Friday, November 5, 2010

Evolution of Political Complexity - A lesson for the U.S

In an interesting article in Nature (Oct 14, 2010) titled ‘Rise and fall of political complexity in island South-East Asia and the Pacific’, authors Currie et al explain their study of the development human political organizations. They evaluated six models for the evolution of political organizations in Austronesian speaking societies using phylogenetic methods. Austronesian speakers spread from the island of Taiwan around 3200 BC through the Philippines into Indonesia, west to coastal south east Asia and Madagascar and east through the Pacific Ocean to evolve into Polynesians and colonize every habitable Pacific island from Hawaii to New Zealand. Based on ethnographic and linguistic data they studied 84 austronesian societies.

They defined levels of political complexity by the number of hierarchical decision making levels: societies lacking permanent leadership beyond the local community are labelled ‘acephalous’; those with a single level beyond the local community are labelled ‘simple chiefdoms’ ; those with two levels represent ‘complex chiefdoms’ and societies with more than two levels are ‘states’. I do not want to go too much into detail of the study - But what was their conclusion?

Let me quote Jared Diamond who wrote a review of the article in the same issue “The results are clear. First, political evolution increases only in small steps: states and complex chiefdoms don’t form directly from leaderless societies. Second, political complexity can decrease as well as increase, in agreement with the abundant evidence of the disintegration of states and chiefdoms. Finally, unlike increases of complexity, declines can plunge a society politically several stages backwards ....”

Why is this relevant now?

Imagine the ostensible goal of the U.S to install democracies in tribal Afghanistan and Iraq!!

Look at the plunge of the society taking place in Pakistan!!

Not that we need to look at an arcane study to prove these points but if our political leaders had some sense to look at history and evolution of societies it would enable them to take better decisions.

As Winston Churchill once sald ‘Americans can be expected to take the right decisions - after they have exhausted all other options’

So let us hope that the U.S will get it right soon :)

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