Social complexity

Society is one of those particulars that is often considered in isolation from universal Nature. In a monist universe nothing behaves out of Nature, therefore society is also a natural occurrence. To understand the nature of society we have to understand the nature of a universal occurrence: complexity.
Complexity is a natural phenomena given by the integration of differentiated elements. Complexity, in general, varies from the simple to the complex; where simplicity is related to rigidity, homogeneity and commonality, while complexity is related to flexibility, singularity and rareness (see Complexity). Society in particular, is formed by individuals interacting and depending to each other. So society can be thought as a complex system formed by the integration of individuals (who themselves are complex natural beings). The element of differentiation and integration in society are different individuals acting with a self-regarding nature and integrated by a social nature.

Because complexity is a universal natural occurrence all complex systems manifest the same patterns of change. This means that if society is a natural phenomena, then it is governed by the same patterns of change as all complex systems. The dynamics of complex systems changes on six main dimensions (in relation to their degree of complexity): rigidity vs. flexibility, automatism vs. autonomy, commonality vs. rareness, homogeneity vs. singularity, atomism vs. holism, instability vs. stability (see the universality of complexity).

Since complexity is a universal phenomena common to man and to other animals, we can compare the complexity of human society with animal social behaviour. Humans social behaviour differs only in degree form animal social behaviour. What distinguishes humans from other animals, is its higher complexity.

Society then, can be thought as a complex system formed by the integration of individuals interacting and depending to each other. Society is a natural phenomena whose constitutive element are human being following a natural behaviour. As all complex systems, society is irreducible and it has to be understood as a whole. Individuals are not atomistic elements that exist out of society, and society is not the sum of isolated individual behaviour.

To follow the dynamics of society, we can model it as individuals integrating their behaviour on three main ways: economy, culture and institutions.
Culture is related to the traditions, beliefs, values and ideas that that are passed from one generation to another.
Economy is related with the acquisition and exchange of goods e.g. hunting, agriculture, industry, commerce, etc.
And institutions is related with the political order of a society e.g. leaders, chiefs, priests, kings, governments, military institutions, justice systems, etc.

As it happens with all complex systems, the elements that constitutes society are not independent but mutually dependent, with bidirectional relations between each one of them.

How can culture affect the economy?
e.g. Webber’s argument on how Protestantism is related to the rise of capitalism in the western world.

How can the economy affect culture?
e.g. predominantly agrarian economies are related with more traditional and religious values, while industrial or post-industrial economies -who depend more on rationalisations of the world- tend to have more secular values.

How can institutions affect the economy?
e.g. lower corruption and higher administrative efficiency are related with higher socioeconomic development. Inversely, corruption and inefficient institutions are related with lower  socioeconomic development.

How can the economy affect the institutions?
e.g. the inverse relation to the previous example is also valid: economic development facilitates institutional development. Economic development empowers people, and the empowerment of people forces institutional development. And the opposite is also true, economic regression facilitates institutional regression into tyranny, authoritarianism, dictatorship, etc.

How can culture affect institutions?
e.g. in Islamic states institutions adjust to Muslim culture.

How can institutions affect culture?
There are many examples of rulers changing the culture of whole societies in order to consolidate their power. Because of the binding force that religion has in society, religions have been used time and again for political ends. For example, Judaism, to unify the kingdom of Judea after the dissolution of the kingdom of Israel from Babylonian invasion; Christianity, to unify the Byzantine Empire under the rule of Constantine; the Church of England -and eventual Protestantism in Britain- under the rule Henry VIII, etc.

Social complexity then, is complexity on culture, institutions and economy. The higher the differentiation and integration of culture, economy and institutions, the more complex a society is. In general, higher complexity is related with lower entropy, higher order and higher dynamic stability. So the more complex a society is, the more flexible, autonomous and stable (see social development.


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