Thursday 18 April 2013

The self-strangulating society

Definitions of society abound. In many cases they explain more about the persons offering them than about society.

From a more general perspective this large-scale human activity system we call society can be described in terms of two sets: the rulers and the ruled.

(To forestall any misunderstanding – by ‘rulers’ I mean those members of society who exert an influence over others, however subliminally or accommodating the others, the ruled in this case, may be in their response)

Rulers evoke dynamics that are acting downwards, towards those they influence. The ruled either merely adjust their behaviour or their reaction is more antagonistic. In both cases their dynamics are acting upwards.

These dynamics are generally fluid. At any given time their source can experience a role reversal. For example, a response can be so dramatic it forces the rulers to defend themselves, or an authority might adjust its behaviour because of the feedback it receives.

Since any system needs resources to function at all, a society can be said to represent a human activity system that has the space, the members, and the resources to perform in terms of a given set of dynamics in the form of a mutually interdependent framework. Take any one of those elements away, or diminish their capacity for that matter, and the system will lose its aggregate whole. That is to say, its functional details will have lost their capacity to play their - mutually interdependent – role.

Note that any labeling under the auspices of politics, ideology, religion, any judgmental description that might be applied through some ethics or morals, does not come into it. All those are interpretations by someone, they sit aside the system itself. Just like electricity operates according to Maxwell's equations and something like lightening, or heaters, or a cosy atmosphere are human descriptions of the same phenomenon.

In that sense complex, interdependent systems define themselves according to their respective capacity to realise their potential within their neighbourhood. It is this capacity which can be observed from various positions within the system and as a consequence gives rise to this or that label, sometimes followed by arguments about the ultimate truthfulness of the label. As far as the latter is concerned there is no ultimate truth.

What the members of a society make of themselves, or what others make of them, can be as varied as circumstances or perceptual triggers are able to evoke.

Suppose some divers come across a scene such as the one below:

What thoughts would cross their minds? Their assumptions, however realistic or otherwise, become part of the definition. To what extent these survive is a matter for the aggregate ambience and how much room it gives to its imagery.

Human activity systems are first and foremost complex systems. The reality is far more faceted than the dichotomy of ruler and ruled suggests. Such labels are in themselves rather ambiguous. A ruler needs a target; the target requires the awareness of being ruled. The more complex the society, the more variance it possesses, the more types of rules and their respective foci it can entertain.

To rule, and to live under a rule, requires resources. Rich, complex societies have the capacity to furnish the controlling layers - whoever or whatever they may be - with the necessary means to sustain their dynamics. The result is a steady growth of controlling entities.

The society's wealth ensures their survival and the variance of the society guarantees enough opportunities without having to fight for space. As long as the supply routes remain intact the system becomes subject to ever more regulatory frameworks. Indeed, members who are ruled over in one context may well decide the most convenient solution is to become an authority themselves.

Should the resources become jeopardised, the alternative mentioned above becomes less and less viable and the dynamics acquire a competitive aspect.

The strangulating web they altogether weave becomes a prison of convenience. A grotesque version of a mutual admiration society in which the shared mediocrity is used as a seemingly bottomless bag of spoils with something for everyone. And, like ruling classes everywhere, none of them give up their place willingly.

One could say our obsession with economic growth stems from the subconscious fear of having to fight for one’s preferences should the resources dry up.

How then to define society? Take your pick.