The root of civilization is organization, and the root of organization is understanding human psychology, including the pathologies into which people can fall that in groups become runaway trends, manias and panics.
Swarms are a manifestation of one of these contra-civilizational tendencies. Humans are by nature egregious and social. In fact we even have ideologies called “Socialism” based on a social approach to the realities of groups, nations, folk and tribes.
While “swarming” together has demonstrated a tremendous force-multiplier effect such as with armies, negatives such with crime families, dark organizations and even societal decay have prompted people to investigate dark groups and even write novels using swarms in titles.
While the term “swarm” feels like a headless human horde (which it could be), some indications already point to the alternative of good or bad leaders, where weak leaders can lead the strong. In fact, it points to how it is possible that a small “weak” group can dominate a much larger “strong” group from within.
Swarms, as a form of dark organization, are generally not mentioned in a cultural context. A good starting point can be found in a webinar on Hofstede Multi-Focus Model and Organizational Culture.
In Hofstede’s mind there exist National, Organizational and Sub-Organizational cultures. For example he does not define a global culture or indeed “other” cultures outside of organizations. The assumption therefore is that everybody is organized. The model distinguishes National Cultures by the following traits:
Therefore, National cultures are mostly about differences in values/principles, while its internal instituations focus on practices/methods enabled by its symbols, heroes and rituals. The two can be distinguished using the following eight dimensional multi-focus model, of which the first six methods relate to internal organizations, with National cultures adding the last two as well:
The Hofstede Centre may or may not agree with my viewpoints as described here. I merely argue towards a possible cultural understanding of the swarm. The deduction is made herewith that National “value differences” must be absorbed within the senior layer of an organization. This connects with another company Â that promotes value-based performance management as an internal organizational performance measurement practice.
National cultures are one type of organization, but within them, the methods-driven institutions can adopt swarm culture as expressed in the paper “Culture, self-organization and swarm intelligence.”Â The introduction describes the efforts as follows:
This seminar examines current theories, research, applications and interventions associated with emerging “evolutionary” (as opposed to “rational”) models of optimization strategies presented by work in biology, evolutionary programming, genetic algorithms, engineering, the social/behavioral sciences and business involving the related fields of self-organization in biological systems and swarm intelligence.
But in the very next sentence it states:
Particular emphasis is on the implications of this work for culture and the role of communication in dealing with diversity in the completion of collaborative tasks.
This reveals a paradox: on top of a fully logical analysis of swarms, a new value called “diversity” is layered as if our civilization had already been taken over by a swarm. The research assumes that our institutions have conquered our National organization, or culture, through the process of swarming.
By nature, swarms are not diverse. A swarm of bees, or flying geese or even a human organization such as Black Lives Matter are each examples of swarms. Technological swarms like military UAVs consist of hundreds of small units that are identical. This is why the biological metaphor uses an apian term, “drone,” for these types of units.
Instead it is argued that swarms could be diverse, at least in the context of a business organization where employees who do not perform can be fired. This implies that the organization does not necessarily adopt or internalize the national culture, having its own based not on values, but on methods, including value-based performance management.
This reveals to us the nature of organizations as enclosures of one another. Organizational culture cannot work upwards to include national culture, in the same way national culture cannot work downwards by using its values to determine organizational methods and practices.
That in turn shows us the risk of swarms: a swarm is a dangerous entity because it does not have a culture and adheres to no culture. It appears to be merely “droning on,” operating like any other human tool according to a linear function that acts like an agenda of its own, unless carefully controlled by a force like the ability to fire employees.
The science fiction book Ender’s Game describes a war between earth and a race of insectoid aliens who attack using swarm strategies. Since the ants were overpowering in numbers, soldiers had to adopt innovative schemes to engage them. The only solution was to exterminate the source of the swarm, its queen.
Human swarms are comprised of those that have no culture. Some people described them in the past as “hordes,” such as barbarian hordes, which prompts a distinction between high and low cultures. This situation is not described by Hofstede, but his analysis can apply to it, in that we see low cultures have only six of the eight attributes of organizations that he describes.
In terms of human cultures, we might surmise that “high” and “low” refer to degrees of organization, with diverse cultures being inherently disorganized through lack of common purpose to their members. This is why they require the enforcement the workplace provides, but if created outside of that model, act more like natural swarms with out of control replication ending in collapse.
We tend to forget the cultural aspect in our charge towards technology or diversity or globalism, which may result in all of us losing our cultures, thereby becoming “drones” of the “hordes.” Culture is what keeps our organizations operating at the level of National culture, and when we lose it — a consequence of diversity — we turn nations into institutions in search of a purpose.
Perhaps this posits a future where some have higher-level organization and exist in structured organization, and are opposed by the rest, who exist in low-organization swarms. These drones do anything that their sensors observe; this means that engaging them directly (even innovatively) is meaningless. The only victory comes by totally “blinding” them and then, destroying the entire swarm.
Tags: Culture, geert hofstede, national organization, organization, swarming, swarms