World Futures 74 (1):1-35 (2018)

John E. Stewart
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Can a human society be constrained in such a way that self-organization will thereafter tend to produce outcomes that advance the goals of the society? Such a society would be self-organizing in the sense that individuals who pursue only their own interests would none-the-less act in the interests of the society as a whole, irrespective of any intention to do so. The paper sketches an agent-based model that identifies the conditions that must be met if such a self-organizing society is to emerge. The model draws heavily on an understanding of how self-organizing societies have emerged repeatedly during the evolution of life on Earth. The model demonstrates that the key enabling requirement for a self-organizing society is ‘consequence-capture’. Broadly this means that all agents in the society must capture sufficient of the beneficial consequences of their actions for the goals of the society. ‘Consequence-capture’ can be organized in a society by appropriate management that suppresses free riders and supports pro-social actions. In human societies these constraints include institutions such as systems of governance and social norms. If a self-organizing society is to emerge, consequence-capture must apply to all agents in the society, including those involved in the establishment and adaptation of institutions. If this is achieved, the result will be a fully self-organizing society in which the interests of all agents are aligned with the interests of the society as a whole.
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Reprint years 2018
DOI 10.1080/02604027.2017.1357985
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