Evolution of Human Social Systems

We have seen the minute structure of memetic replicators that provide the components for autopoietic human social systems.  We’ve explored a higher level architecture of the human social system as a cognitive system.  This framework is generic – a source of commonality across business enterprises and other organizations.  At the same time we know that there is vast and growing diversity among these human social systems.  In this section we briefly explore the mechanisms that drive evolutionary change and variety in the social domain.

Earlier we visited the notion of a universal Darwinian algorithm that works on a set of innovating replicators that compete for survival and reproduction.  To understand the proliferation of organizational forms, we turn again to the biological realm for a model.
Biological evolution is driven by information changes in DNA produced by one of three means: mutation, bacterial recombination, or symbiogenesis.  We’re not very interested in random mutation.  Bacterial recombination occurs as bacteria transform themselves in real time by incorporating bits of genetic material from other bacteria.  As Lynn Margulis puts it, "Genetically fluid bacteria are functionally immortal"[36].  
The isomorphic evolutionary mechanisms for human social systems are instructive.  Margulis refers to cells as “cellular corporations.”  The bacterial exchange of genetic information that immediately alters the receiving organism is an interesting analogy for what happens when a new person with a set of accumulated knowledge, joins an existing human social system.  This form of variety creation is even more dramatic when human social systems merge, such as an acquisition or takeover of one business by another.  Social systems too, can be “genetically fluid, and functionally immortal.”  Adaptation based on information exchange is the means of creating both variety and specialization in business.

Unlike bacteria, every plant cell and animal cell is a eukaryotic cell.  Margolis’s notion of symbiogenesis is based on the fact that eukaryotic cells contain components called mitochondria.  Mitochondria independently reproduce, and have their own DNA and RNA.  They appear to be descendants of long-ago bacteria that evolved from predator, to symbiotic association, to essential component structures.  An analog from the business world is a function that is absolutely common to all business, the accounting function.  The memes of accounting can give rise to SIUs and accounting firms that are autopoietic human social systems in their own right.  The same commeme-based SIUs can also be embedded, like mitochondria, in other organizations that exist for various purposes, where accounting is simply a supporting function.

This brings up the interesting question of purpose in the evolution of human social systems.  We cannot hope to fully explore it here, but a few words may be in order.  There is a constant struggle between the replicating memes and conscious purposefulness of human social systems.  As we know, some systems are living systems and some systems are designed.  Living systems include cells, organs, and organisms.  Designed systems include machines, buildings, and software.  Human social systems (unlike bee swarms, ant colonies, and slime molds) are both living and designed.  However, the design of human social systems is a matter of degree and is often elusive.  A common experience is that of the entrepreneur, who founds an enterprise for a specific purpose.  At a certain point the company becomes autopoietic, acquires its own version of the enterprise cognitive architecture, and escapes the direct control of the founder.