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
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 directly.
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 prestigeous. 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 prestigeous 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
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 book, 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 ability. The symbol used for the Syston in our model will be a circle with twelve spokes.
Fig. 103.1. The Syston symbol
We should formally set up the element with a Proposition:
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.
As well as the term 'syston', on occasion in this book 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 this 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.
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 to evolve.
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 . 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:
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 recent 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 will 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 a member.
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).
"Australia, You're Standing In It" -- Which One?
Most of what now follows in this book 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 analyse what is happening in the play, we must first know who the players are.
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 clearly.
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 difference.
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 cases.
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 programme, 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.
Next chapter: I've Got You Under my Skin -- Syston Boundaries and SIOS
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