Thursday, April 14, 2011

Conformity, Diversity, and the state of things

Yet again, Sarah's got me thinking... Yeah, I know. It's dangerous.

Anyway, some time back, Howard Bloom in Global Brain described societies as being composed of conformity enforcers, diversity generators, inner-judges, resource shifters and intergroup tournaments. Ideally, the five elements are more or less balanced, with the resource shifters (which don't need to be people) "rewarding" the successful (for whatever value of success) and "penalizing" the unsuccessful, and the inner-judges constantly evaluating where anyone stands in the social hierarchy. The intergroup tournaments are - metaphorically - what shakes the hierarchy and changes the internal rankings.

Ever since then, I've been seeing the effects everywhere - and Sarah's post is a pretty good summary of what happens when the conformity enforcers have absolute control. One fits the prevailing model of what should be, or effectively does not exist.

Most people are conformist - it's the human norm to want to be part of a group, any group. Conformity also offers a lot of mutual support and protection. What tends to happen is that rewards within a group flow to those who conform to the group's norms, unless the diversity generators happen on some new source of wealth or inter-group success and either spawn off a new group (colonize something or create a new press) or shift the norms of the old group.

It doesn't matter how big the group is, either, or who's in it. If you gather all the innovators and put them in a group, you'll quickly get a new set of conformists.

What does that have to do with publishing and writing? Simply, after a long period of decline masked as stability, there's an explosion of change in process. The last two conventions I attended, micro-presses were respectable. So were ebook-only presses. Most of the low-end mid list authors I spoke to are involved with small presses in some way - some editing for them, some running them. And what used to be the mainstream was hardly visible at all.

In Bloom's terms, the diversity generators have broken past the wall and are actively trying out anything and everything they can think of. Some of it will work, some won't. There's no way to tell which experiments will work out - and there won't be for quite some time.

All of which is a really roundabout way to say that we're in the middle of "interesting times" and they're only going to get more interesting. The only thing that's obvious is that the losers will be the ones who were on top in the old system.

Thoughts, comments, raspberries? (with cream, please).


MataPam said...

And a tech revolution happens when a Silicon Valley forms, and the conformity being enforced is "be innovative"?

I wonder if the internet,by letting us all find people like ourselves isn't going to create a horde of virtual societies that have separate conformities to be enforced, and shift resources in directions other societies will think insane?

The SF/F writers and fans certainly seem to group and egg each other on.

It's interesting to think that we'd be a ready-made group advocating for (or against) tech advances, aware of both the pluses and minuses of the new stuff coming down the road. Life extension, implanted devices, artificial wombs, AI, biowarfare and uplifted animals.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Yeah. I've seen the same. Actually you could see the wall come down, because five years ago, the small presses WEREN'T respectable, but they were MOST of the attendees. The big presses had already withdrawn presence and marketing and looking for new talent.

I never wanted to live in interesting times!

Kate Paulk said...


Sort of - each subset of Silicon Valley is enforcing its own conformity. The Microsoft culture is not the Google culture is not the Apple culture etc.

And yes, the Internet is a game changer. It's allowing communities to happen without any regard to little things like physical location.

Kate Paulk said...


I believe it. It's taken this long for the small presses and so forth to become respectable at least in part because most of the authors were scared of being kicked to the curb. Now they're still scared, but they're seeing viable alternatives - and they're catching on faster than the dinosaurs are.

I don't recall signing up for interesting times, either, but I've got them. No matter how hard I tell myself I don't want to be a leader, I'm too damn responsible at work to let things go when they need to be done. So I'm leading by default.

Since I do software quality at work, I think the computer-geek types will know exactly where I am right now.