Creating Collaborative Law, Part II

Part I of this latest series on creating opportunity through collaboration and cooperation referred to the process of coevolution among the Federalists, Anti-Federalists and a public interested in the governance of America in 1787 and beyond. Coevolution involves multiple interacting entities, typically organic when thought of in biological terms, and the behavior that results from these interactions is typically described in the concept of emergence.

In his 2002 deeply insightful review[1] of the principles of emergence, FAPITCA contributor Harold Morowitz pointed toward some of the arguments we are making in this blog. Perhaps the most important was in his chapter on “Science and Religion” where he noted, “We have to give up on the simplistic approaches. The world is far more complicated than was envisioned by earlier philosophers.” How true this is in the Connected Age!

While the entire first chapter of The Emergence of Everything is dedicated to defining emergence, we’ll sum it up here with the contrast provided by Harold: “Emergence is then the opposite of reduction. The latter tries to move from the whole to the parts… The former tries to generate the properties of the whole from an understanding of the parts.”[2]

We want to propose that almost all law and policy in our current times has been approached from the reductionist perspective. The two parties, more or less, each have their own starting assumptions as to what law and policy must be in order for our nation to succeed. This drives them to visualize the “finished” law or policy first and then reduce it through the political process to derive the components of the law. Unfortunately, in this era of our nation’s governing history, this visualization process seems to be consistent with a polarized political process that motivates party positions.

This assumption that there is only one approach, particularly when driven by the arrogance of political dogma, is akin to a scientist establishing a hypothesis and then in the experiments that follow only accepting evidence that supports the original hypothesis. This is not how our nation’s science and technology research has achieved so much…it’s also not how our nation’s best laws and policies were produced, including our Constitution. We had differences in 1787 to be sure, but a desire to collaborate and achieve on behalf the nation drove the process and the emergent result…the edges did not control our politics in that time.

Anyone suggesting today that edge-driven policies are somehow more in alignment with our historical political processes either seeks to deceive or is not fully informed of our nation’s history. In either event, such an approach hurts our nation and rejects the value of science and reasoning in leadership.

If there is a science of emergence (and there’s good evidence there is from reading Harold’s book) this science can also inform how politics in our nation can work more effectively. Emergence is a product of interactions of constituent parts that produce a higher level behavior that works…the fact that it works demonstrates emergence’s special relationship with coevolution. The two go hand-in-hand to produce a process or product that is competitive for survival and gets the job of life done. That’s what we want for good law and policy in this nation: get the job done.

We want law and policy that is collaboratively created through the interactions of competitive parties…loyal oppositions, if you will.[3] We want law and policy that starts with assumptions about what’s needed to make our nation work better and become even greater. Then we want to test assumptions in a fair, representative and collaborative way. We want to grow success through emergence, just like life has.

We do not want law and policy that starts from a dogmatic position, informed by the strict rules imposed by the edges of a political party that is incapable of or unwilling to collaborate to emerge law and policy that offers maximum access to opportunity for everyone. We do not want to reject the diversity that our new generations of Americans have to offer in this Connected Age and marginalize them from the process before they even get a chance to enjoy the quality of life we boomers inherited.

One final note on the value of thinking about law and policy as an emergent process and product: Harold Morowitz proposes that emergence is nature’s pruning function, “which extracts the actual from the possible.” If we can somehow harness the process of emergence in our nation’s development of law and policy, we are actually making the political process far more natural and adaptive (and even infused with a meaningful dose of humility). This may help us overcome the arrogance of political dogma. We may be able to prune the best from the rest and facilitate more Americans feeling included, empowered and part of our political process.

In Part III of this series, we’ll demonstrate the convergence of some of these scientifically-derived processes with the tools of the Connected Age to show how better law and policy may emerge. With the world around us becoming ever more complex and the behaviors of many interacting forces descending upon us (including both social and environmental forces), we need to be far more collaborative and yes, science-based, in developing a political culture that brings us together rather than tears us apart. That’s for next time…

Originally posted by Carl and Chuck Hunt, 4/11/2014.


[1] Morowitz, H. J., The Emergence of Everything, Oxford Press, NY, 2002.

[2] Ibid., p. 14., It’s also worth noting that the remainder of the book provides rich examples of many types of emergences that greatly inform a broad understanding of emergence as a scientific concept (even its own discipline, in some ways).

[3] At this point, most in the American Center would accept modest respect and civility if loyalty is a bridge too far for the edges.

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