Social machines

The strangest and most important thing about these machines is that each component is often unaware of the part they play or the goal they are unconsciously working toward. Cogs are often good, moral people and confronting them with damnation will be counter-productive.

I want to write about specific things that bother me in society, but first I have to put them in the context in which I feel they need to be – that of social machines. Social machines are networks of people linked to each other by impersonal relationships that together accomplish some kind of broad social goal. The machine can be assembled by legislators, powerful industrialists or simply accrete out of cultural behaviors. Machines often do not work toward just dismantling specific legislation or memes. Their effect can be more pervasive and powerful, even having the goal of general authoritarianism.

This might be hard to understand, so I will give one well-documented example.

The machine is called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. You can buy a book about it online, which I recommend. The link I gave gives a very complete description of the machine, but as you read it I want you to notice the three crucial elements. First, each cog in the machine can defend themselves and their actions as being entirely rational and justifiable, from the lawmakers that make possession of Marijuana a criminal offense, to the police that stop nonwhite people more frequently, to the judges that convict them on correspondingly scanter evidence. No part of the machine has to be aware of the end goal for the machine to work. Second, the machine’s effect on society is to make nonwhite people, especially black people, powerless, as even a brief incarceration in federal prison can limit your voting rights and ability to earn money. The third thing to note is that the machine was purposefully assembled by a few powerful people, who needed a new way to discriminate while not appearing outwardly racist as their old views became more controversial. Though only a select few would have consciously aware of their own motivations, societal fear and prejudice made installing the machine in American society fairly easy. The massive number of people that the US puts in prison compared even with dictatorships is an outwardly peculiar symptom of this insidious machine’s goal.

How about another example? This one is found throughout the world.

Another machine relies in part on the mechanisms outlined here: Moral Panic/Folk devils. Politicians and the media take an isolated event or a vulnerable group of people as inspiration for construction of a ‘folk devil’. This devil is portrayed as a lethal and imminent threat to a free society, and legislation is proposed to deal with it. This legislation almost always involves curtailing hard-won civil protections and liberties, but when the instigators of the moral panic can brand every opponent as either a corrupt traitor or a coward, they are often successful. Though the government that strikes down these civil protections might be largely decent and honorable, eventually one may be elected that would take advantage of the society’s weakened state and convert it into an Authoritarian dictatorship. In this way, the ‘folk devil’ who was nothing more than an imaginary and constructed scapegoat is replaced by the true Devil, who was unpicking the laws that might have allowed the people to resist Authoritarianism all along.

That’s enough for now.