Beating the Odds

A while back, I read a fascinating piece of non-fiction – Howard Bloom’s The Global Brain. Actually pretty much anything of Bloom’s is worth reading, although it can be slow going at times. The man has a way of drawing from multiple fields of science to produce interesting hypotheses, some of which ring awfully true.

The one that hit me most was in Global Brain, talking about how what he describes as “collective learning machines” (otherwise known as functional, growing anythings) need five elements to function: conformity enforcers, diversity generators, inner-judges, resource shifters, and intergroup tournaments.

He also theorized that they operate at all levels, from the microbiotic all the way up the scale to cultures and societies.

The basic idea is that the judges decree the worth of whatever is brought “in”, whether it’s food or ideas. Resource shifters allocate rewards to the bringers of high-value input. Intergroup tournaments are the way all the respective parts of the whole compete with each other. Conformity enforcers are the ones who keep everything/everyone in line, and diversity generators give conformity enforcers the finger (virtual or literal) and do their own thing. Bloom’s diversity generators are Odds, in other words.

In essence, Bloom believes that all societies balance the four basic functions while participating in the tournaments and each person performs mostly one of the functions at any given time. Conformity enforcers are the most common, because without any conformity, you don’t actually have a society. You have a lot of people who happen to be in the same approximate area. It’s the – usually unspoken – norms that make the collection of people a society. Judges are more or less equivalent to the “cool kids” or leaders when that’s the primary function. As a secondary function they’re more the self-censorship we all do to get along without driving our fellow humans to homicide. Resource shifters are kind of similar but instead of the “good boy/bad boy” psychological reward system, they hand out the physical rewards. In bee colonies, they decide which bees get rewarded for the nectar they bring in. On Amazon, they’re anyone who rates or buys a book (where the judges are more the reviewers, to strain the analogy even further).

More to the point, when things are good (or perceived to be good), there’s more tolerance for the Odds. If you aren’t counting every precious mouthful towards surviving the winter, you’re going to be much more inclined to let Odd-Ogg try his weird new ideas about hunting because it doesn’t matter quite so much if they don’t work and Odd-Ogg really doesn’t care as much as Conformist-Ugh about getting the best women and the best caves.

And in the writing world right now (for the last decade and change, at least) things are on the less good side of the ledger, which means the conformity enforcers are much more inclined to beat on the Odds than they would be if things were good. It’s the same elsewhere, of course, and can be recognized by the crab bucket behavior of the self-styled leaders of opinion insisting that any variation from their preferred viewpoint must be evil – so of course they run around beating the Odds and anyone who might, with a bit of a squint and a sideways leer, maybe be a little bit Odd.

It’s a foolish thing to do, but a very human thing. What tends to happen is that sooner or later an Odd will find something that makes enough of a difference and suddenly gain a whole lot of approval – leading to that Odd’s way of doing things becoming the new conformity to enforce. Things go well for a while under the new normal, then when they get stagnant the whole cycle repeats itself. The only way to break out from it is to value the Odds instead of beating them, and hope that when they find something useful they’ll use it with you instead of against you… because the Odds who rise to real power tend to be even worse than anyone else.

Which, since the writing industry is a society composed almost entirely of the Odds of regular society, explains way more than it should about writers and publishers.



  1. Added the book to my Wishlist. The over-all pattern does sound familiar, and when things get tight, rather than risk making a known evil worse, the enforcers work overtime to penalize the Odds. (See: publishers and ever-tightening contracts)

    1. See the Left overall… so much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I really do hope it means they’re well and truly failing. No, I do not expect to see it properly end. But see it relegated to fewer and fewer crazies whose craziness is ever more apparent? Perhaps. Even an ox can dream.

    2. Me, too. Finally, a good book for the KU account. I’m hoping that many of the non-fiction books I’d like to get end up there. My library either doesn’t have them, or has too few, leading to a LONG wait for it.

  2. The huge success of the new Rosanne show, featuring Roseanne Barr as a -Trump supporter-, has the Enforcer Section standing with their mouths hanging open in shock and amazement. They’re probably verging on fainting, seeing stars, going light in the head, knees getting rubbery, the full central nervous system collapse cascade.

    I strongly doubt that the publishers and comic book companies will notice, except perhaps to sneer. But the Big Dollar TV boys just saw a washed-up, has-been comedian, who runs a friggin’ macadamia nut orchard, walk out of obscurity and scoop up all the money they’ve left lying on the table.

    Rosanne fricking Barr has a smash hit TV show? Playing a fat, low-class Trump supporter? And it WORKED?!

    That’s just as impossible as Trump beating the Robot Pantsuit. Maybe even more impossible. They can’t believe it. But there it is. And every week that show gets good numbers, that impossibility is going to be like a splinter under their fingernails. Can’t ignore it, won’t go away.

    Soon, somebody else will try it. Then a little trickle of non-Liberal shows and characters. Then a flood. Foosh!

    1. Nope, don’t see it happening like that. The left has so thoroughly infiltrated Hollywood for the past fifty plus years I can’t see them getting a clue now about what the rest of us want.

      1. Don’t forget that Hollywood runs on -money-, more than any other single thing. People with money to invest are going to look at this and conclude that the Business As Usual people they’ve been investing in are a bad bet, and these new ideas might have a higher return on investment.

        So, they’ll do some experiments. Those experiments will succeed, because the conditions are right. Then more experiments with bigger productions.

        We are not the only people in the world who noticed that Marvel comic book hero movies are the only things making money out there. Everyone can see it, but they’ve been largely ignoring it.

        What I’m saying is that Roseanne Barr just slapped the industry in the face with a flounder, and then rubbed it in. This one they can’t ignore.

        The Lefties will remain the same, they are unchangeable. The money will move.

    2. Seems more likely that Season 2 will have a new show-runner, the politics will be blatant and leftist, and when the show crashes and burns it will be proof that a pro-Trump-supporter show can’t succeed.

      Is the show any good?

      1. I haven’t seen the show, I don’t have TV here at Chez Phantom. Also I can’t stand Roseanne Barr. ~:D

        It doesn’t matter if its good, what matters is all the people that invest in Hollywood just found out why all their $100 million +++ blockbuster movies have tanked in the last five years. Nobody is going to be able to unscramble that egg.

    3. Um… If that had come out before the election (and I was locked in a chair with my eyes open, as in A Clockwork Orange) – that probably would have changed my vote. Absolutely cannot stand that… person…

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