02 March 2019

Systemic stability

There's this result from operations research and system theory that says that if you want to control something, you need to provide matching variety (as many states as the system you're trying to control has in the controls), limit the system variety (letting the dog run, but inside a fence...), or build some kind of variety amplifier so you can match the number of states in the system with fewer inputs.  (Traffic lights, and the enforcement mechanism that makes them consequential.)  ("Law of Requisite Variety", for the curious.)
What does that have to do with anything?

An overclass is a control system.  A relatively small proportion of the population organizes society so they get what they want.

The portion of society making up the overclass is too small to do this directly; there has to be a variety amplifier.  That's a lot of things, mostly belief but also various limitation mechanisms.  The ideal of democracy is that there's general agreement on the necessary system, and that everybody gets a say in how it's constructed.  (This hasn't ever happened, though it's been closer than it now is.)  The practice is that things are arranged to guarantee outcomes for the overclass.

There's a bunch of problems with this.  The most important difficulty is that people in the overclass believe that they can and should have control, and are taking a counter-factual position when they do it.  A sufficiently stable -- that is, nigh-static -- can give the illusion of the possibility of control, and the conservative takes on the importance of obedience, the inherent nature of ability, and so are all derived from the position that control is possible, necessary, and right.  And to be as fair as possible, the results indicating that, no, really, you can't have that; it isn't an achievable thing only date to the 1940s or so.  That's not a very long time compared to the last five thousand years of "obey the king".  It is still a disaster when the people running things demand counter-factual outcomes.

The nearly-as-important difficulty is that system is real; personal moral choice has almost nothing to do with it, and pretty much any progressive political movement gets tripped down the metaphorical stairs of trying to be good.  (Where it will neither be good nor achieve any specific material objectives.)

If you want a different world, you need to be building a different system.  That's really tough; it's, in effect, the need to build something large enough to be capable of being responsible for fixing everything.  (You can only be responsible for what you have the power to alter.  So individual responsibility isn't sufficient, and the idea that it is or could be isn't helpful.)  It may well mean taking over the incumbent system and using it to build something else.

And of course we're headed into a period of history where the incumbents have utterly failed, are losing legitimacy, will lose all legitimacy, and where the status quo cannot possibly hold.  This is not a problem human societies have a good record of dealing with.

The status quo is gone; the question is how to respond, and the question of how to respond effectively is how to respond without trying for control.  This is a legitimately difficult problem.

It's also something of a timed exam.

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