The T<>D principle in sociology

This article sheds original light on the violence of 2023 in France, redefining what true participatory democracy can be.

Abstract: The individualist principle is easy to locate in my unique body, while my solidarity principle is lost in a maze of social circles with less and less identity. Intimate circles focus and strengthen my empathy. How far will it go next? Letting it expand is only possible if the circles I cross are not sealed off. They must be integrated into a deep and fluid hierarchy, instead of wanting to blow it up. Lengthen the inverted funnel formed by the hierarchy, especially since there are many individuals at its base. To be able to move forward and backward inside, not to be frozen by forced egalitarianism and caricatural social classes, to escape your level of incompetence. True participatory democracy is to include oneself in the representative hierarchy, without dispensing with the independent evaluations that are demanded of the decision-makers in place, on the contrary by imposing them on oneself. The business model applied to civilian life? Why not, if all citizens are shareholders.

The motor conflict of reality

The T<>D principle is the integral foundation of our reality. This is the common thread used in these articles. Any entity, whether material or virtual like our minds, is driven by the conflict between its individuation and its belonging to something larger. Individuation is the T in soliTary, “I am”; belonging is the D in soliDarity, “to be part of”. How does this principle find its way into our social organization?

The human organism is itself the result of the T<>D principle acting at multiple levels of complexity. But since here I am interested in sociology, I define as the starting entity the human being, a spirit integrated into a body. How does the T exert its striving for individuation and the D its encouragement to merge into the social collective?

The community, frontier of solidarity

The task is simple and precise for the T: one body, one source of desires, one world united in one mind. Maximum power must be gathered here. Far more arduous and hazy is the task of the D: how far to extend our individual solidarity? It diffuses through increasingly distant social circles, harboring countless and lesser-known souls. If the strength of the D primarily impacts empathy for our loved ones, it also conditions the distance at which we exercise it, after having lost in intimacy by crossing each circle, and finally becoming dull in the multitude of our fellow human beings.

It is these significant losses of power that create communitarianisms at the expense of integral collectivism. In fact, the definition of the human collective remains very personal. How integrated am I with my surroundings? My socio-cultural background? Human specie ? All of life? The more empathetic I am and the more this empathy gains in confidence, the more I extend to the entire universe, without a fundamental break with my identity. I am not a demiurge but I participate.

This implies that I am able to overcome the rules of social circles that separate me from the rest of the world. The more these rules clearly isolate the included and the excluded, the more the barrier is difficult to cross for my supportive D. The community is surrounded by a wall, a force field that directs empathy inward and focuses it on those within it. The D is powerful but distorted there, because there is still a larger collective, which should be considered. However, the D is forbidden to filter outwards, a domain occupied by undesirable or even impious foreigners.

How do you make an embittered person less selfish?

Social circles are indispensable. It is their structure that allows us to focus our empathy on our loved ones, where it is most needed. It would be tiny, impersonal and ineffective if we had to disperse it among billions of fellow creatures. Polarizing my empathy immediately shows feedback and reinforces it. The reward is exhilarating. The supportive D is gaining mental fame and expanding.

The innermost social circles are the true generators of empathic power. Understanding this allows us to accept, for example, this somewhat scandalous situation: that a lonely person shows more concern for her pet than for children. Embittered old selfish? But if she couldn’t focus her empathy on her critter, she’d probably show even less with the kids.

The natural limit of solidarity

An acute danger, however, awaits any social circle: to radicalize the separation between included and excluded, to make it impermeable. The radicalizing circle creates the misanthrope, the suffocating family, neurotic friendships, sectarianism, racism, speciesism. The individual T frolics in a shrunken, closed world, and the solidarity of the D is brutally interrupted at its limit.

The more the T is promoted at the expense of the D, the less the D has the strength to go beyond the inner circles. We are witnessing such an evolution today, with self-actualization touted as the pinnacle of personal achievement. The T matters more than Everything. Responsibility for D is transferred to virtual entities —government, social organizations, associations. Doing it yourself brings little reward —the solidarity effort is often in vain. The citizen of a rich country absolves herself of guilt with the nation’s donations to poor countries, soup kitchens and Telethons. It is true that human mental equipment is limited. It can take care of a good hundred congeners. Beyond that, their representations become generic and great virtual ideals take over.

Solidarity should raise circles, not suppress them

If a species like ours reaches several billion individuals and each one can only manage a hundred of the others, the structure necessary to maintain society becomes necessarily virtual. The D, if it wants to hold all these beings together in the same ecosystem, is forced to go through the ideals, which are the most uniform and easy to share memes. To merge the solidarity parts of all individuals, the D must insinuate into the minds of higher, more universal social circles.

It is still necessary for each individual to recognize the others as similar. How do you unify the D’s when humans classify other humans as a subspecies? Racism strangles the D. And taking our previous example, there is indeed a reproach to be made to the owners of domestic animals: in rich countries, solidarity with these little companions is often better than with one’s own congeners…

Do not throw the necessary groupism with the evil populism

The growing weakness of the D, in the face of the promotion of the T, of every man for himself, is directly responsible for the rise of populism. Populism is the exacerbation of the T without parallel reinforcement of the D, resulting in the closing of social circles. Sectarianism and conspiracy are the consequences in local circles, and political populism in national circles. The connivance between these recent upheavals becomes evident under the eye of the TD.

Do not confuse these excesses with groupism. Groupism in itself reflects the necessary presence of social circles. These are really essential, because of the concentration of identity they promote. Without groupism, as we have seen, our self is diluted in the infinity of others around us, and for whom we have an injection of egalitarian respect. How could our individual T survive under these conditions? Protection by the circles, that of the family first, is its beginning of existence.

Algorithms that promote the T

Should collectivism have been reinforced by the multiplication of humans and their gathering in huge megalopolises? The opposite happened. Concentrated, standardized habitats, impersonal and unlimited networks. Our identities have been diluted, dispersed, distorted in these constrained agglomerations. In reaction, our minds made a strong comeback towards groupism. They even rushed towards its sectarian excesses, helped in this by the algorithms of the networks, very favorable to the T.

With this promotion of the T and the narrowing of the group to those who share our beliefs, to the exclusion of all others, the upper circles appear stifling and tyrannical. We feel no solidarity belonging to larger social entities and aggressively reject their representatives. They plot against our wishes. They want to harm us, that’s for sure! How to understand the rules of a circle to which one does not dedicate a minimal part of oneself? For one conspiracy that reveals itself by widening the perspective, a hundred conspiracies are born of mental confinement.

Circles radicalize our behavior

Social circles thus have a paradoxical effect on our minds. They are necessary to create and solidify our personal identity, but are also stifling and tyrannical because they continually impose themselves on this emerging identity. The paradox is simply that of the T<>D principle, which is a conflict in itself. If the D weighs too much on the T, the T goes into rebellion. I break everything, I attack strangers. If the T weighs too much on the D, society collapses, the world becomes a jungle, and solidarity tries to rise from its ashes. I rebuild with my neighbour, I welcome the desperate.

How to avoid such extremities? By making social circles less tight, which also means multiplying them as they fill up. To understand this, let’s answer this trick question: Which of Louis XIV or Emmanuel Macron is closer to his auxiliaries? The first no doubt. It is not that the second has more arrogance, as the envious pretend, it is that the petty functionaries of the Republic are a thousand times more numerous than the servants of the king. Despite the rigid and clear-cut hierarchy of royalist France, Louis XIV was undoubtedly closer to the “little ones” thanks to smaller social circles and living side by side. The empathy of the people could filter towards “our Good King” who was a bit part of the family, like the portraits of the grandparents. Who feels “family” with Macron today, whether one is her supporters or opponents?

Our Good President

Impossible. A nation of 68 million people mixing foreign cultures and faiths no longer has anything of a “family” and no president can any longer be its respectable patriarch. To consider oneself as “children of the Nation” no longer has any meaning today. Putin’s failure as the “father of Russia” is patent, continuing the failure of his predecessors to coercively unify ever-growing and culturally compartmentalized populations. Certainly we need charismatic leaders; however the more they have to lead huge groups the less they have to differentiate themselves. It is more important not to find what you hate in a leader than to find what you like.

According to this rule, the closer an elected official is to us, the more she must be an opinion leader (of ours). The higher the hierarchy rises and moves away from us, the more we need a good manager, capable of harmonizing contrary or competing desires. The interest of this rule is that it concerns us regardless of our position in the hierarchy. Basic citizen or deputy, it applies to us with the same effectiveness. The citizen wants a representative who conveys her targeted opinion, who will be her deputy. The deputy is also looking for a representative, who will be her party leader, with a more exhaustive opinion: she is already starting from a highly representative position. The range of opinions among citizens, some untenable, has been reduced to tenable among the deputy. The citizen then sees in the party leader a conventional manager, disappointing when the management does not correspond to her concerns. While for the deputies the leader is indeed an opinion leader choosing a policy among those admissible.

The hierarchy, an inverted funnel

To understand how it works, let’s take the image of an upside-down funnel. At its broad base is the multitude of individual opinions. At its top, narrow, a decision of centralized power. The height of the funnel is the number of hierarchical stages. The current political hierarchy is not extensive: citizens, mayors, governors, deputies, party leaders, president. The funnel is not very high, and very flared when its base accumulates millions of citizens. More and more are those who do not find themselves in the small number of presidential candidates. Frustrating, because they’re not that far off in the hierarchy. As a voter, I can address a candidate directly. Why are none of them able to properly represent my opinion? This short and flared funnel produces a clogging of the flow of opinions, which has no chance of blending harmoniously into the final decision. It generates a high rate of frustration among voters, especially since their Ts are now more numerous and more marked, not very soluble in D.

Suppose we lengthen the funnel by greatly increasing the number of hierarchical slices. Is this an unsustainable project at a time when many no longer support their rulers? No, because these slices already exist, without being properly stacked and connected. We live in a flattened society, where we only take small hierarchical stairs. Which gives the impression of having gained height when we see mainly alignments of heads. If, for example, I want to see the famous Coeur de Voh, this original drawing of the New Caledonian mangroves, I need a small plane. Simple walker, I will only see an alignment of trees.

A large number of small hierarchical stairs start from the citizen: friends > social network > influencer, colleagues > local union > labor organizations, shareholder > board > CEO, consumer > retailer > manufacturer, etc. These stairs do not lead to the entrance of another. They are not coordinated. No global management can appear, and the effects of any political change are always random.

The two-step staircase

The worst is undoubtedly this staircase with two steps, a hundred million citizens on one, a single president on the other, directly linked by universal suffrage. How would it be possible to elect the “best” president in such a lottery? And how to be surprised that great neurotic dictators reach the supreme march, when all individual neuroses can directly express themselves?

An acceptable hierarchy is an elongated hierarchy, in which each citizen has the impression of being able to move. She represents and synthesizes the less informed opinions below her, propelling her own upwards. She never feels like she is at the very bottom of the ladder, as there is always a small staircase of which she occupies the upper steps. But she also sees the height of all these stairs placed end to end, which curbs her haste to award herself the title of president instead of the president. The funnel still has the same wide base but now its depth allows the flow of opinions to flow freely in both directions, a distance long enough for them to mix before the exit hole, which issues the final decision.

Escaping one’s level of incompetence

If we want to include the entire planetary population, we just have to significantly lengthen the funnel, deepen the hierarchy, so that each citizen has the impression of appropriating several levels and being able to access others, with a personal effort. She thus reaches all of her skill levels, instead of remaining at her main level of incompetence, which is to judge the individual best suited to manage the fate of billions of souls!

It is direct universal suffrage that I am criticizing here. Its main consequence is to make crowd manipulation particularly effective in electing the wrong president. And to mix indifferently profane, informed, infoxicated opinions. Note that the citizen has the intuition, at least, of the limits of her competence. Which makes her exaggerate the same limits in others. Ironically our personal shortcomings thus serve to challenge the legitimacy of the president. “She was elected by morons!” The president is stripped of her power by universal suffrage, and not dubbed. This is one of the major flaws of our contemporary democracies, the consequence of an overly flattened social structure. By depositing the name of a candidate in the ballot box, we judge the winner as if we could have registered our name instead. We are all Grand Viziers, on the doorstep of the Caliph’s succession. But who among us has experience of a job of such scope?

The political Earth is flat

Participatory democracy is vitiated by this political “Flat Earth”. It allows us the most stupid statements, since few of us have a significant hierarchical responsibility, which would hold accounts. We are thus propelled directly and fluently to our level of incompetence. When psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, “The past decade has been exceptionally stupid,” he’s not pointing to anything else. Average intelligence hasn’t changed, by definition, but we perorate much more often about our level of incompetence. How then to introduce effective participatory democracy?

The T<>D principle comes to our aid once again. Efficiency implies an effort from D as much as from T. It is a question of bringing our part of solidarity to life, so that society continues to exist, and not just carrying our soliTary desire. To participate is not to seek to take supreme power to satisfy one’s ego, or to be represented by an identical ego and no other. To participate is to contribute to the best collective management, to increase general satisfaction even if none is fully achieved, including one’s own. To participate is to include oneself in a more fluid hierarchy, which also means respecting it…

To the decision-makers I say that it is by preventing part of the population from gaining a foothold in the hierarchy that we end up with thugs in the street. In the street I say that it is by seeking to destroy the hierarchy that we stiffen it even more, and that it takes refuge behind police laws.

Is the company a good hierarchical model?

We have many funnel models in front of us. Companies are micro-societies. Naturally the bigger ones are hierarchized more than the small ones to avoid the explosion. A good example for civil society to follow. Many professions have appeared out of nowhere, often referred to as “fake jobs” —white-collar imposters. But I think that the multiplication of hierarchical levels that they represent is at least as essential to the productivity of the company as the new tasks themselves. Generally it is an existing task that is split into specializations. All the frames have the impression of occupying the top of a small staircase, which creates a much more breathable atmosphere than a strictly vertical hierarchy. But the organizational chart has not disappeared. It is more fluid and facilitates exchanges.

The maximum fluidity is seen in companies where all employees start from the base and have no pre-established skill ceiling. Take the example of McDonald’s. Don’t see this as a layered sandwich promotion! Employees move up and down the hierarchy easily based on their abilities. Becoming a manager can be very quick. The manager knows the kitchen and lends a hand in the rushes. The hierarchy is flexible but present. Imagine how long it would take you to get your burger if each employee thought they were the manager and gave orders to the others…

Citizen shareholders are concerned citizens

Only one adjustment to make to adapt the business model to our societies: make all citizens shareholders, not just employees. Capitalize on a legacy to bequeath to our descendants. If this injunction had been respected, we would certainly not have a climatic catastrophe in sight. But look how this view reverses the common view in ecology: it is no longer capitalism that should be blamed for the debacle, but the fact that we are not all interested shareholders.

This provocation will deserve your comments and additional articles…


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