System concepts, principles, logic, and conflicts

[From Bill Powers (940903.0645 MDT)]

Bill Leach (940903.1104) --

How come a nation of 250,000,000 people with a huge industrial,
agricultural, and technological base can't support all 250,000,000
people in comfort? Could there be some bugs in the system?

In the first place, no society has done this as far as we know even
assuming that we don't need to agree upon what the term "comfort"
means.

Perhaps that just means that no society so far has wanted to do it
(whatever the definition of comfort). The status of the poor, I think,
has always been determined by the balance between people's desire to
take all they can for themselves, and their level of concern for the
welfare (or at least survival) of others.

Most people seem to have worked out a system concept of society in which
principles like fairness, justice, compassion, and mutual aid play some
role. All of these principles are potentially in conflict with other
principles like self-preservation, enjoyment, comfort, pride in
accomplishment, freedom, and respect from others. To give of what one
has is to lose the use of it for oneself. To share the use of property
is to allow uses of it that one doesn't like to see (letting another kid
play with your favorite toy might well result in the toy's being
broken). To feel sorrow for another is to experience an unpleasant
emotion. To be fair to others is to be willing to lose an argument or an
advantage.

These and many more are genuine conflicts. In order to resolve them one
has to keep working over one's system concepts, changing attitudes about
other people, one's own desires and aspirations, property, punishment,
pride, and helping. I think we see many different attempts to resolve
the conflicts. Some people, putting themselves in the place of others
(in imagination, of course) decide that they would want maximum
compassion, maximum help, minimum sense of ownership and property, and
absence of punishment or consequences of wrongdoing. Never having needed
such indulgences themselves, they imagine only the benefits, and not the
drawbacks. Others see themselves as being asked to give up everything
they want; they extrapolate the situation so it becomes reversed; all
their property is taken away, all disputes are settled in someone else's
favor, dangerous criminals are set free to threaten them, they feel
sorry for everyone else and nobody feels sorry for them, and they sink
to a subsistence level of living.

So we end up with a distribution of attitudes, from the implacable do-
gooder to the implacable power-seeker. Those at the extremes have not
actually resolved any conflicts; they have merely overpowered one side
or the other of the conflict, for all the problems created by either
extreme still exist. It's still true that if you give away all your
property you will make life difficult for yourself and your family. It's
still true that if you grab all you can for yourself, you will have to
protect yourself from increasing numbers of people who want to take your
wealth away from you. Neither extreme is a workable system concept,
although occasional individuals get away with it. They are quite aware
of what they are losing, but having decided to force one side of the
conflict into dominance, they also decide to live with the
dissatisfaction resulting from the goals they had to suppress.

Having decided on principles and system concepts, people have an
unlimited ability to use logic to justify their positions. The do-gooder
and the self-server alike can marshall facts and reasoning that seem
absolutely airtight to them. They can sift through mountains of
newspaper, radio, and television reports, anecdotes, government
documents, novels, speeches, crackpot treatises, myths, rumors, and
personal experiences and somehow come up with nothing but facts and
logic that support their positions.

But all this is driven by the system concepts on which they have
settled, and the principles that support the system concepts. The social
system concepts they choose are determined not only by their views of
other people but by their self-concepts; their strengths and weaknesses,
their confidences and self-doubts, their assessment of what it will take
to have a life they want to live, and whether or not they have what it
takes.

Few people spend much time trying to work out system concepts that will
actually work, that would work even in a world of people with different
system concepts. When you explore the upper regions of most people's
hierarchies (and I do not exempt myself), what you find is a mess. The
conflicts are real and the resolutions are not obvious. Doubt, fear,
lack of confidence, and self-disgust abound. Contradictions are
everywhere. People say one thing and do another. As a human race, we
simply have not developed a lot of skill at these highest levels of
organization.

To me, that's a heartening assessment. It says we aren't evil or doomed
or defective. It just says that we haven't learned to manage this
machine very well yet. Give it time, keep working at it, and we'll get
better at it. Everything we can figure out about how we work will make
the job easier.

In the second place, I don't believe that having everyone in a state of
"comfort" is indeed a "good" situation society anyway. I know that
personally, it is when I am NOT comfortable that I tend to be creative
and productive. "Comfortable" is when I want to sit in an easychair
and just let the rest of the world "go by".

Well, would it be better if no matter what you did, you remained
uncomfortable? Hungry? Tired? Discouraged? Unsure of your abilities?
Guilty about not doing better for your loved ones? Hopeless about your
future? Sick of your life? I don't think that's what you mean. I think
you're just repeating an old right-wing myth: that people are better off
if they suffer and don't reach their goals.

Isn't that a bit like saying that a control system is better off if it
doesn't correct its errors? Actually, for good control systems, hardly
any error is needed to produce as much output as required to keep the
errors small. You know that; you just didn't think about it. It's not
necessary for the wheels to fall off your car before you do some
maintenance on it. You don't wait for the house to freeze before you
turn the furnace on for the winter. You don't let the hunger build up to
a gnawing pain in your stomach before you eat. If you do let errors get
so big that you're really in misery, something has gone wrong with your
control systems. Suffering the error isn't suddenly going to fix the
control systems, especially if your reorganizations don't seem to be
working, or are making the situation worse. It could be that you're up
against a situation that is too difficult for one lone person to handle.
It could be that you're in the kind of situation that has led human
beings throughout history to form societies, for the express purpose of
handling problems too tough or complex for one person alone to solve. It
doesn't do a hell of a lot of good to tell an ignorant pregnant black
teenage dropout criminal drug user to learn how to operate a computer
and get a good job, and while she's at it, get some morals and self-
respect. Sure, that would solve the problem, all right. Any other
helpful suggestions?

ยทยทยท

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Best,

Bill P.

<[Bill Leach 940904.18:02 EST(EDT)]

[Bill Powers (940903.0645 MDT)]

Perhaps that just means that no society so far has wanted to do it, ...

I don't think that is the case but then if you change the wording to
something along the line that no one has figured out how to do it yet, I
would agree. I believe that it is quite probable that many attempts have
been made in the past but have all "gone awry" at some point.

The status of the poor, I think, has always been determined by the
balance between people's desire to take all they can for themselves, and
their level of concern for the welfare (or at least survival) of others.

This is a pretty pessimistic view of humanity. I fully believe that
there are "enough" people that do want to TAKE all they can for
themselves but I don't believe that view is necessarily the operative
systems concept for even the majority of people. A potentially serious
problem however, may well be that it does not require very many people
with such an attitude to "foul up the works" for everyone else.

To give of what one has is to lose the use of it for oneself. To share
the use of property

Yes, that is a valid view and even "appropriate" at times but it
certainly is not the only view point. While we do measure much in
"dollars" (and/or possessions) and quite often appropriately so, such
measure is not the only measure and is probably not even applicable to
most things of real value. Can one really put a dollar amount on a
relationship? the "value" of a friendship? There are some things that
do not equate to other things.

To me, that's a heartening assessment. It says we aren't evil or doomed
or defective. It just says that we haven't learned to manage this
machine very well yet. Give it time, keep working at it, and we'll get
better at it. Everything we can figure out about how we work will make
the job easier.

This and the comments leading up to it are a "work of art", a real answer
to those that feel that "it" is all hopeless.

Well, would it be better if...

No that is not what I meant, nor do I agree with "people are better off
if they suffer and don't reach thier goals." I do believe that it is
"dissatisfaction" at some level that "creates" new. I started to say
"new something" but then realized that it is the NEW that does not exist
that is really what comes out of this dissatisfaction.

Isn't that a bit like saying that a control system is better off if it
doesn't correct its errors?

No, absolutely not! I agree that a control system that does not (or can
not) reduce error is in trouble. OTOH, a control system with NO error
will never create anything. I believe the "pop psychology" expression
goes something like: "Is stress bad?" "Yes... and no!"

It doesn't do a hell of a lot of good to tell an ignorant pregnant black
teenage dropout criminal drug user to learn how to operate a computer
and get a good job, and while she's at it, get some morals and self-
respect. Sure, that would solve the problem, all right. Any other
helpful suggestions?

And we agree again though I go a bit further I think. It does not do any
good to tell her that all her problems are someone else's fault and
someone else has to do all the "fixing". She or anyone else must
recognize that just living requires one's own effort regardless of the
amount of help available. I fully believe that we will always have
people that will do absolutely as little as possible to "get by" and thus
will always have some "poor". I don't consider that to be the "issue of
the poor". We have many people that not only desire not to be poor but
are willing to do something about it themselves if only they knew of a
way.

We have and will probably always have people that will "prey" on other
people for just the "enjoyment" of doing so but again, I don't think that
this represents the "criminal element". I believe that most "criminals"
do what they do because they do not know of any other way to get whatever
it is that they really want.

-bill

[From Bruce Buchanan 940905.12:05 EDT}

[Bill Leach 940904.18:02 EST(EDT) writes:

(quoting [Bill Powers (940903.0645 MDT)]

The status of the poor, I think, has always been determined by the
balance between people's desire to take all they can for themselves, and
their level of concern for the welfare (or at least survival) of others.

This is a pretty pessimistic view of humanity. . . .

For what it is worth, my view is that Bill Powers has probably understated
the role and effects of the need and desire for power over others in human
affairs. In ancient times and indeed for millenia civilization required
and depended upon the institution of slavery. Notions of individual
freedom were discussion by philosophers in ancient times (e.g. Plato) but
mining, farming, manufacturing and trade all required slavery until nearly
modern times.

All that time, and I submit until the present, the condition of the "lower
classes" was determined by the need (and desire) to exploit their labour,
and, with the occasional exceptions of kind-hearted and enlighted masters,
by little else. Most of the concern for the welfare (and survival) of the
poor depended upon the practical need and wish to keep them well enough to
work, and not allow them to disturb the social structures. In most
circumstances, then as now, few people in the ascendant classes really knew
much about the grinding problems faced by the lower classes they took for
granted and wanted to keep in their places. These seem to be the facts of
history, which underlie such events as the 18th century.French and the
American revolutions.

There were exceptional individuals, of course, but the established Churches
by and large were part of and/or supported the political power structures.

Governments themselves are wont, for their own strategic reasons, to
idealize the situation, encourage volunteerism, reward connspicuous
self-sacrifice with medals, etc. Meanwhile the really massive economic
action in the capital markets sends billions of dollars here and there in
search of opportunities to exploit situations, e.g. overseas labout
markets, and to "make a buck" on Wall Street, without enquring too closely
concerning all the ethics involved. Exceptions exist (there are "ethical
investment funds"), and these are also used by interested parties in power
to take the heat off the major influences, the kind of maneuver well
modelled by PCT.

The above considerations are worth discussion here, I think, because they
are relevant to possibilities for acceptance of ideas involved in PCT. All
scientific advances (e.g. evolution, relativity) have require a cultural
milieu ready to accept and utilize them, and to relate them to social
problems and needs (e.g. the economic system as a struggle for survival of
the fittest, and the relativity of social customs and judgements, etc.).
In the absence of a suitable cultural milieu, hundreds of years may go by.
Alfred North Whitehead, in "Adventures in Ideas", points out that the
notion of individual human freedom, while known to some and appreciated in
many ways in ancient times, took many centuries to become mainstream, as it
is in the modern world today. Unthinkable in former times, the possibility
and desirability of individual freedom is a dominant value simply taken
for granted by most people today. Economic and social conditions had to be
favourable to make acceptance possible. So it will probably be with PCT.

IMO this is not being cynical or pessimistic but reflects a reasonable
appraisal of the facts. If someone has a different conclusion, let us have
the evidence!

Cheers!

Bruce B.