracies.

    This is irrespective of the individual actors within the institutions. If behaviors do not evolve that extend and empower the bureaucracy they work in then it will fade. If behaviors do evolve that extend and empower the bureaucracy, then it will endure. The individual actors might not, in fact in a system that truly has entered a chaotic state they can not, know the net consequence of their actions.

    While the various systems interacting in any institution will not seek out behavior that extends their warrant and longevity, when those behaviors emerge as a byproduct of their intended acts, those system are sustained and extended beyond their intended purpose.

    Long day and I’m tired so if I’ve not clarified thinking adequately (and you are patient enough) I’m happy to keep discussing it. You are making me think in ways I haven’t thought yet, but I expected that because you have studied this general topic it would be an interesting discussion.

  • Institutional will is a deliberate misnomer, is it not? Like ‘muscle memory.’
    An institution doesn’t think- but, it appears to and therefore it can be useful (although perhaps not, reading the thread) to give a complicated process a simple label.
    much as a computer doesn’t think or want anything at ll, but when describing what is going wrong with a system it can be helpful to describe what ‘the computer thinks’ is real (ie what it has been told, as opposed to what is really real) and what it ‘wants to do’ as a result, especially when talking to those who have responsibility for providing the input without necessarily knowing how it works internally. Stock management systems being the example that immediately springs to mind.

  • RRS

    M –

    I fear I am too pedantic by nature.

    Much of the basis for my views on these subjects does go back to studies begun (when I was almost 30) over 60 years ago, which continues, though somewhat impeded by the latter day “jargonistic” tendencies. Still that doesn’t mean that I found “the way” to understanding, I just can not follow some of these other trails.

    These subjects appear to me as derivatives of human interactions with one another and within and with their physical surroundings.

    We should (carefullyand clearly, I hope) identify the distinctions between Institutions and systems (as they relate to institutions) but always in terms of the human actions essential to each.

    After all, what causes us to gather here with common and individual motivations?

  • Midwesterner

    RRS,

    While it would turn the original article into complicated treatise, at this point pedantry in pursuit of better understanding is appropriate. I did not explicate “institutional” in the original article or early comments because it didn’t really alter my point. However, detail does help explain and clarify so now I’m elaborating.

    When I first started programming computers, describing the users’ system using the words “system” and “program” were almost synonymous. The data, on cards or tape, and the program, also on cards or tape, were loaded together and the results came out. By the time I left programming in the early eighties, computer “systems” were complicated constructions containing countless different recondite procedural commands within more simultaneously executing computer “programs” than I can recall, and relying on humans following procedures when they interacted with the programs and with the data.

    I am using (well, intending but sometimes forgetting to use) “institution” not as a system in the sense of a law, an agency or a department, but as a meta-system. Under this terminology, the FBI is not the institution, the ATF is not the institution, the DHS is not the institution, even the DOJ is not the institution. The institution is the framework of a lawfully ordered society guided by and inclusive of these (governmental process) systems. The individuals’ level of participation is being blocked all of the way through to even the common law safety valve of jury nullification being suppressed in courts.

    I am arguing that the interactions both within and among all of these systems imposed onto the preexisting institutions have to varying degrees reached “chaotic” states. Because the imposed systems are the source of the problem, I am, perhaps misleadingly, dwelling on them. Another way to think of this that will be familiar to readers who frequent this site, is that institutions can be “free market“, the result of the consensual cooperation of the participants*, or they can be “command directed“, the result of the systems imposed on them by external forces. In the US, religion is one of the remaining examples of an institution that is “free market” yet the trend is clear that morality is being co-opted by “command directing” governmental systems. The first step of this process was to conflate “legal” and “moral“, a process that is well underway.

    *my impression, perhaps over simplified, is that common law was essentially a voluntary system where you either complied with the (commonly accepted) law or you were an “out-law“, abandoning both law’s proscriptions and protections.

    I am arguing that emergence, the evolution of any sufficiently complicated system of interaction, evolves to suit the rule promulgating process, not the rule promulgating purpose. So in a free market system of laws (ie common law v out-law or perhaps insurance underwriters being paid to regulate activities in exchange for assuming risk) it is the demands of the market process (mutually beneficial human interactions) that drive the evolution of the rules/laws. But in a command directed system of laws, it is the demands (perpetuance, expansion and empowerment) of the rule promulgating and enforcing process that is served. Where you and I perhaps differ is that I believe I have laid out the case that this purposefulness of the rule promulgating and enforcing process to expand and empower itself transcends the human actors involved. I believe it may be a completely wasted effort to address the behavior of individuals acting within systems that are immune to market pressure. If a system has entered a chaotic state, then putting “market pressure” on those operating that system is pointless. What good does it do to address and alter their behavior if their behavior is unable to lead to specific outcomes?

    I am exploring and developing my thoughts on this as I go along in this thread so if I have contradicted myself, please point it out.

    I am not saying that all government systems have, in their interactions with the larger institutions, reached a chaotic dynamic, but in the case of ones that have, it is crucial to recognize that state and change tactics.

    To make clear, “chaos” and “emergent behavior” are not jargon or new words for old things. The are a very new discovery in scientific/mathematical terms back only ~30 years. They explain why some clearly determinist (not random) behaviors none the less cannot be predicted. It is a new discovery; a new way of understanding why some things cannot be predicted. I really do encourage you to give it a look.

    Tangentially, I have stated in the past, sometimes against the arguments of others in the Samizdata community, that sustainable collectivism is completely possible. But I can see much of what it must take for a collectivist society to reach a pure and stable form and it horrifies me. Perhaps this Institutional Will I am talking about is a harbinger of what will follow if collectivist entities are allowed to consolidate and reinforce themselves.

  • Midwesterner

    wh00ps,

    How interesting that you discuss “muscle memory” and “thinking” in the same comment on “will“. It makes for some easy examples that demonstrate why I deliberately chose the term “will”.

    First, muscle memory is more accurately called “procedural” memory. It is a routinized process of muscle actions and reactions. Once established it occurs without the participation of rational process. Whenever the brain’s process monitor detects the first steps of a familiar process, it takes over and executes the remainder of the task on autopilot. This correlates well with a police officer arresting a suspected burglar and turning him over to the justice system. Ordinarily this system (back to muscle/procedural memory) works very well. We drink coffee, walk, tie shoes, feed ourselves, all manner of things without needing to think about them. But do we say that because thought was not involved in the execution process of the rational mind’s will, that the resulting act is not an act of will?

    This may seem a distinction without a difference at first glance, but imagine this. You are removing a pan of hot grease from an oven. You are doing it with one potholder and one hand. All is going well, the pan is quite well balanced and then, the hot grease starts shifting to one side of the pan and it begins to overpower your one hand and tip. Faster than your rational process can holler “NO!” your other unprotected hand attempts to catch and steady the pan. So was that act (of grabbing the pan with an unprotected hand) an act of your will or somebody else’s? Was it not an act of will at all? In the first three definitions of “will” in this dictionary, reason is either absent or optional. I chose “will” to convey that there is a purposefulness, a resoluteness, in actions that are not necessarily the result of rational conscious choice. Your hand clearly was moved by the intent of steadying the pan, grabbing it was not a random convulsion. But neither was it the product of conscious thought. I am not attributing conscious thoughtfulness to institutions with the use of ‘will’, because I do not think conscious thoughtfulness is an essential component of will. Decisiveness, yes. Purposefulness, yes. But not thoughtfulness.

    To declare that wh00ps grabbing the pan without a potholder was, in fact, an act of wh00ps’ will, we need only demonstrate that the decision was under his control. Flawed in the execution perhaps, but under his control. Walking through a park and getting hit by a baseball is not an act of your will, but grabbing the pan was. Why? Because the act of grabbing the pan was (entirely) within your control and nobody elses.

    Let’s experiment. Let’s say that you are compelled to roll a die and then endure the consequence of whatever outcome was assigned to that number on the die. You rolled the die so to a casual observer, the outcome is entirely within your control. But the truth is, you have no control so the outcome is random. We would no longer say that the consequence is an act of your will. In fact, we would say the act was the consequence of the will of whoever compelled you to roll the dice. The randomness is a subset of their will, not yours.

    In this article, I am making the speculative claim that institutions being extremely complicated interactions of individuals and individuals, individuals and systems and systems and systems, have entered into the realm of chaotic behavior. I really encourage anybody who is not understanding the difference between “chaotic” and “random” to listen to the Sprott lecture linked above. Chaotic behavior is still determinist. What sets it apart from simple and complex behavior is that even the tiniest margin of error is multiplied exponentially by repeated iterations of decision branching. It is possible to create a model of a chaotic action but it is not possible to predict the behavior of the real thing. Initial data captured from the real world cannot possibly be precise enough to yield a predictive model.

    Here is a simple example of how a deterministic process can be made completely unpredictable by iterations of tiny errors. Imagine you give 10 different people each a tape measure, tell them to each measure the same ten large trees’ circumference to the 10 of an inch, drop everything to the left of the decimals and multiple the ten remainders (the tenths) together. You won’t even get two answer the same, much less a majority. What would be the bureaucratic equivalent of using the fraction to determine the next step? Perhaps alphabetized sorting. Or maybe arriving at a multiple station counter with only one waiting line; the slightest random change could cause you to be waited on by a different clerk and get an entirely different result. Iterate these kinds of randomizations and make the results consequential and you have a chaotic system. I believe it is likely, even probable, that most of our rule enforcement apparatus has shifted into chaotic enforcement behavior in all but the most extreme cases (and sometimes even then). This profoundly changes the social institutions that it is occurring in.

    Since the the random outcomes that these chaotic systems generate does not arise in any of the individuals participating in them, but originate entirely in the structural nature of the institution, and because they select for a particular outcome (perpetuance of the ruling body) it is appropriate to acknowledge that extra human origination of purpose by attributing the will to achieve some purpose, not to the participants (who are not the source of the purpose), but to the institution itself.

  • RRS

    M -

    Threads like this risk becoming “private exchanges” losing connection with the points of communal interest.

    So, I will probably bow out with this:

    You perceive certain human actions (“inputs”?)occurring within systems that are so complex that the processes of those various actions occurring therein results in the complexity of the system possibly determining the results of those actions unrelated to the actions themselves.

    Your analogy is to the effects noted in computer science, such as the activities of programing and processing data.

    Absent from the analogy, and most likely applicable to your experience is consideration of the existence of controlling architecture most likely von Neumann, which establishes the constraints of systems.

    Such singular constraints do not apply to the formation of what we observe as human will.

    In the 17th and 18th centuries, especialy the French Enlightenment sought to find the extension of Newtonian Mechanics into areas of life beyond its applicability; we see many analogies now to what we are able to observe in “computer science” and “Modeling.” We should take great care not to assume too much from our observations.

  • Midwesterner

    You perceive certain human actions (“inputs”?)occurring within systems that are so complex that the processes of those various actions occurring therein results in the complexity of the system possibly determining the results of those actions unrelated to the actions themselves.

    Yes.

    Your analogy is to the effects noted in computer science, such as the activities of programing and processing data.

    Actually, no. Computers are one of the least likely to system to show emergent behavior because computer systems reducibility stops at binary. What I am using the computer systems for is as a more manageable metaphorical stage, but a completely computerized system could probably not show chaotic behavior although it could model it. For a computer system to show chaotic behavior would, I believe, require some truly analog, that is not-digital, factors. I don’t think present computers have that but I have been away from them a long time.

    Absent from the analogy, and most likely applicable to your experience is consideration of the existence of controlling architecture most likely von Neumann, which establishes the constraints of systems.

    I’m not sure but I don’t think so. Lorentz and Mandelbrot were discovering the behavior of chaotic systems about 50 years ago and about 30 years ago emergent behaviors from randomness came onto the field of serious study. What I am saying is (and I presume it has been said long ago) is that where there is chaotic behavior, emergent behavior can arise and sustain if there is any feedback loop at all. In other words, systems whose decisions derive from previous decisions can demonstrate self sustaining emergent behavior under some conditions. And further, that in a steadily propagating stream of systems imposed onto institutions, the preponderance of them will soon be the ones from which self sustaining behavior emerged. This is of course because systems without self sustaining behavior tend to terminate and systems with self sustaining behavior endure.

    Such singular constraints do not apply to the formation of what we observe as human will.

    But I am specifically not referring to human will. I am saying that when/if the above described situation arises, human will becomes irrelevant if it acts within the constraints of the system/institution.

    In the 17th and 18th centuries, especialy the French Enlightenment sought to find the extension of Newtonian Mechanics into areas of life beyond its applicability; we see many analogies now to what we are able to observe in “computer science” and “Modeling.” We should take great care not to assume too much from our observations.

    Which is precisely the conclusion Lorentz reached in 1961 when he discovered that he could plug his observations into a computer to start a weather model running, and if he ran it again starting in the middle of a previous run, the two runs subsequently diverged. He realized that observations did not contain enough information to make more than very short term predictions. That awareness of the limited usefulness of observations became the foundation for chaos theory. Perhaps a better understanding of their limitations might restrain ambitious politicians and bureaucrats. Eh. Probably not.

    I wish former regular Samizdata commenter Pa Annoyed was around to participate in this discussion but I haven’t seen him around these parts in some time.

    Chaos theory is, unlike the French Enlightenment efforts you refer to, not an effort to use math or mechanics to make predictions. It is an understanding of why they are not even theoretically capable of predictions in some common circumstances. It is a study of features that nonpredictable processes share, so that a fairly cursory examination can suggest if the system is predictable or not without having to try by brute computation force to find out empirically.

    You appear to believe, if I am understanding you correctly, that human interactions of any complexity can be managed if only one can convince the participants in the interaction to do the correct thing. I am saying that for many of the institutions of our society and some of the larger functions of our government, that is almost certainly an impossibility. Whether one is trying to ‘command’ a libertarian utopia or a socialist utopia, the system will defeat the commanders. If there is a command mechanism available and it is sufficiently extensive and complicated, it will almost certainly demonstrate emergent, self sustaining/advancing behavior regardless of the good will and intelligence of those administering it.

    I am saying that even if you could reeducate or replace all of the problem people in an institution that was exhibiting chaotic behavior, the problems would quickly resurface with new faces.

  • Laird

    Resistance is futile.

  • RRS

    Gee! I really shouldn’t, but it is not an issue of belief, but experience:

    Human interactions can not be successfully “managed,” certainly not over any continuum.

    If you like, you may place the results of those interactions in the category of the chaos of existence. Howver, we do have examples of results of spontaneous order.