Once upon a time our ancestors lived a challenging existence where survival was the paramount consideration. Given the length of time it took us to evolve, living in the moment, constantly having to defend against predators, ever struggling for our food, shelter, safety, and continued existence, our nervous systems and bodies were shaped by a basic need for survival. Those of our ape-ancestors who were best at climbing trees and running fast were naturally selected to continue the species. But it was not only that - those who were best at climbing the hierarchy of social structure were also more likely to be selected to survive. From early times until the present day we have an evolutionary-hardwired behavior driven by our neurotransmitters that determines which people in society are the “alphas” in the community – who gets to eat the best food and who gets the best mates.
Over time those who were best at climbing the hierarchy to achieve status and rank passed along this trait to their heirs. From the times of pre-history there seemingly has always been haves and have-nots, those who lead and those who follow, an elite class and a lesser class, the wealthy and the poor. Maybe not fair, but it is how we evolved. It is how we are hardwired. It is why these social distinctions continue to this day. Without enough time for our biology to evolve away from this behavior, our governments, corporations, and organizations still fall into this same hierarchical structure formed in the jungle by our ancestors.
Many of the greatest issues our governments face today come from humanity’s evolved desire for centralized hierarchies. This innate proclivity towards building and navigating systems of status and rank were evolutionary gifts handed down to us by our ancestors, where each member of a community had a mental map of their place in the social hierarchy. Their nervous systems behaved differently depending on their rank in this hierarchy, influencing their interactions in a way that ensured only the most competent among them would rise to the top.
As humanity emerged and discovered the power of language, we continued this practice by ensuring that those at the top of the hierarchies, those with the greatest education and access to information, were the dominant decision-makers for our communities. However, this kind of structured chain of power is only necessary if we’re operating in conditions of scarcity.
But resources, including information, are no longer scarce. And we don't live in the jungle anymore, at least not most of us. There was a time when rulers and leaders had information that the majority of the community and even other members of the elite were blind to. Before the printing press and before books became commonplace and cheap, literacy was low and communication was slow, so it made sense that a chain of command was established to disseminate needed information through all levels of the hierarchical system. Having someone capable of gathering information, making a decision, and disseminating information to the rest of the community, such as a king or overlord, made a lot of sense, allowing the rest of the community to focus on hunting, gathering, and growing food.
Today two-thirds of adults in the world have smartphones and the internet. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the average citizen is just as informed, if not more so, than many or most of our leaders. Global poverty has fallen from 35.5 percent to 10.9 percent over the last 25 years, with the world's younger generations growing up seeing automation and abundance are the new norm. And we’re not struggling to pass on our genes anymore — if anything, we may need to stop passing them on because things are getting a bit crowded in places — and so having a competition hierarchy to find the best mates is no longer necessary. Most people living in the developed world also aren’t struggling to get food anymore — if anything, we are getting far more food than we need, with obesity levels approaching 75 percent in some nations.
We’ve developed the unique ability as a species to alter our environment and our tendencies through culture and technology. By living in less fearful conditions we have more time for creativity and innovation; we’ve created fields of science and technology that can inform us about how our animal bodies function and how to tweak our lives so that we aren’t victims to the useless or destructive remnants of evolution any longer.
Because of our advances in technology and culture we are now facing a crisis, however. Limiting power to the “alphas” of our society is no longer necessary. In fact, it’s destructive to the point of, now, potentially driving us into extinction. Our governments have shown an inability to adjust, just as we have individually in our own thinking and behavior. We are all still operating in jungle mode.
The communications media Facebook and Twitter have led to a proliferation of communication, but they have also created unexpected sociopolitical consequences – inciting high levels of hate crimes, civil unrest, and tension among the masses. Not surprisingly, the masses of humanity now don’t feel represented, largely because our votes are being funneled through a broken government controlled by corrupt self-serving politicians and special interests. It is a system that moves at a crawl, thriving within an outdated bureaucratic jungle-mentality of the past — like apes battling for power — while the rest of us can see right through the crap thanks to our newfound technological prowess.
Our government has failed to adapt to disruptive technologies. If we are to regain our stability moving forward into a future of even greater disruption, it’s imperative that we understand the issues that got us into this situation and what kind of solutions we can engineer to overcome our governmental shortcomings. We see the failures of our government with the awakening that is occurring as our technology allows us to see the blatant incompetence and corruption of our leaders. We’re increasingly impatient that even though we recognize that the system is broken, our leaders can still manage to remain powerful and resistant to the change the majority of us are fighting for. Fortunately we humans may be the most adaptable of all animals, so luckily, there is still hope.
Little by little, as we awaken, emerging solutions are gradually shifting power back to the people. The growing awareness of a shift in the paradigm that we live under has empowered a recent rise of decentralization. As information and access to resources become ubiquitous, there is noticeably less need for our inefficient and bureaucratic hierarchies.
If blockchain can prove its feasibility for large-scale systems, it can be used to update and upgrade numerous applications to a decentralized platform, including currency and voting. Such innovations would lower the risk of failing banks collapsing the economy like they did in 2008, as well as prevent corrupt politicians from using gerrymandering and long queues at polling stations to deter voter participation.
If decentralized technology, like blockchain’s public ledgers, can continue to spread a sense of security and transparency throughout society, perhaps we can begin to quiet that paranoia and hyper-vigilance our brains evolved to cope with living as apes in dangerous jungles. By decentralizing our power structures, we take away the channels our outdated biological behaviors might use to enact social dominance and manipulation. The peace of mind this creates helps to reestablish trust within our communities and in our governments. And as trust in the government increases, the upcoming generations who understand decentralization, abundance, and exponential technologies might feel inspired enough to run for government positions. This would help solve that common problem where the smartest and most altruistic people tend to avoid government positions because they don’t want to play the semantic and deceitful game of politics.
By changing the narrative, our governments can begin to fill with techno-progressive individuals who actually understand the technologies that are rapidly reshaping our reality. This influence of expertise is going to be crucial as our governments are forced to restructure and create new policies to accommodate the evolving technological disruption.
As exponential technologies become more ubiquitous, we’re likely going to see young kids and garage tinkerers creating powerful AIs and altering genetics thanks to tools like CRISPR and free virtual reality tutorials. Expect to see cyborg body parts, brain-computer interfaces, nanobot health injectors, and at-home genetic engineering kits. This easy accessibility by all to such powerful technology means that unexpected and rapid progress can occur almost overnight, quickly overwhelming our government’s regulatory systems. For this reason, it’s crucial that we have experts who understand how to update our regulations to be as flexible as is necessary to ensure we don’t create black market conditions like we’ve done with drugs. It’s better to have safe and monitored experimentation, rather than forcing individuals into seedy communities using unsafe products.
If we hope to be an animal that survives our changing environment, we have to adapt. Survival will be not of the fittest, but of the most adaptable. We cannot cling to the behaviors and systems formed thousands of years ago. We must instead acknowledge that we now exist in an ecosystem of disruptive technology, and we must evolve and update our governments if they’re going to be capable of navigating these transformative impacts.
Adapted from the writings of Steven Parton