Previous post: How Escape From Immoral Mazes
Sequence begins here: Moloch Hasn’t Won
The previous posts mostly took mazes as given.
As an individual, one’s ability to fight any large system is limited.
That does not mean our individual decisions do not matter. They do matter. They add up.
Mostly our choice is a basic one. Lend our strength to that which we wish to be free from. Or not do so.
Even that is difficult. The methods of doing so are unclear. Mazes are ubiquitous. Not lending our strength to mazes, together with the goal of keeping one’s metaphorical soul intact and still putting food on the table, is already an ambitious set of goals for an individual in a world of mazes.
We now shift perspective from the individual to the system as a whole. We stop taking mazes as given.
It is time to ask why and how all of this happens, and what if anything we can do, individually or collectively, about it.
In particular, this post presents an explicit model of the first question, which is:
How did mazes come to be, both individually and overall?
This is partly a summary of the model developed so far. It is partly making the model more explicit, and partly the fleshing out of that model with more gears.
If there are points here for which you believe the previous posts failed to lay the groundwork they should have laid, please note that in the comments by number, so I can consider fixing that. Keep this distinct from any disagreements or other notes on these claims, which are also welcome.
- Every organization has an organizational culture. That culture can and does change.
- Those who focus on their own advancement at the expense of other considerations will, by default, advance further, faster and more often. Those who do not do this will not advance. Increasing amounts of focus make this effect increasingly large.
- Focus on one’s own advancement inside hierarchies causes individuals to self-modify in order to be the type of person who automatically engages in maze-creating and maze-supporting behaviors. They will also see such behavior as natural and virtuous.
- Middle management performance is inherently difficult to assess. Maze behaviors systematically compound this problem. They strip away points of differentiation beyond loyalty to the maze and willingness to sacrifice one’s self on its behalf, plus politics. Information and records are destroyed. Belief in the possibility of differentiation in skill level, or of object-level value creation, is destroyed.
- The more one is already within a maze, the more one is rewarded for maze-creating and maze-supporting behaviors, and for self-modifications towards such behaviors. This creates a vicious cycle.
- Focus on one’s own advancement causes one to wish to ally with others who do the same thing. That means allying with those who are engaging in maze-creating behaviors, and who are likely to do so in the future. Those people are likely to have future power. They are aligned in support of your new values and likely actions.
- Changing the organizational culture towards a maze, which we will call raising the maze level, benefits those who wish to engage in maze-like behavior at the expense of those who do not. Those wishing to raise maize levels implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, coordinate together to reward maze behaviors, culture and values, and punish other behaviors, cultures and values.
- Those who wish to have strong allies notice that strong potential allies want to ally with those who support mazes, and with those who ally with those who support mazes, and so on. This creates a strong incentive to strongly signal, in a way that others who support mazes can recognize, our support for maze behaviors and rising maze levels. One does this by supporting maze behaviors and maze allies whenever possible over all other considerations, without any need for explicit coordination or reciprocity, and by other costly signals of maze virtue.
- The larger an organization and the more of a maze it becomes, the closer competition among its middle managers resembles super-perfect competition plus political considerations. Slack is destroyed. Those who refuse to get with the program, where the essence of the program is support of mazes over non-mazes, stop getting promoted or are pushed out entirely.
- Such behaviors choose how to react to people largely by observing those people’s culture and values. Those who wish to get ahead in such worlds must self-modify to instinctively support such actions, whether or not doing so is locally in their self interest. Being too aware of one’s local self-interest is therefore not in one’s broader self-interest. Humans are much better at doing all this, and at detecting it, than they are at faking it. The way one gets such behavior is through cultivating habits, including habits of thought, and choosing one’s virtues. This self-modification creates even stronger implicit coordination.
- There are contravening forces that can potentially outweigh all these effects, and result in maze behaviors being net punished. But they require those opposed to maze behaviors, culture and values to devote substantial resources to the cause, and to bear substantial costs. The more of a maze a place has already become, the harder it will be to turn things around or even stop things from getting worse. If such efforts are to succeed, this needs to be a high priority.
- Even if maze behaviors are net punished for now, those who have embraced the maze nature will be skeptical of this. Even if they observe such behaviors being net punished now, they will not expect this to continue. Given the state of our world and culture, this is a highly reasonable prior. They also have knowledge of their own maze nature and presence within the organization, which is likely to raise maze levels over time and is evidence that the fight against mazedom is failing. And they stand to gain a huge competitive edge by raising the local maze level. Thus, the fight never ends.
- Damage done is very difficult to reverse. Once particular maze behaviors become tolerated and levels rise, it takes a lot of effort to undo that.
- Once people who support mazes are in places of authority in a given area, that area will rapidly become a maze. This is true of organizations, and of sub-organizations with an organization.
- If the head of an organization believes in mazes, and has the time to choose and reward the people of their choice, it’s all over. Probably permanently.
- Mazes reward individuals who engage in maze behaviors and exhibit maze culture and values, and punish those who do not so exhibit, even outside the maze or organization in question. This includes customers, producers, business partners, investors and venture capitalists, board members, analysts, media, government officials, academics and anyone else who supports or opposes such patterns.
- All strengthening of mazes anywhere creates additional force supporting mazes elsewhere. Mazes instinctively support other mazes. As society falls increasingly under the sway of mazes, it implicitly cooperates to push everyone and everything into supporting the behaviors, culture and values of mazes.
- The end result inside any given organization is that maze behaviors grow stronger and more common over time. This is balanced by maze behaviors making the organization less effective, and thus more likely to fail.
- Occasionally an organization can successfully lower its maze level and change its culture, but this is expensive and rare heroic behavior. Usually this requires a bold leader and getting rid of a lot of people, and the old organization is effectively replaced with a new one, even if the name does not change. A similar house cleaning happens more naturally in the other direction when and as maze levels rise.
- Maze behaviors grow stronger and more common over time in any given organization barring rare heroic efforts. As organizations get bigger and last longer, maze levels increase.
- When interacting with a world of low maze levels, or especially when interacting with individuals who have not embraced the maze nature, mazes are at a large competitive disadvantage versus non-mazes. Organizations with too-high maze levels become more likely to fail.
- As organizations fail and are replaced by smaller upstarts via creative destruction, revolution or other replacement, maze levels decrease.
- Replacement of old organizations by new ones is the primary way maze levels decline.
- As the overall maze level rises, mazes gain a competitive advantage over non-mazes.
- If society sufficiently rewards mazes and punishes non-mazes, non-mazes can stop failing less often than mazes. Existing organizations become increasingly propped up by corruption. New organizations will start off increasingly maze-like, signal their intent to become mazes, and raise their maze levels more rapidly. They will still usually start out at much lower maze levels than old organizations.
- New organizations and smaller organizations also have more benefit in survival and growth from non-maze behaviors versus maze behaviors, as they have a greater need to do things mazes cannot do, or that they cannot do without huge additional overhead. Even in the scenario where large organizations benefit from maze coordination more than they are hurt by maze inefficiency, it can still benefit smaller organizations to minimize maze levels.
- Mazes have reason to and do obscure that they are mazes, and to obscure the nature of mazes and maze behaviors. This allows them to avoid being attacked or shunned by those who retain enough conventional not-reversed values that they would recoil in horror from such behaviors if they understood them, and potentially fight back against mazes or to lower maze levels. The maze embracing individuals also take advantage of those who do not know of the maze nature. It is easy to see why the organizations described in Moral Mazes would prefer people not read the book Moral Mazes.
- Simultaneously with pretending to the outside not to be mazes, those within them will claim if challenged that everybody knows they are mazes and how mazes work.
- As maze levels rise, mazes take control of more and more of an economy and people’s lives.
- Under sufficiently strong pressure the maze behaviors, value and culture filter out into the broader society. Maze behaviors, values and culture are seen increasingly as legitimate and comfortable and praiseworthy. This happens even outside of any organization. Non-maze behaviors are increasingly seen as illegitimate, uncomfortable and blameworthy.
- The result of these effects is that people in societies with high maze levels, especially those with power and wealth, increasingly and increasingly openly oppose and vilify the creation of clarity, engaging in any productive object-level action, and participation in or even belief in the existence of positive sum games of any kind. Simulacrum levels continue to rise.
- Given sufficiently high societal maze levels, talk in support of maze behaviors would eventually becoming more and more open, and dominate discourse and how people are educated about the world, as people explicitly and publicly endorse and teach anti-virtues over virtues.
- We would see increasing societal inability to create clarity, engage in actions or do anything other than repeat existing patterns. Costs to all still possible actions would rise. Existing patterns would expropriate increasing portions of remaining resources to keep themselves afloat, and increasingly ban any activity outside those patterns.
- The default outcome on the scale of individual organizations is the rise and fall of those organizations over time.
- The default short term outcome on the scale of a nation, when maze levels and simulacrum levels increase, is declining growth, dynamism, slack, discourse, hope, happiness, virtue and wealth. People increasingly lose the things that matter in life.
- The default long term outcome on the scale of a nation is the rise and fall of civilizations.
- We do in fact see all of this. Here and now.
The next few posts will flesh this out more and provide, as best I can, answers to the other questions.
Next post: How Doomed are Large Organizations?