Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Wisdom of Crowds, Part 2, The Republican "Circular Mill" of Death

In a previous post, I mentioned that I just finished reading The Wisdom of Crowds by New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki.

Today I want to focus on what the Wisdom of Crowds teaches us about the sorry state of the Republican Party.


It seems to me that the Republicans' greatest strength is that they are hierarchical and extremely good at following orders. It's also their greatest weakness. When Republicans have good leadership at the top, they are incredibly unified, agile, and focused. But when they have bad leadership at the top (or incompetent people as they do in this adminstration), their follow-the-leader mentality is an absolute disaster.

The Wisdom of Crowds illustrates the dangers of being a blind follower with a brilliant example:

In the early part of the twentieth century, the American naturalist William Beebe came upon a strange sight in the Guyana jungle. A group of army ants was moving in a huge circle. The circle was 1,200 feet in circumference, and it took each ant two and a half hours to complete the loop. The ants went around and around the circle for two days until most of them dropped dead.
    What Beebe saw was what biologists call a "circular mill." The mill is created when army ants find themselves separated from their colony. Once they're lost, they obey a simple rule: follow the ant in front of you. The result is the mill, which usually only breaks up when a few ants straggle off by chance and the others follow them away.
    ...[T]he simple tools that make ants so successful are also responsible for the demise of the ants who get trapped in the circular mill. Every move an ant makes depends on what its fellow ants do, and an ant cannot act independently, which would help break the march to death." (The Wisdom of Crowds, p. 40 & 41)

Surowiecki is illustrating the dangers of "information cascades" where decisions are made sequentially (and each additional decision is dependent on the prior decision). I think its also a perfect description of the current state of the Republican Party. A circular mill of death where they all march in a circle, thinking they are following the leader, but actually just going around and around until they all (and many more of our soldiers) die.

To paraphrase, 'Every move a Republican makes depends on what his fellow Republicans do, and a Republican cannot act independently, which would help break the march to death.' When it comes to the Iraq war, Republicans in the House and Senate just march around and around in a circle (filibustering, delaying, denying), thinking they are following their leader when in fact, they never had one.

I'll finish my 3 part series on The Wisdom of Crowds in a subsequent post.

No comments: