Thursday, April 24, 2014

Open Systems, Closed Systems.

One might say, as does Wikipedia, that open social systems encourage a non-representational and non-referential post-humanist approach that actualizes the complexity of reality in a non-deterministic framework. I actually have no idea what that statement means.

Or one might get a feel for an Open social system by contemplating its opposite. At Yuma Territorial Prison, our intrepid travelers report,
If a prisoner did something wrong such as cussing, gambling or if a guard said a prisoner did something wrong they would be put in "The Dark Cell".  This was a cell that looked like a big iron box made of iron grate floor, walls and ceiling that was only five feet tall.  They would just shove the people in there and at times each prisoner had only about a two square foot place to stand or squat.  When the door was closed it was dark.
The ultimate Closed social system, the culture of the prison is defined by hierarchy. Individual comfort, happiness, opportunity are irrelevant. Containment is the sole function, managed with efficiency. Once you are In, your personal freedoms disappear, and you remain In until the system decides to allow you Out. Your daily routines are determined by needs of the system and by the decisions and actions of its personnel, which are all in turn determined by the needs of the system and by the actions of personnel higher in the system

Decisions about the operation of the system are made far away in time and space. Change comes slowly, if at all. You may do nothing about it.

Consider now visiting a fund-raising event for a non-profit organization, held at a community garden on a Saturday morning.

You may attend if you wish, and if the setting seems inviting enough you may enter. You may stay as long as you wish, go where you will, and leave at your own convenience or pleasure. In one area there are photographs of children who receive the benefits of the organization, and brochures on a small table next to a fresh bouquet of Santa Rosa sunflowers. Volunteers offer you refreshments and the opportunity to ask about the programs for children, if you are interested in hearing more. Whenever you're ready or find other commitments pressing, you may leave, stopping at the entrance if you wish to enjoy the koi pond.

It's a totally Open system. You are there by your own freedom of choice, for reasons of your own. You do what you wish while you are there, with no expectations from others. If you become sufficiently uncomfortable with anything you are free to wander away, to leave if need be, without explanation. If the hosts wish you to remain it is up to them to make it worth your while, to entice you, to reward your presence with respect and appreciation.

Closed System and Open System. It's a continuum. Every social organization falls somewhere along the spectrum, from marriages to families, churches to schools, fraternities to professional societies, businesses to book clubs. How much choice does a five-year old kindergartner enjoy in her school room?

In a complex society, each serves its purposes. Beyond the needs of the larger group, the important thing is to match the needs of the inhabitants with the nature of the system. As with all organizations, people create them, people maintain them.

And the more local the organization, the more they can change them.

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