Communities and Systems

There are two important ways of understanding society. The first is as a community and the second is as a set of systems; in fact society is simultaneously both of these things.

A community is a group of people of any size, and it can be categorized by any number of factors. It can be a village with a shared location and heritage, a group of intellectuals discussing a topic of inquiry, a league of business owners with a shared interest, a nation, or even an entire planet. Communities, though, are defined by their reliance on shared understanding for cohesion and direction, and information is therefore shared horizontally among individuals within a community. This is precisely why free speech is an important guiding principle for communities; information that will help the community orient itself functionally to a dynamic reality must be shared, rather than withheld, for communal consideration. The theme of communities is a shared understanding, and communities function optimally when mutual understanding is present.

Systems, on the other hand, do not depend on mutual understanding for their function. Systems function as individual nodes in which shared understanding is locally present, yet no single node requires a holistic understanding of the operation of the overall system in order for that node to function. The system functions as a tandem of multiple nodes operating in independent alignment with one another. Each node in a system has a function and a purpose, yet a global awareness of the purpose or even the existence of other nodes in the system is not necessary for its function.

An economy is both a community and a set of systems; it is a community of individuals who produce and consume within a common context of limitations (whether natural or man made), but it is also a system of nodes which coordinate through prices. The mining company understands the details of their mining operation, but does not understand the details of rubber production necessary for the hoses their equipment requires in order to function. It doesn’t actually even need to know that such a node exists in order for the mining operation to be successful. The mining company is therefore both a community that depends on internal mutual understanding (regardless of how the company is structured) and a node in a larger system which does not depend on mutual understanding. No node within the economy requires a global awareness of the broader system in order to function and contribute to the smooth operation of the system.

Public healthcare is both a community and a system. It is a community of professionals working together with a shared understanding and purpose, but it is also a system of nodes operating independently without necessarily developing any holistic awareness of the systemic effects of their additive efforts. Public healthcare is stewarded centrally in order to function, and as a community participants will be apprised of the intended direction, but as a system of nodes, there may be no awareness if the intended direction is something other than what has been stated, since either way the local nodes function as intended.

To the extent that society is a community, its stated direction and purpose are generally known to all of its members as a function of mutual understanding. To the extent that society is a system of nodes, however, the direction and purpose may not be understood. Moreover, the community’s mutual understanding of its own direction and purpose may move out of alignment with the direction and purpose of its systems. Nodes operate regardless, and no individual node notices sufficient difference in the local community operations of the node to warrant concern that the global direction and purpose of the system is other than what has been stated.

As an example, a central bank can adjust interest rates for a national economy. The community understands that the purpose is to “help the economy,” and the system operates accordingly as intended. If the purpose becomes to harm the economy, however, the nodes may continue operating without noticing. The banking nodes operate normally in either case, precisely as designed, adjusting interest rates as directed, without necessarily being aware of the new global purpose. Moreover, very few people are actually needed to redirect the system away from the mutual understanding of the community toward this new purpose.

Similarly, a community may decide it wants public healthcare and designs systems to provide the best possible healthcare to community members. If the purpose becomes delivering vaccines in order to generate corporate profit (or some other purpose), rather than offering the best possible healthcare to community members, the nodes in the system may not notice the global change in purpose. The community at each node may continue its mutual understanding that it operates with the intention of offering the best possible healthcare, since the operation at the node may not change significantly enough to develop awareness of the global change in organizing philosophy.

The dissemination of information in large scale communities also becomes a system of nodes. Important information is not determined by the same people who gather it, and still different people report it. No node is necessarily aware of the details of the operation of any other. Many broadcasters report what they are told to report, because that is their function. As a community, those involved in information dissemination may mutually understand their purpose to inform the public, but as nodes in a system they may not understand if the systems they participate in become globally oriented toward cultivating opinion rather than reporting truth.

In all cases, the mutual understanding of communities is likely to lag behind the deliberate redirection of its systems.

People who natively perceive society as a community do not typically consider conspiracy to be possible for the simple reason that it would require too many members of the community to keep a secret; they imagine that the horizontal information flow and mutual understanding that keeps communities cohesive would expose such a conspiracy. Yet a more systems oriented perspective reveals that there is actually no secret to keep; nodes perform their function as intended and with their original understanding of purpose, without developing sufficient global awareness of the new purpose toward which the system is being redirected.

A conspiracy is therefore what happens when the purpose of a community is not in alignment with the purpose of its systems, and very few people are actually required to redirect the purpose of systems away from the mutual understanding of a community. Only that number of people necessary to coordinate the efforts at important nodes is required. Nodes continue operating as designed, and therefore no community member recognizes abnormal function at the node level. An important condition of a healthy society is therefore that the direction of its systems remains aligned with the mutual understanding of its communities.

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