Saturday, June 4, 2016

Corruption in Alien Civilizations

Positive feedback loops are often a very bad thing, for the survival of the system in which they are embedded. If there is a limiting threshold, after which some other factors serve to block the induced growth from becoming too large, that's fine as long as the threshold is not so high as to disrupt the functioning of some essential part of the system. If there isn't, the only possible outcome is the quantity having the positive feedback growing so large that the whole system collapses. This is of course a very elementary observation on how systems work, but it doesn't seem to be commonly discussed in dealing with socio-political-economic systems.

One positive feedback loop that has already been discussed in the idiocracy one, or Malthusian idiocracy if you enjoy pleonasms. In a situation where sustenance is provided, idiocracy is when those less likely to reduce population growth continue to expand as a relative fraction of the total population, which serves to further increase the absolute numbers of population. Without any external control or moderation of the growth effect, the numbers must grow until the sustenance limits are reached. Then there is a question of what happens, and how hard the sustenance limits are pressed. Does this pressure result in a lowering of living standards and how pervasive is such a lowering? After a lowering limit is reached and living standards, for whatever reason, cannot be pushed down, does maintenance get cut in lieu of sustenance? Obviously this is the recipe for collapse of the alien civilization.

Another positive feedback loop occurs in the distribution function, measuring how sustenance and other items of production are distributed to the population. The group on the high end of the distribution function can divert some of their income to a corruption of the system, meaning a change of the rules for distribution, so that more goes to the high end recipients. This will provide them with more wherewithal to corrupt the system more, resulting in another change in the same direction, and on and on. Again, if there is no compensatory effect that comes into play at some threshold of distribution shape, perhaps measured by the difference between the mode and the mean, the distribution function will continue to peak toward the high end, until the curve looks like a spike at one end with the rest almost flat. By this point, the characteristics of the civilization have drastically changed, and another possible mechanism for collapse, via positive feedback, exists.

The corruption feedback loop has some interesting aspects that militate against an easy social solution to it. It matters very little what the social limitation is that works to stop the distribution function from increasing its peakedness. Whatever they are, sustenance or income can be used to work against these limitations as well. The feedback loop is so strong, that it bulldozes through social barriers that are set up to control it and to introduce some other feedbacks that limit the rate of growth of the peakedness. Whether it be by government action or political activity on the part of citizens, sufficient application of income to the problem reduces its effect, making more income available to those involved in the corruption loop.

The word corruption, as applied to an alien civilization of undescribed governance and customs, may seem to be inappropriate. What is meant that rules and regulations regarding the distribution function are written by alien citizens, who are also seeking additional income, and who can obtain it corruptly by changing the rules or regulations or covertly violating the customs. It is no matter whether there is one type of governance or another, or whether there are multitudes of laws and regulations or whether everything is done on the basis of customs from long ago. Income is like an acid which dissolves social barriers to tampering with the distribution function.

If the seemingly inevitable result of this positive feedback result is collapse, that means that alien civilizations, or parts of them in the period before they are unified, will be going through cycles of slow growth and rapid collapse, all mediated by a rather simple to understand positive feedback loop of their system of distribution of production. Will the collapse, or collapses in that earlier ununified period, interfere with the development of technology so much that technology will stop at some point and simply freeze or even retrogress? The question seems to revolve around the resiliency of the alien civilization to mitigate or recover from collapse.

In the early ununified period, it may be that collapse is local and confined to one region of the planet. In the later, unified period, the whole civilization may go through the cycle. Is technology abandoned because there is simply no way to continue to divert resources or sustenance to those who maintain it and who develop it further? This would depend on the depth of the collapse. As noted above, it is the infrastructure which suffers and causes the collapse. So the depth of the collapse would be mirrored at the extent of the infrastructure needed to maintain the civilization which ceases functioning. It is likely that different parts in different civilizations might fail first. On one alien civilization, during one collapse, the energy infrastructure might be the first to go. In another alien civilization, during one collapse, the food infrastructure might go first. The reaction of the alien population might depend on which type fails first, and whether it fails slowly or suddenly. Either alternative can be contemplated. Slow failure leads to efforts to evade the consequences, or to reduce them, or to find ways of bypassing them, or other coping mechanisms, on a civilization-wide scale. Fast failure eliminates the possibility of coping mechanisms, and calls for means of ensuring survival on the part of the population. Fast failure may mean a restructuring of the alien civilization, and an involuntary reduction of population. Either one of these modes could mean that technology development goes on hold, and the application of technology is reduced in extent and in magnitude.

If the corruption positive feedback loop were the sole cause of a collapse of an alien civilization, there could be a multi-generation delay in the progress of technology, but technology has its own positive feedback loops, operating on a longer scale perhaps, and so would regenerate. The death of the civilization, in terms of its ability to reach the stars, might happen via both of the two positive feedback loops operating here, either simultaneously or sequentially. The idiocracy effect does eliminate technology progress, and it could be facilitated by the corruption effect causing a partial collapse, and thus a relaxing of the controls on idiocracy.

If alien civilizations naturally have failure modes, and these failure modes grow larger as the effects of technology force a unification of the civilization, thereby eliminating the recovery mode offered by other regions being isolated from the collapse of one region, then one reason for having no aliens here could be written on our imaginary whiteboard: corruption interacting with idiocracy; either one being solvable, but both being too much for the civilization.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a great blog Stan! Very much appreciated.