Why dystopian systems keep winning — an evolutionary investigation

It’s not an elite conspiracy, just basic human nature

Vichar Mohio
8 min readFeb 24, 2023

Something is broken and we need to fix it

Many of us live in bubbles, but not just in one. Rather most of us occupy different bubbles in different contexts – often political, socio-economic, or ideological.

Similarly, I’m part of many bubbles that have their roots in different phases of my life - university, banking, consulting, hobbies etc. One bubble that I often find myself in is the “anti-establishment bubble”.

It’s a rather large bubble, composed of multiple mini-tribes. My own small tribe would best be labelled as philosophy enthusiasts, but some of the more vocal tribes include artists, spiritual seekers, natural living enthusiasts etc.

A common thread in most mini-tribes mentioned is a shared belief that things are broken.

As an example, I was recently talking to an artist who seemed genuinely concerned and baffled about why “non life-affirming” activities such as business, money-making and the capitalist worldview have become so dominant while things that give us joy such as art, service, expression and human values have taken a back seat.

In another case, acquaintances who believe in the power of natural & traditional medicines (ayurveda, aromatherapy etc.) struggle to understand why traditional therapy is losing the fight against allopathy so badly. This is especially acute for people who have personally experienced superior outcomes with traditional medicine versus allopathic medicines.

The confusion is somewhat justified in both cases. After all, many of these people have personally witnessed a superior outcome/ way of living and the fact that the world is stubbornly ignoring what they know to be true must be frustrating.

This belief often transforms into a explanatory theory that tries to reconcile why clearly superior experiences and outcomes (from their personal experience) are so readily discarded in favor of systems that do not appear to be as good.

Must be someone at fault

An often-used narrative to make sense of it all is the stereotype of a cabal of ill-intentioned elites who hatch a conspiracy to benefit personally – at the expense of others.

For example, the capitalist & money minded system has been propped up by an elite few to enrich themselves and has successfully brainwashed the masses to become cogs in their resource-capture machinery.

Or that allopathic medicine has been created by big pharma and doctors that are inherently looking out for themselves and patient outcomes come second.

These themes are often dismissed as conspiracy theories by many, but there is definitely some truth to them. History is replete with examples of minority interest groups enriching themselves at the cost of others.

In fact this happens often enough that there are specialized terms for when this happens under specific contexts. For example:

  • Business context: Monopolies & oligopolies
  • Political context: Corruption & state capture
  • Work context: Labor exploitation
  • Environmental context: Environmental degradation (e.g., deforestation, pollution

The fact that many humans, if given a chance, would try to screw over other humans to benefit themselves is undeniable.

But is this really the answer?

While I do think that humans are (and will continue to be) self-serving, this explanation seems too simplistic to explain why certain systems (e.g., business, medicine) have taken over the world.

I would go so far as to say that believing in these theories is akin to putting the cart before the horse.

Yes, monopolies and exploitative labor practices will exist in a world where consumer & market based economies become the norm. But the spread of commerce & buying/selling gaining mainstream acceptance has little to do with monopolies & greedy company owners.

Similarly, while political corruption & hierarchical power structures tend to benefit a few at the expense of many, the reason such power structures exist are often for deeper reasons.

Individual humans are adaptive and will change to suit their circumstances, but basic human nature itself is relatively stable & continues to shape circumstances in predictable ways.

This article explores some aspects of this nature to understand why it is that things most average humans would not have particularly positive feelings such as putting in non-natural medicines, power structures and capitalism tend to win out and become widespread.

A quick recap on human nature

As a starting point we recap the (rough) context in which humans have been forged. An over simplified schematic of this operation is given below (and further discussed in this article)

This pre-occupation with surviving and thriving (third arrow) broadly breaks down into behaviors that impact the second and fourth arrows. This obsession and how it translates to use of technology across societies is detailed further here:

  1. Second arrow related behaviour: De-risking the environment (and reducing variance). An implication of the second arrow, we live in a universe that is constantly trying to break things down and/or change them. We can’t overcome this natural law, but are obsessed with finding ways to mitigate its impact.
  2. Fourth arrow related behaviour: Aiming for abundance & thriving. Life was forged in an arena where the resources needed to mitigate impact of natural laws of wear/tear were scarce. Humans curiosity is often directed at converting this scarcity into abundance

But these two categories aren’t equal. In particular de-risking > abundance seeking.

This isn’t too surprising as one would expect society to aim for abundance once survival is taken care of. In fact concepts such as Maslow’s hierarchy suggest the same thing.

But the theory is easy to understand and hard to identify in the real world. And this the root of why people get confused about how inferior outcomes can ever be chosen over superior ones by a large section of society.

People often judge outcomes (business vs art; allopathy vs naturopathy etc.) through the lens of creating abundance & joy, instead of the more important lens of de-risking & improving predictability.

Explained through a real example

It’s probably better to explain what I mean through a specific example — let’s take the example of health and compare two different systems: allopathic medicine vs traditional medicine.

Oftentimes the proof used to assert the superiority of the traditional way is to compare the best-case outcomes of ayurveda versus the worst-case outcomes of allopathic medicine.

Consider the following graph (that we will continue to build together). The phenomenon I describe can be represented by two horizontal lines — marking the best and worst range of outcomes possible for a particular treatment.

When looking at the picture above, it’s hard to argue against a conspiracy as all one sees is the better system is losing out to a system that makes things worse than they currently are.

Thankfully, not many people do the above. Displaying intellectual honestly, they do the fair thing of comparing best outcomes vs best outcomes. But even in this case, we may end up with a picture such as below.

Again, it seems like the clear winner should be the system on the left. And in this case, proponents of traditional medicine feel exceptionally sure that an outside power is at play.

Unfortunately, this way of comparison only focusses on the upsides (thrival and abundance) without paying attention to the derisking part. Remember that derisking (a combination of reducing variability and max negative outcome) takes precedence and is the foundation upon which abundance can be built upon.

We must therefore start to consider risk/variance with each associated method as well. I.e., the distribution of potential outcomes from best to worst

In effect, a conspiracy would be much more likely if the systems we were comparing looked like this.

Where the top part of the ‘I” represents best possible outcome for that method, the bottom represents the worst possible outcome and the connecting line shows that outcomes are evenly distributed from good to bad.

If this were the case, then I would wholeheartedly agree with conspiracy theorists. If Allopathy were to become popular with such a distribution — it would seem to be indicative of someone manipulating what the wider world should choose.

Unfortunately I believe that the real picture probably looks something like this:

In the above picture, traditional medicine often leads to better outcomes, but can also lead to much worse outcomes. More importantly, since the distribution is so wide, it becomes difficult to predict whether an outcome will be good or bad.

Do we still need the presence of a conspiratorial elite to explain why system 1 lost out to system 2?


Keeping in mind that humans always want to de-risk, it makes sense why system 2 won out. Under system 2, not only do we get more repeatable and predictable results; but the average results could be higher than System 1 as well.

All this while there would still be many specific instances where traditional system 1 could wildly outperform allopathic system 2. At the edge cases, it could be true that ayurveda could cure cancer in a way allopathy never could- but is that enough?

Not if we’re creating solutions at scale — which is generally what tends to happen with anything useful. We don’t really need shadowy figures operating behind the scenes, pulling off mind-bogglingly huge cons. It’s just natural human nature to try to reduce variability and improve predictability.

Similarly, there are many systems that win out (e.g., capitalism) simply because they’re much more effective in making the world a more predictable place. And we often forget how much we value predictability and how scary variability can be at a fundamental intuitive level.

But something could still be off

One possible area to further explore would be systems which have caught on relative to other systems simply because they reduce variance — with no consideration taken of the averages.

For example when the diagram looks like this — where the average results for system 1 are higher, but system 2 still acquires mainstream status on the back of its limited variation.

This means that the world is (on average) worse off following the status-quo — but we can’t seem to shake ourselves out of our predicament.

Can it happen? Yes.

Does it happen? I’m sure it does.

Does it happen as often as our conspiratorial friends want us to believe? I highly doubt it. But would love to hear your thoughts on contexts where the above graph is likely to be true.



Vichar Mohio

Writing about topics I find interesting & original. Usually a mix of philosophy, evolutionary psychology & technology