The thing about tightly coordinated flocks of birds is that they
can’t work by top-down planning and they can’t be anarchic
free-for-alls either. Now comes news that they are in between:
there is no single leader but some birds are more influential than
others in which way the flock turns.
The authors say that a hierarchical
arrangement may foster more flexible and efficient decision-making
compared with that of singly led or egalitarian groups. In future
studies, the scientists plan to investigate whether leaders are
better navigators, and whether hierarchies persist in larger groups
and in other types of social animal. “If it’s true that there’s an
evolutionary advantage to making decisions in this way, then
there’s absolutely a reason to assume that it could have evolved in
other species too,” Biro says.
That matches neatly what people like Joe Henrich have begun to conclude
about how human society works. Nobody’s in charge. No single leader
decides what’s going to be invented or eaten or laughed at. But
certain prestigious individuals have more say than others.
Right, so can we now get away from the absurd dichotomy between
autocracy and anarchy? If you say you favour bottom-up,
emergent solutions with nobody in charge, because that’s how
both evolution and economic progress (and the internet) generally
work, then then most people react by saying: well, somebody’s got
to be in charge or you’ll end up with anarchy. No.