Free Range Humans: What Makes Good Government?

[This is a version of a talk I originally presented at the 2018 Biosemiotics conference in Berkeley last June, re-presented on Dec 9th to a Biosemiotic study group online organized by Pille Bunnell. The video is a little rough. The brilliant Qs that sparked some of my As were cut because I neglected to get permissions from all the participants beforehand. Thank you, Pille, for organizing the session.]

Synopsis Representative Democracy, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism or Anarchy? No matter what philosophy you begin with, over time political systems tend to concentrate wealth and power. Government and individual freedom should really be co-creative of one another. Why is it that we can’t seem to achieve this? As a biosemiotician, I have learned that creative and intelligent behavior emerge in complex systems when individuals have semiotic freedom and enabling constraints. Government/culture should provide the enabling constraints (language, tradition, borders, laws, courts, currency, public buildings, hospitals, schools, mass transportation, energy and communication networks) but the people making use of those constraints should have the semiotic freedom (i.e., the ability to interpret rules and even misinterpret rules) to make their own decisions, set their own goals, and enjoy/suffer the consequences.

5 thoughts on “Free Range Humans: What Makes Good Government?

  1. forestree

    Hi Tori! I hope you are well! Thank you for a very interesting and thought provoking presentation! I very much enjoyed listening to you speak. Excellent enunciation. The rhythm and expression of your voice sounds like a lovely song!! :)

  2. forestree

    The subject of your talk is an interesting and complex one–just as ecosystems are fascinating and complex, so are government and and other modern institutions. Your presentation beautifully simplifies a complicated question. Are you planning to incorporate this talk in a future book?

    On a related matter, I enjoy reading some political writers from the past who address the question of what government constitutes “that government that government that governs best governs least. Some of my favorites are (of course) Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Lysander Spooner, Henry David Thoreau–also an amazing ecologist, as were–Peter Kropotkin and Buckminster Fuller.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Best wishes in all your do!!

    1. VN Alexander Post author

      Thanks for your comments. Yes Thoreau and Bucky esp! The best governors (meaning all gov administrators) are those who share in the risks and benefits equally with those they govern.

  3. Keith

    I’m glad I found this (whilst searching for info about Pille, actually). Some very good points you make. About 20 years ago, I began writing a book with the working title “An immodest proposal: politics as if people mattered”, but I never found enough time to finish it. The idea was to call for a politics founded on the truth about human nature (not some philosophical fantasy about it). Essentially it is to recognise humans as social beings with deep natural desires (let’s be honest about these) and to nurture a society that constitutes a good psychological environment for the flourishing of the constructive side of human nature.
    Practically it is well summarised by the creative constraint idea you promote here.

    Really I am a professional scientist (theoretical biologist) and your references to origin of life, cybernetics and self-organisation are welcome. Because of that, I would like to introduce you to my (struggling) effort to develop those ideas at Maybe your audience will find some useful and interesting insights there (e.g. on self-organisation, autonomy and free will). At its heart lies an astonishing idea. Life (and all that lives) is essentially a self-created computer. What it computes is itself (autopoiesis) and by doing this it is (a) the greatest elaboration of information in the known universe and (b) the source of its own cause, from which and by which it is uniquely able to exercise free-will*.

    Just one thing: what makes politicians and tax-payers wrong? If democracy is good, then it can only be because they are influenced by the wrong signals, but these signals come from within society (because it is an organisationally closed system). What you say about Complex systems seems to miss the work built on Complex Adaptive Systems. Alternative societies are easy to propose, getting from here to there is the hard bit. To understand how that can be done requires a complex system account of society in which the desired outcome is an emergent phenomenon. We are still quite a long way from that, but I note that the core teachings of Buddhism provide a good framework for it at a practical individual level.

    * See e.g. How Organisms Gained Causal Independence and How It Might Be Quantified: Biology 2018, 7, 38; doi:10.3390/biology7030038. (There is a popular science article about it here


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