On Social Engineering

A comparison with a more established engineering field may clarify the concept of social engineering. Consider chemical engineering as a reference. The job of a chemical engineer is to produce a given quantity of a specific chemical. What do they have to know to do this, and how do they go about doing their job?

First, a chemical engineer has to know enough about chemistry to understand what the requested chemical is, and how it relates to the feedstock chemicals available as starting points. In social engineering, the equivalent knowledge base will come primarily from experimental psychology, although a knowledge of economics, sociology, political science, and anthropology will frequently be required to understand the “feedstock” of human behaviors available. A caveat here: Most people think they’re competent in these fields by virtue of being a human being. This of course is an example of the Dunning-Krueger effect (i.e. people don’t know enough about the domain to even distinguish competence from incompetence). If a hundred and fifty years or so of psychological research has shown us anything, it’s that people don’t actually behave the way we’d predict they do, nor are they anything even remotely resembling rational decisionmakers (e.g., see this list of logical fallacies and this list of cognitive biases, and for an overview of how this irrationality throws a monkey wrench into public policy regarding economics, read Ariely’s Predictably Irrational).

Second, a chemical engineer has to know about the range of equipment and processes available to change the feedstocks into the desired chemical. Pipes, pumps, valves, pressure vessels, catalysts, and the various methods of heating and cooling are the components and techniques that are used in these processes. The equivalents in social engineering are information presentation, education, traditions/customs/policies/laws, and financial incentives and disincentives.

Finally, a chemical engineer has to design a process and then run a batch of the feedstock through the process and assess the output. Does it have the required amount of the desired chemical? Does it need further refining or concentration? Are there harmful or dangerous byproduct chemicals in the mix? The social engineering equivalents of this process are experiments, surveys, and statistics which measure the effect of the process on the population. Was the goal achieved? Were The People harmed by any of side-effects of the process?

Now let’s compare this proposed field of social engineering with how public policy decisions are made, historically and in the present. First, who’s doing the engineering? Are they trained in psychology, economics, or any other social science? Do they have any sort of engineering background? For the most part, no: Historically the people defining these policies (think Confucius, Moses, Thomas Jefferson, etc.), to the extent they had any training at all, had a general education with no systematic experience in any of these fields. Today, the majority of legislators are lawyers and businesspeople with little or no experience or training in these areas either. And although lawmakers today have staff to assist them, some of whom have relevant experience or training, nearly all of that is in a field known as “public policy”, a field in which you can get a degree without having to take a single experimental psychology or engineering course. This means that public policy is to social engineering what institutional food preparation is to chemical engineering. Such public policy “chefs” have recipes they can follow, and can usually judge the output and tune the process a little to improve the result. However, because they lack the knowledge of human behavior necessary to create new recipes, it is simply not reasonable to expect them to create a new system from scratch now that it has become clear that we need one.

So, what we’ve done is turn the process of defining our moral codes and our public policy over to people who, besides the fact that they lack the temperament to do it right (i.e., are SDAP), also simply lack the skills to do it well. It’s the social engineering equivalent of contracting with your moonshining neighbor when you need a batch of chemotherapy drug. Sure, the process of distilling alcohol from corn is also an example of chemical engineering, but is that really the way we want to go here?

These previous generations of social engineers will be referred to in Matchism as “amateur social engineers”. Calling them engineers at all is a bit of a stretch since they generally don’t follow even the most important tenets of engineering. Nevertheless they do have some actual engineering skills, albeit primarily of the “seat of the pants” variety, which makes them more than just “social designers” or “social architects”. And this is not meant as a slight to amateurs in general: skilled and conscientious amateurs can often perform as well as professionals in many fields. Unfortunately neither chemical engineering nor social engineering are among them.

This also addresses the issue of those who would reject “social engineering” as a field because they don’t want to be engineered/controlled/manipulated. This would be a naive position to take because we are already continuously subjected to this type of influence. In addition to the “amateur social engineers” working in public policy there are even larger numbers of them working in other fields, most notably the business specialties of sales and marketing. These groups are essentially using some of the same behavioral engineering techniques used in social engineering, but instead of using them for the benefit of the individual or society as a whole, the goal is to influence human behavior (purchasing habits) by exploiting what they know about human dispositions (their desires and fears) to benefit a small group of people (the employees and shareholders of corporations). You’d also have to include politicians, the clergy, con-artists, and in many cases your own friends, family, and coworkers among those who use behavioral engineering techniques to influence your behavior, and not always with your best interests foremost in their minds. At least with Matchism these efforts will be labeled as such and you will have some say as to whether any particular technique will be applied to your behavior.

To summarize, here are the distinguishing characteristics of social engineering in Matchism vs. the way it’s been used up to this point:

  1. Social engineering in Matchism is truly “social”: The People, rather than some corporation or SDAP leadership, will be making the decisions on the Goals and what tools and techniques are appropriate to use to achieve them.
  2. Social engineering is a systemic field: It’s not sufficient to show that some technique works, we also need to know what the side effects are. This distinguishes social engineering, which considers the overall effects on the entire system, from simple behavioral engineering, which is only concerned with changing the behavior at the individual level.
  3. Social engineers will recognize that there are multiple classes of behavioral engineering and that it is best for each individual and for The People as a whole to use the least invasive class that is effective, “best” being defined by having the least effect on individual freedom and stress levels. Matchism distinguishes 5 classes of behavioral engineering:
    1. Sometimes people want to do things that are both to their benefit and to the benefit of society as a whole. An example of this would be providing hand sanitizer near the entrance of stores and doctor’s offices: People want to be clean and germ free and merely facilitating this behavior will cause it to happen, in this case reducing the spread of infections which is something that benefits everyone. Rumble strips cut into the edges of roadways would be another example: When you hear the noise on your tires, you know you’re off the roadway and need to steer back into your lane, which protects you and everyone around you. Instructions at the point of use of a device would be a third example: People want to know how to use the device but may just need information to do so correctly.
    2. Sometimes people need corrective feedback to let them know when some change in behavior is necessary for the benefit of society as a whole even if it’s not something that benefits them directly. Line-keeping stanchions or police “do not cross” tape would be an example of this. The feedback is instantaneous and has only a short-term effect. Inspections to ensure standards compliance, such as building inspections, would be another example (provided of course that the standards are necessary and well specified, the fact that they often are not is a bit of social engineering that will be addressed in the section on Standards).
    3. The corrective feedback can be made more salient or invasive by instituting external incentives or penalties. This is the realm of most laws and policies, at least those where the incentives or penalties are scaled such that they ensure compliance without imposing unnecessary stress on the individual or on society.
    4. Sometimes conditioning or other internalized behavioral engineering is required. The extensive socialization that we all go through as children fits into this category. We are changing the internal natures of people to ensure that they behave appropriately in particular situations. This is a time-consuming and very resource-intensive process, and in many cases is done inadequately or incompetently which can cause negative side effects both for the individual (stress, depression, dysfunction) and for society as a whole (criminal and other anti-social behavior).
    5. Sometimes some people do behavioral engineering merely to enhance their own personal power or to make others suffer without any regard for whether any desired change in behavior is achieved or whether this suffering benefits The People as a whole. This is most commonly seen in the realm of SDAP-instigated propaganda or fearmongering and their control over the criminal justice system (minimum sentencing laws, sentencing children as adults, etc., more on this later in the section Crime and Punishment).

Besides addressing the issue of leadership, Matchism will enable a wide range of other changes to improve the way governmental and economic systems work, making them better meet our needs, improving their efficiency, and making them more compatible with our species’ natural inclinations and allowing them to provide a more powerful, and yet more stable, civilization than has ever existed before. Not all of the changes suggested in this document must be implemented, and some may turn out to be impractical. But there are many interdependencies and so each should be seriously considered and implemented together if they are deemed useful: It will be a lot easier to implement them all at once in one disruption lasting a few years than dragging The People through a lifetime of more incremental changes. It also gets around the problem that many people will find something they really dislike about Matchism, with different aspects bothering different people. Realizing that everyone else is in the same boat will make it possible for individuals to vote to approve it over their own personal misgivings, knowing that collectively we will all be better off. Having to approve each change separately would make “tyranny of the (bare) majority” a core feature of the implementation, which would seriously degrade compliance: Large supermajorities are a highly effective means of establishing the legitimacy of laws and policies, legitimacy being the main predictor of their effectiveness (e.g. see Tyler 2006 Why People Obey The Law, the afterward (summary) of which can be found here as a PDF).

Providing a wide range of examples has another benefit: While no claim can be made that this document is an exhaustive list, it should be at least exhausting enough that no one can make the claim that “Matchism is unworkable because it doesn’t deal with problem X”. Even if “X” is not discussed directly, providing sufficient examples of social engineering principles should remove any reasonable doubt that “X” would become solvable by Matchism through some process that is not available in current government or economic systems.

In the following sections, we start development of the actual “Constitution”, the set of statements (in bold) that will make up the top level laws/regulations/policies/traditions of a Matchist society.

Next: Matchism Motivations