Politics has always been broken, in fact it is still broken today. Political leaders have lost a great deal of the trust of voters and our social superorganism has an autoimmune disease, with one part battling another. There is not only a lack of social capital, but a build-up of raw aggression pitting citizen against citizen. The solution is still not apparent, as there are often only unclear distinctions between each side, with unclear barriers to these problems. This leads to further degradation in social cohesion, and poor levels of interaction. A straightforward solution is only possible with a clear measurement.
A road to this solution is in the biology of the human brain. It too can also be conceived as a superorganism consisting of billions of much simpler cells called neurons. Somehow, the trillions of connections between billions of individual neuron cells creates the complex-system emergent behavior of consciousness. Although we don’t know how neurons communicate and synchronize with each other to create consciousness, we do know that if disease strikes, the disruption of the communications of networks of neurons can wreak all manner of havoc with consciousness.
Recently, the European-led Blue Brain project, led by Professor Henry Markham, made an interesting discovery. They discovered that cliques of neurons (complete all-to-all connected networks of neurons), can represent enormous amounts of information. When a new thought occurs, a wave of activation sweeps through the neocortex, activating these cliques of neurons, and deactivates when the thought is finished. Similarly, in human societies, waves of information travel throughout our social network. If this network coherence is disrupted, neither a brain, nor a society can function optimally. Our infighting is like an autoimmune disorder in the social organisms’ body, in which one part of the body ends up attacking another part. Such extreme polarization is a breakdown of social capital at the most fundamental level. To unpack the dysfunctional governance of our social body, we need to know about the nature of the social capital between the “cells’ of the social body. Then, we need to identify the nature of each cell. Better yet, since mathematics is such a powerful predictive force in human culture, if we could define a metric to measure social capital, the data generated might possibly reveal some underlying mathematical patterns that can answer the question: “Why is democracy failing us?”
The dominant form of democracy today, representative democracy, is regarded by its many proponents as an ideal form of governance. Some even go to the extremes of thinking that being anti-democratic is to sin. It may be surprising to many then, that some of the greatest philosophers of the Western tradition thought democracy was a danger. Voltaire was only one of the greatest philosophers of the Enlightenment, whose many ideas were revered by the founding fathers of the United States. What about some classical philosophers named Socrates, Aristotle, or Plato? They too disliked democracy, as it had many apparent flaws like we see every day.
Let’s begin with Voltaire’s concerns. He supported something called Enlightened Monarchism, a just king supported by a counsel of philosophers. Voltaire felt that democracy was dangerous because it could easily be gamed by a sly and charismatic leader, who could say things that the uninformed masses could easily be duped into believing, a situation that many critics of right-wing authoritarian governments world would clearly concur with. Voltaire was quoted as saying “I would rather obey one lion than two hundred rats of (my own) species” and “almost nothing great has ever been done in the world except by the genius and firmness of a single man combating the prejudices of the multitude.” These quotes prove that Voltaire knew of the classical philosophers.
Let’s move onto the Greek classic, The Republic. In this book Plato writes a Socratic dialogue featuring Socrates. In one part of the book, Socrates asks Adeimantus who would he rather have sailing a ship at sea, a well-trained captain or some random passenger? Adeimantus chooses the obvious answer and Socrates extends the metaphor to the state and a leader of a state. Socrates concludes his argument by establishing that the ideal form of governance is a totalitarian regime, where rulers have been educated in effective and fair governance for decades before taking absolute power. In another section of The Republic, Plato suggests that democracy makes an appearance during the later stages of the decline of the ideal state, when governance has become so deplorable that the people, in desperation, can even vote a tyrant into power to save them. The conclusion? Democracy could be so flawed that it will inevitably lead to tyranny. Can our tool help prevent this problem?
The inherent vulnerability of representative democracy is that one person can be elected to a position to represent a very large group of citizens, with much previous education on its’ use. The power concentrated in the hands of one such representative is significant, and a lack of integrity can result in corruption, incompetence, or both. This requires significant amounts of resources to respond to. Further, dislodging corrupt individuals who hold powerful positions can prove difficult if they choose to usurp the tools of governance to establish policies and choose other elected officials that protect them. As seen multiple times in western history, there are many ways to game the current system, from powerful lobbying interest groups, allowing unlimited cash contributions to election campaigns, misleading advertising, and policy abuse. Can there be better protections against this? How can we use a measured social capital to better define these ideas?
From a social superorganism perspective, such actions represent disease that threatens the superorganisms health. Imagine the commonwealth body of elected representatives who have taken a sworn oath to represent the interests of the people. Imagine it is infected with a malignant tumour that starts in one small localized area, but then spreads through the entire body by making use of its transport system of arteries and veins – backroom deals, blackmail, promises of job security, even threats of violence to family or friends, conveyed in opaque conversations. In this way, entire governments can succumb to the corrupting influence of a few powerful individuals. The wealth and representation of so many so-called democratic countries have been stolen through such corrupted government bodies. How can we measure these institutions in such a way as to represent their health?
One way to represent their health in an utterly transparent way is through measuring social capital. Once we are able to do that, we will be able to accurately gauge how it underpins both wider societal dynamics and person-to-person interactions. This could be another barrier to corruption and backroom deals.
An accurate measurement of social capital ensures that it will be used to better inform policy and public decision-making processes, allowing citizens to identify areas of possible concern. Consistent measurement also allows for comparison over time and from place to place, and therefore identifying what best practice might look like. Applying the same line of reasoning as done with psychometrics earlier, it is possible to develop a way to measure social capital, thereby bringing the intangible into the sphere of the tangible. This would allow our society to clearly identify many more aspects of trust. In fact, quantifying the intuition behind social capital empowers us to apply rational analysis to it for decision-making, bringing more semblances of clarity to governance
A well-designed social metric would also have to harmonize with the fundamental problem of citizen-to-government communication. Since democracy is premised on governments making decisions on behalf of the populace, then we must ask how communications technology could facilitate this.
One of the first things we have to consider is how to measure social capital. Stanley Smith Stevens, the preeminent Harvard psychologist, was a leading figure in developing a theory of measurement, unique to the social sciences. He first introduced his theory of measurement in a 1946 article in the journal Science entitled “On the Theory of Scales of Measurement.” Stevens defined measurement as “the assignment of numerals to objects or events according to some rule.” This definition contested the established definition of measurement guiding other scientific pursuits as the ascertainment of the weight, size, temperature (attributes, in brief) of some object or event by comparison to a standard unit. This was highly unusual at the time, but now it is very useful as it gives us a basis to proceed to measure the unquantifiable.
To understand Stevens’ peculiar definition of measurement in the human sciences requires an understanding of his social context. Stevens’ definition of measurement was a response to the British Ferguson Committee whose chair, A. Ferguson, was a physicist. The British Association for the Advancement of Science appointed the committee in 1932 to investigate the possibility of quantifying sensory events. Stevens belonged to a school of thought called logical positivism which attempted, in the tradition of Descartes, to exorcise all unverifiable ideas from science.
Today, we think that communication and decision-making systems begin with a review of how they gather substantive qualitative and rigorous quantitative data. Because social impact is so difficult to measure, such qualitative factors are often overlooked. Social dynamics are complex and non-linear; they may not be understood through rational interpretation, assumptions, or single variable analyses. Ostrom and Ahn argue that, “Social capital, with only a decade of history of empirical applications and attempts at measurement, does exhibit serious problems of measurement. But the concept is firmly placed in the context of major empirical and theoretical puzzles related to economic and political development. It would not be wise at all to dismiss the concept on the ground that it is difficult to measure.” (Ostrom&Ahn, 2003, p. XXXIV). In fact, many things that are difficult to measure, such as a human beings worth, still they are worthy of an attempt.
Currently, the prevailing method of measuring social capital is by using a standard set of questionnaires. The “amount” of social capital in a given community is then extracted from the results of the questionnaire. Different countries have different benchmark questionnaires that establish the value of the social capital. Some examples of the Social Capital Measurement Guidelines include SOCAT (World Bank), International Social Survey Program, Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Social Capital Index, and the Social Capital Measurement Tool (SCMT) as well as many others. These have been selected as representative of the various ways that social capital measurement is understood depending on context, scale, purpose, and scope. Yet, as all tests are, these methods are very thoroughly flawed.
In a subsequent effort to measure social capital, the Canadian government’s Canada Policy Research Initiative department produced a 2005 study entitled Measurement of Social Capital. The research established social capital as a useful perspective for examining how public policies depend on social ties for achieving their objectives of wellbeing and prosperity. While the report recognizes the importance of social capital and establishes social network framework and methodology, it does not demonstrate any practical applications. In other words, it said that measuring social capital was going to be very difficult, even if it would be valuable to do so.
The value of inserting various efficiency-related elements of human capital into a corporate context cannot be overstated. We could mitigate lost time, for example, in supporting an employee from another team. Furthermore, building up this knowledge base would allow for the incorporation of developments from across the organization to improve the performance of team members. The proposed transferable vote, and the system of gathering and storing knowledge, would be a powerful tool for any group. It would identify valuable information quickly. It could immediately structure more effective discussions. It could give a platform for immediate feedback. It would reduce time spent in almost all aspects of the organization.
Through this, it would help with better decision-making by creating shared knowledge that stores the genius of all its members, even after they leave. This allows for organizational protection, on the one hand, and would make on boarding significantly easier. Through the creation of this simple tool to promote feedback from the entire group, it highlights the skills of members that may have previously gone unnoticed, thereby making a group’s otherwise invisible assets visible.
Because social capital plays such a critical role in the success or failure of an organization and is currently unmeasured, it remains misunderstood, and sometimes ignored. However, as we have proven, it is an extremely valuable idea, which can significantly improve the performance of a group. On the other hand, those companies who have attempted to understand it have prospered. Consequently, we are trying to measure it, and afterwards, apply it as an influential factor in the success of an organization. By breaking down this multi-dimensional concept into a singular unit, we are able to access the information that will significantly improve an individual’s or an organizations actions. This new metric demystifies social capital to make it an intelligible, accessible, and a potent force for change. Read on, and you will discover some potential applications.