In this stage of technology and social organization, many seek a holy grail of sorts in the idea of the swarm. A swarm consists of small autonomous objects that coordinate with each other without having to use a centralized authority to pass messages.
For example, a drone swarm is dropped on a target with a general idea, like taking out anti-aircraft weaponry, but then collaborates improvisationally to determine what to do. There are no formal leaders per se except for those who sent the swarm out in the first place.
In this way, swarms resemble what most of us think of when we hear the word swarm: insects. A swarm of bees act for their queen, but take on roles in an ad hoc manner when in the field; a swarm of locusts just eats everything in sight. We might say that swarms are semiconscious.
Our brains use a technique like swarming which has an analog to threading in computer science. Many ideas present themselves, and only those which are compatible with one another are selected, and that general type is compared to what is perceived externally. This presents the most internally consistent and most realistic options.
Democracy avoids the swarm by instead creating something more like a yeast bloom. In this, many equal organisms participate only in what rewards their immediate nutritional needs. They are thus both individualistic to the point of being oblivious to larger reality, and acting as a collective, where each individual does the will of the group so that the individual gets his own reward.
The “yeast bloom” approach fails because it is linear and invariant. As long as there is food, there will be more yeast, until at some point there is no more food, and then all of the yeast die. If you wonder why our society tends toward extremes in reasoning, it may be this basic model: we are either thriving or about to suddenly die, and people are trying to guess which.
If we designed a society around a swarm, it would consist of people who were basically autonomous but responsive to a hierarchy, or multiple levels of authority. At the bottom level, there are cells of a few units, with a leader, and those leaders report to someone above them, who reports to someone further above, eventually reaching a command and control level. That is where humans are different.
We need kings, and leaders beneath them, but in place of some universal overlord of all, we have principles, cultures, religion and basic belief. We are fully of the swarm, in that our overlord was set by our mission when deployed, and this task of adaptation to our environment has produced evident principles over the centuries. We know the basics, but no one but our leaders can understand them.
Swarms can re-orient after loss by identifying local leaders and having those select the leaders above them. In contrast to mass voting, this consists of recognition of evident traits in those leaders, which is not a matter of preference but of analysis. People follow those who are able to lead.
If the 20th century had a metaphor, it was the assembly line which produced identical parts. As we venture into the 21st, it has become clear that the problem with identical parts is that they are unable to achieve the flexible response that is needed for changing conditions, so we are transitioning to swarm-based thinking.
As democracy collapses, the idea of equality — including “one person, one vote” and the idea that all people should be treated the same way despite unequal contributions — will itself become distrusted, leading to the recognition that we need leaders. The balkanization that happens when formerly-diverse republics fragment will transfer focus to local leaders, and those by recognizing that they need more, will then re-form the constituent societies of our former state, but do so separately, preserving the swarm.
For a swarm to work, all of the units must be highly compatible and able to both understand the signals sent by others, and act according to values or principles shared by the others. This requires a greater compatibility than ideology or economics can provide, and so the unity will occur at the level of genetics, so that there can be no errors in transmission as occur with education.
While many think of insects when the term “swarm” is mentioned, our actual future is like a group of drones dropped over a battlefield. They separate, then group up in small clusters, then take on specialized roles with some commanding, some observing, some acting and some helping the others. This provides maximum efficiency and flexibility.
To modern people, swarms seem paradoxical because they are individuals acting together for something more than self-interest or shared interests; they are acting toward the principles for which the swarm was deployed. Culture, heritage and values rule over the hand-to-mouth logic of purely economic or ideological living.
As the age of ideology fades, our human future will look more like this swarm, and less like a horde of insects or yeast, ravenous to the point of being suicidal, unleashed on an environment that they will consume, then move on to another, never reflecting on the choices or possibilities available to them.
Through doing this, we will come to understand ourselves better as individuals. Like drones in a swarm, we will each take on generally specialized roles (watcher, leader, fixer, helper, worker, warrior) and understand ourselves in this context so that if we do it well, we will feel good about ourselves, instead of comparing ourselves to some idealized person who wins everything at once.
From the perspective of this future, we will see the years of the age of ideology as having been as chaotic and disorienting as they have been. But without that burden holding us back, like a chronic infection, we will be able to take on more ambitious projects without our human linearity and individualism getting in the way.