The House On The Polish Border: About Systons [MT103]
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.
It was time for a new and more accurate survey of the border between Russia and Poland,
and the survey team, equipped with the latest laser theodolites, were working their way
through a border forest.
Suddenly they came upon a problem. There, in a glade right in the middle of where the
border would run, was Josef's cottage.
"Look, Josef", said the leader of the survey team, "we have a small amount of discretion
with the survey. It's too complicated to have a building half in one country, half in another.
You can choose where you would like to be, and we will draw the border accordingly ".
Josef thought for a moment, then brightened. "Better put me on the Polish side", he said.
"I just couldn't stand another one of those Russian winters!".
Only Joking . . .
That was a joke. It was, perhaps, a serious joke, a joke with a serious purpose. I am a bit
cautious about using serious jokes, since not everybody has the same sort of sense of humour,
and this can lead to problems!
Whatever, the point in bringing it up here, is to ask, why is it a joke? Well, of course, as
in many jokes, it is funny because the fleetingly plausible punchline is ridiculous. The act of
drawing a border, assigning a name to a bit of territory, does not affect its physical conditions
And yet the assigning of names and boundaries can be vitally important to people, even
if the assignments do not have any obvious administrative consequences. In Perth we had an
interesting example of this, concerning locality names.
A Rose by Any Other Name . . ?
In the opening up of a new housing area, the buyers of a large number of new building plots were horrified to discover, well after the event, that these were officially in a location we will
call "Ramshackle", a suburb not seen as very prestigious. The buyers had thought that the
blocks were in an adjacent suburb, "Money Hill", with a much better 'name'.
The buyers protested, and with some justification, that to be in Ramshackle meant that their
properties would be worth much less on the open market. This was purely a matter of the name;
both suburbs were only locality names within the same local authority area, so local services
and rating charges were not in question. But it was still important for the residents to be placed
in the more prestigious suburb. Unfortunately, there were problems with this, too.
The planned outcome is for the local authority to create a third, new, locality name for the
new subdivision. This new name will then have to make its own way in the prestige stakes,
find its own price level.
That is fair enough, but it does provide a clear case of where Shakespeare's assertion, that
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", falls down when we get into the difficult
area of human relations.
This brings us directly to the second major element of the model of society we are building.
Everyone is familiar with the many groupings into which human society is divided. We
are members of families, of states, of countries. On a wider basis, we are members of a
particular biological species, Homo sapiens.
Most of us will also be members of other groupings. We may belong to particular clubs
or associations, be members of particular business firms, government departments, or schools
or universities. We may be believers in particular religions, supporters of particular political
parties, or genetically allocated to particular ethnic groups.
In this suite of articles, the general name used for all these groups is the Syston. The term implies
that the group has some degree of definability, however imperfect. Within the society model,
there is also the assumption that each syston has some degree of self-sustaining or self-perpetuating
The symbol used for the Syston in our model will be a circle with twelve
Fig. 103.1. The Syston symbol
We should formally set up the element with a Proposition:
Proposition 103A.**** Groupings of human beings in society can be represented as
Systons, self-sustaining model elements following particular behaviour patterns
We will develop the concept further as we go along. We can look forward to certain
advantages as we define, refine, and develop the fine structure of the Syston. One of the most
important of these is that we can expect to bring out rules which will apply across systons
generally, and which will clarify the interaction between systons.
Proposition 103B.*** Rules can be developed which describe interaction between
systons, and these rules can be modelled in a generalized society model
As well as the term 'syston', on occasion I will use the term 'systel'. This
implies a syston element of any sort. A systel may itself be a smaller syston, or may be an
infocap box, or some other entity.
Josiah Entwistle, Haberdasher
Imperceptibly, over at least the last hundred years, there has occurred an ever-increasing
trend for human groupings to become more formalized and more circumscribed. Take the area
of retail trade.
In the first half of the twentieth century it was normal for someone running a shop or business to
operate under their own name. When Mr Entwistle decided to leave his employer and strike
out with his own haberdashery business, he rented premises and put his own name and the
nature of his business up over the shop.
Nowadays, of course, the name over the shop will read "Chic Chick Boutique" or
something similar. And there are good reasons for this. The Chic Chick can be sold as a going
concern to a new owner, and if the existing staff are retained, the public will not notice any
change. The actual name will form part of the 'goodwill' component of the sale -- and can
be quite a substantial asset. The name can even be franchised, the owner of it can license other
people to use it on their own stores.
Accompanying these advantages is an arguably inevitable need for increasing government
control over the use of such names. A fee must be paid to register and retain the name, the name
must be different to others previously registered, and so on. And there are requirements that
the names not be misleading -- use of words like "Bank", "Government", or "Official" would
be hard to get registered without real justification.
What it comes down to, is that a business like a clothes shop has typically changed its nature
over the years, from being something attached to a particular person or family, into an entity
of its own -- a syston. It can acquire enough infrastructure, enough infocap, to be able to
function as an independent organism. And as human society has developed, so have these
systons increasingly coalesced out of the general matrix, in every field of human activity.
Accompanying this change has been an increasing number of government regulations to
control these new entities.
Proposition 103C*. As society has developed, increased formation of human groupings
into formalized systons has occurred
Proposition 103D*. The rise in the number and variety of systons has been accompanied
by a parallel rise in government regulations and laws to control them
Systons, Systons, Everywhere Systons
We now pass on to look at examples of the vast range of systons which have come into
existence in the modern world. Some of these systons date back to the earliest biological
origins. The family is the most familiar example, this existed well before man had even begun
What is the simplest form of syston? Before even the family, there existed what we might
regard as the simplest and most basic syston of all -- the individual. At first sight this seems
to be the limit -- the person, the idiosyston; we can't break that up and still have the elements
of self-organizing ability required for a syston.
There is a valuable examination of this area in Lyall Watson's book Lifetide [Reference 25].
Watson shows how even what we regard as the indivisible minimum, the single individual, is
in fact a composite. The human body contains at least three independently evolved sets of the
genetic building blocks DNA, and is almost certainly a symbiotic assembly of different
creatures which learnt to live together in the remote past. Nevertheless, on the present model,
the individual person or idiosyston is still probably the minimum level of complexity to
qualify as a syston
The Distant Lizard
When we move lower down in the evolutionary scale, at some stage we reach a level of
simplicity at which the individual creature can no longer qualify as a syston. An individual
ant, for example, is not independent enough, it does not contain enough infocap, to qualify.
With ants, an entire ant colony -- which may contain millions of ants, together weighing more
than a man -- is probably the minimum for a syston.
Like most lizards, the large Monitor Lizards in the genus Varanus depend on the sun's heat
or other ambient warmth to hatch their eggs. Because of this, most of the species are restricted
to warmer parts of the world. However, there is an exception.
This exception, a Varanus species which is found in South Australia, has developed a
unique way of hatching its eggs. At laying time, it digs a hole into one of the local termite nests,
lays the egg, and covers it. For some reason the termites do not object to this intrusion.
The point is, that termite nests are accurately temperature-controlled, air-conditioned as
it were. Individual termites have little personal protection, and cannot withstand sunlight or
cold air for very long. The whole termite nest is a single syston, the individual creatures being
specialized to act as the equivalent of such things as blood cells, gonads, or liver in a mammal.
Like blood cells, individual termites can survive unprotected outside their 'body', but not for
very long. The development of temperature control in termite nests is a significant evolutionary
advance -- the equivalent of 'warm-bloodedness' in mammals. But it is an advance which has occurred at syston level, and this level is above that of the individual termite.
Watson suggests that it is only at the level of the vertebrates -- essentially starting off with
the simpler fish -- that 'awareness' is attained in the individual. This threshold in the scale
may also be the limit to qualify as a syston. Watson also gives many interesting examples of
'composite' creatures, such as simple single-celled amoeba-like individuals, normally free-living
but able to come together to form a 'fruiting plant' which grows a spore body on a stalk.
Then there is a snail which can absorb chlorophyll bodies from plants, and continue to keep
them functioning and producing energy in its own body. And there are the vast 'colony'
creatures such as corals.
When it comes to human society, all the systons we will be looking at, apart from those of
individual persons, will be composite or 'colony' entities. But we will continually draw from
the example of the idiosyston to work out the rules applying to systons as a class, and we will
often be able to generalize a familiar rule-of-thumb for the person to cover a much wider entity.
My Country, and Other Systons
After the self, the most clearly defined systons in modern human societies are those of
countries. Being a 'Citizen' of a given 'State' has probably a greater influence on the life of
an individual today than does any other syston membership. And probably this relative
influence is the highest it has ever been in history.
It was not always so. And it may not be so in the future. All the paraphernalia of passports,
exchange control, reciprocal treaties, and the like, is a modern phenomenon, little of it going
back much more than a hundred years. Livingstone and Stanley needed no passports for their
journeys in Africa.
From the point of view of Matrix Thinking, the present situation appears as a natural stage
in the development of the country-syston. Like a young child, continually testing its parents
to see how naughty it can be and still get away with it, country-systons are continually testing
and seeking to define their limits and their powers. With increasing maturity, the passion of
this urge may diminish.
We can generalize the situation with more Propositions:
Proposition 103E***. All systons continually seek to monitor and define their boundaries
Proposition 103F*. Still-maturing systons have the greatest urge to 'defend' their
boundaries and exclude or include potential systels
Between the Country and the Self, there are intermediate systons, some of which have a
very ancient history. Before civilization, we had the tribe, a grouping of intermediate numbers
of people usually linked by some common gene pool. In modern society, this syston has
disappeared -- either the tribe expanded, colonized, and absorbed to reach the status of a
nation, or it was itself absorbed. Still, relics of tribalism linger on, even in 'modern' countries.It does appear that there may be a natural 'stability point' in human groupings, say around
100,000 persons, at which a 'tribal syston' may tend to coalesce out.
In Australia, the United States, and many other countries, the syston immediately below
that of the country is the State. The powers and degrees of independence of such States vary
very considerably from one situation to another. At one extreme the State may be little more
than the fraction of a larger true country-syston which happens to lie within some administrative
boundary. At the other it may be a potent state-syston with a degree of independence which
makes it virtually indistinguishable from a country-syston.
The late-1900s upheavals in the Soviet Union and in Yugoslavia are potent examples of what
can happen when the country/State power balance is undergoing an abrupt rather than an
evolved transition. It is interesting that, in fact, the whole 'modern' tendency is to move this
balance point downwards, towards decentralization. We may see later that this tendency may
be greatly strengthened in the years to come, to attain a situation which has no real parallels
in the past.
Beneath the level of State, province, prefecture etc, most developed countries have a third
level, that of local authority. Again there is a range of names in use -- county, city, council,
and so on. In Western Australia these third-level bodies are called shires -- an interesting
survival of a word which has fallen out of use where it originated, in England. And, as with
the second, State, level, the shire level of government varies greatly from place to place in its
power, autonomy, and function. For example, in many places such things as public education
and shop opening hours are essentially determined at shire level. In Western Australia they
are not, the State has still hung on to these powers.
Exclusive and Voluntary Systons
The sorts of syston involved in such entities as country, State, and shire are essentially
exclusive systons. These are basically bounded by geographical considerations, so that if one
has a house in the Shire of Sandstone in the State of Western Australia, this house cannot
simultaneously be in the City of Blue Mountains in the State of New South Wales.
However, the majority of systons in which people are involved are non-exclusive. An
active member of a modern society may be involved in tens, or even hundreds, of different
systons -- the whole gamut of different groupings of every sort which have grown up in the
structure of that society. Systons can also be divided up according to how a member becomes
Many of the 'older' systons of which an individual is a member may be involuntary --
genetically-based ones such as ethnic origin or gender are examples. Others may be by default,
such as family, or country of citizenship -- these can be changed, but do involve some special
action. And the vast arrays of systons in a modern society -- and it is the existence of these
arrays which makes the society 'modern' -- are essentially voluntary. These include all the
groupings active in the workplace, vocational groups, and leisure and social groups. Interestingly
enough, membership of a religion syston is usually by default.
Of course most systons are intricately involved in a grand and complex scheme of
overlappings and enclosures which extends to embrace the whole planet in the ultimate Matrix -- what we might call the Holosyston. As well as the systons, the whole Matrix also involves
a tremendous amount of infocap -- scattered, shared, divided, within and among the systons.
We have now arrived at the point where we can set up a visual representation of our first,
simplified Matrix model, based on these concepts (Fig. 103.2).
Fig. 103.2. The basic syston/infocap model of a matrix
"Australia, You're Standing In It" -- Which One?
Most of this suite of articles is concerned with analyzing the characteristics and
behaviour of human systons, to derive rules by which the operation of human societies can be
understood, possibly predicted, and perhaps improved.
The first steps for any given analysis are to recognize the systons involved. This is crucial,
absolutely basic to the Matrix Thinking approach. To analyze what is happening in the play,
we must first know who the players are.
Proposition 103G***. In a matrix analysis of a situation, the first step must be to
recognize the systons involved
There is a difficulty here. It has been said that in order to talk about things, we must first
have names for them. And names we do already have for most systons, plus an immense
capacity for creating new names to order. But these names do not always identify the systons
Consider two headlines: "China's Agricultural Output Up", and "China Rejects Peace
Talks". The Chinas referred to in these two headlines are completely different systons.
The first syston is evidently a rural production syston, one of great size and complexity,
involving millions of people. The second would have to be a very small syston -- perhaps even
a single person -- within the Government of China.
Other headlines such as "China Battered by Typhoons", or "China Wins World Cup", refer
to different "China"-named systons again. The point is, that while most people can easily understand on reflection that completely different "China" players are involved in these four
headlines, the use of the same name for all must involve some confusion, or worse.
Perhaps the initial reaction to such an assertion, if accepted, would be to say that these
examples are only headline capsules, and we could and should expect the entities involved to
be more explicitly named in fuller text. And, of course, distinctions are made -- "Beijing
Rejects Peace Talks" is an alternative to the second example, one which brings out the
I Can't Stand those Americans
Syston levels play a basic part in human interactions. Everyone will have met someone
who, say, gets on well with individual Americans they know, but can't stand Americans. This
apparent paradox is resolved when it is realized that different systons are active in the two
Examples are everywhere. Many South Africans find Australians to be friendly and
helpful, but find Australia to be obstructive, officious, and unpleasant. It is quite unhelpful
to confuse the two systons, and important to make the distinction.
A useful technique is to look for 'trigger' words or phrases in what you read or hear. These
triggers usually involve 'we','they','should', or 'must'. Other trigger words are things like
'policy', 'practice', 'believes', and 'unacceptable'. So when you next come across "Australia
must change its attitude" or "the Company believes we should", it's useful to work out who,
or what, is really active.
Here is a suggestion. When you next pick up a newspaper or a novel, or switch on to a radio
or television program, look a little closer at some of these trigger and syston words, and pick
out what grouping they really refer to. The same syston-word may be used for many different
groupings, and this leads not only to confusion in ideas, but also to problems in attitudes.
Do this a few times, and it soon becomes easy, and then second nature. Then when you
read that the 'government' has done this or that, or should do this or that, you will have a much
better idea of the underlying entities actually operating. This is a basic part of Matrix Thinking.
We can now move on to look further at one of the basic attributes of a syston, how it
maintains and uses a fundamental component, its skin.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(Full list of references at MTRefs)
. Lyall Watson. Lifetide. Coronet, UK, 1980.
Go to the "Matrix Thinking: How Society Works" Home Page
Versions 1.0-1.2, printed editions (Matrix Thinking Book I, BFC Press, Australia, 1992-1997)
Version 2.0, 2004, PDFs etc on World Wide Web (http://www.aoi.com.au/matrix/MT.htm)
Version 3.0, 2014 Jul 4, Reworked from chapter 103 of "Matrix Thinking" as one article in a suite on the World Wide Web.