Archive for the ‘Man & Society’ Category

The system: Society as a complex system

11/12/2010

Society is an entity that nobody chooses, designs, understands or controls; yet, it controls everybody’s lives.

In the following we are going to refer to society as ‘the system’.

What is the system?

The system is a complex entity formed -like all complex systems- by the interaction of a multiplicity of differentiated constituting parts (see Complexity). In the case of society, it is formed by the interaction and mutual dependence of individuals following their natural behaviour.

We, the individuals, are ourselves complex natural beings. And the complexity of human nature is reflected on its multi-dimensional constitution (see Human nature). Among the multiple dimensions of human nature, there are a self-preserving, competitive and social nature, with a sense of justice and a need for freedom (see Human nature). Another aspect of human nature is the faculty of reason. Yet, our behaviour is mostly irrational, since, despite being endowed with reason, there is a hierarchy in our complexity that make us follow our self-preserving and competitive nature regardless any truth or logic. Many aspects of human nature are also conflictive and contradictory. And because of this, we are engaged in permanent and irreconcilable struggles, like for example, for power on the one hand, and freedom, equality and justice on the other.

Because complexity is a universal natural phenomena, society follows universal properties and patterns of change common to all complex systems. Furthermore, these properties and patterns can be followed at all levels of complexity, form family structures, to communal, national and global systems.

Complex systems are characterised for being non-linear; that is, the response of the system is not proportional to its causes, nor it can be explained as the sum of the different responses of the system to each cause.

The non-linearity of complex systems is related with two properties: they are unpredictable and irreducible. Complex systems are irreducible because the behaviour of the whole is different to the sum of the behaviour of the constituting parts. Indeed, when there are feedback relations, the behaviour of the whole affects the behaviour of the constituting part and vice-versa; so the whole cannot be reduced to the sum of the part. With societies this is also the case. It is a whole which is formed by individuals but which affects individuals, so it cannot be reduced to the sum of individual behaviour (nor individuals can be isolated from society). The ‘system’ then, like all complex systems,  acts as an irreducible, unified whole; hence, the lack of design or control from individuals. Individuals have participation and influence on the events that shapes the system, but no design or control over them.

Complex systems are also unpredictable. In non-linear systems, the slightest variation in the initial conditions can result in unpredictable large variations in the system’s response. In socities something similar happens. Social events often lead to unexpected, unforseable and sometimes undesired consequences.

Another reason for the unpredictability of complex systems is that they often involve an element of randomness. If we think of a colony of ants as a complex system for example, each ant goes out in search of food in totally random directions. It is the choerent behaviour of the whole that, out of this random search, allows the colony to find the best food around. In human societies there is an element of randomness too. Cultures for example, have a fundamental influence on social orders; yet, they can be shaped by totally arbitrary and fortuitious events.

What is the structure of the system?

Complex systems, in general, are in rigor unintelligible. So to analyse them we are forced to simplify them into models. In the following we are going to consider a model of society based on the already familiar dimensions of institutional, cultural and socio-economic relations, with the addition of their mutual dependence to human nature.

Social Structure

Social Structure

Each one of the social dimensions (socio-economic, cultural, institutions and human nature) is  itself a complex entity formed by the combination and mutual dependence of more basic aspects. The socio-economic order is formed by combination of labour, social relations and personal activity. Institutions involves two aspects: public and private organisation. Culture have three aspects: knowledge & technology, world views and values. And human nature is formed by the combination of an inherited nature and a developmental nature (see Human nature).

Like all complex systems, society is irreducible. Society is a complex whole that cannot be reduced to a single essence nor a single aspect. Any explanation of society in terms of a single aspect, like culture, human nature, power struggles or institutions is partial and incomplete. Society, like all complex systems, ought to be contemplated as the interaction of multiple dimensions forming an irreducible whole.

And as in all complex systems, its constituting parts doesn’t function in isolation. The understanding of each constituting part, like culture, institutions or the economy, ought to be contemplated in their relation with the rest.

A fundamental aspect of human social organisation is its hierarchic structure. All forms of social organisation, from hunter gatherers to civilisations, are characterised by unequal distributions of power or hierarchies. Not all hierarchies are the same. Some are steep with centralised power and stratified societies. Others, like in hunter gatherers, are less vertical, more democratic, equalitarian, and might even lack permanent leaders. But all societies have something in common: the distribution of power in never the same. There is always a dominant sector, either males, leaders, clans or healers, the distribution of power is never equal.

There is a biological reason for hierarchies which lies in our competitivenature. Competitiveness is one of the many aspects of our nature. Many aspects of human nature are conflictive and incompatible. For example, by nature we are not only competitive but also social. That is, by nature we need to bond and relate with others; while at the same time we compete with others. Human competitiveness takes us to organise ourselves in structures with unequal distributions of power. Hierarchies then, or the unequal distribution of power then, are an inevitable aspect of social organisation.

What is the function of the system?

The system doesn’t have any inherent function. Unlike organisms or colonies, whose behaviour respond to a given function, societies don’t behave with any particular function.

Although not inherent, social systems do have a function, which is mostly determined by the political structure of the system. Social systems with a hierarchical structure work for the benefit of those above at the expense of those below.

The idea that societies are inherently beneficial for the people is mistaken. Social system can work either for the benefit or the detriment of people. How the system works for people usually depends on fortuitous and arbitrary historical and geographical events. And attempts by individuals to control or design the system usually results in unforeseeable and often in undesirable consequences.

Can systems be objectively judged or compared?

Opposite to relativistic views, systems can be objectively judged and compared on the benefit they bring to individuals. As we mentioned before, systems don’t have any function, so they can work either for the benefit or the detriment of people. So systems can be objectively compared on the general well-being they bring to people. Some systems are good. Some systems are bad. And some systems are better than others.

How good a system is depends on the benefits it brings to people. A good system would be a system that promotes the general well-being. A bad system would be a systems that works for the detriment of people, or that promotes the good of some at the expense of others.

Can social systems be changed?

We began this essay by saying that social systems are entities that nobody chooses, design, understands or control, but which at the same time controls everybdy’s lives. Does this mean that systems are self-sustained entities that controls people and over which people have no control? Can social systems be changed by people?

As Noam Chomsky said, social systems are not ‘written in stone’. There is no reason why people cannot change the system. People should be able to choose the social system that works for them.

Yet, there are several reasons why this doesn’t happen  easily. First, individuals cannot change the system by themselves. Only collective action that can bring any change. And collective action is difficult to galvanise. One of the reasons collective action is difficult to galvanise is that individuals are conditioned by the system to form part of it rather than to rebel against it.

Second, those who benefit the least from the system and have more reasons to change it, are those who have less power. Those in power will always oppose any change to the system.

How responsible are individuals for how the system works?

Overall, individuals have little responsibility. We have little awareness, understanding and control of our own nature; let alone of the complex behaviour of social orders. Nevertheless, within the limited responsibility that individuals have, responsibilities still exist in a relative form.

Those above are the most responsible. They are the ones who usually have better education, health, resources, opportunities, and the power to bring change. Yet, they are the less likely and the least capable of improving the system. They are the less likely, for they are the ones who benefit the most from the system; so they would either tend to resist change or support any change that furthers their interests. And they are the least capable, for they have the least critical or analytical capacity. The higher on the hierarchy, the stronger the tendency to conform, adjust and play the system to defend their power, or even to dominate the system to increase their power within it.

Those below are the least responsible, for they usually have the worst education, health and resources, and they lack opportunities and power to bring change. Furthermore, they are often exploited, manipulated or controlled by those above. And they are usually pressed by more fundamental and immediate needs.

The middle sectors of society share almost the same responsibilities as those above (depending on how vertical the hierarchy is). Those above, in order to protect the system, would try to keep those in the middle content (and in lower hierarchies those bellow too). So the middle sectors also benefit from the system, with opportunities, resources and limited power; therefore, sharing responsibility with those above. Unlike the upper sectors who are the least likely and capable of bringing change, the middle sectors have the opportunities and resources for critical views of the system. Nevertheless, in their struggle for power, the middle sectors are characterised for adjusting to the system and for emulating and aligning to the interests of those above. So the middle sectors have the additional responsibility of legitimizing the system.

Unawareness, lack of control or lack of understanding doesn’t exempt the upper and the middle sectors from their responsibility. Unlike the lower sectors, they have the opportunities and resources to be aware and understand the system, and they are the only ones with the power to change it.

Conformity to what others do doesn’t exempt responsibility neither. If the system is detrimental, adjusting to it is to contribute and become part of a negative system. Adjusting to such a system because others do, doesn’t exempt individuals from their responsibility. Despite the collective complicity in rationalising, justifying or ignoring the wrongs of the system, individual are still responsible for their negative contributions to the system.

In unequal societies challenges to the system often comes, not from above or bellow, but from a minority within the middle sectors defending freedom, justice, equality, the interests of others, of those below, of future generations and the natural environment. Although the majority of the middle sector usually adjust to the system, there is always a minority who, for one reason or the other, are critical to the system, don’t identify with the system, sometimes find it difficult to adjust to it, and who have the education, resources and enough power to challenge it.

Revolutionary changes from these challenges often resulted in the replacement of one form of hierarchy with another (and in some cases even worse). On the other hand, enduring improvements to the system comes when they are part of a process. We call this process social development.

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Views of society: natural science, social science and monism

11/12/2010

Past views of society

 Historically, civilisation was thought to be the pinnacle of human achievement, humans were thought to have a special place in the universe, and civilisation was thought to be an example of human superiority and its capacity to rise above nature. In the past, anything out of civilisation and closer to nature, like animals or non-civilised societes, were considered to be inferior.

Nowadays we have a better understanding of the universe. Although some old beliefs are still resilient, now we know, or at least we are learning, that humans don’t have a special place in the universe. We know how mistaken and destructive the sense of superiority of the civilised man over the non-civilised man, animals or the natural world is. And we also learning how futile is the pursuit to rise above nature, for we are part of it.

Yet, despite our better understanding of the universe, the nature of human society is hardly understood.

Present views of society

There are currently two views about human society: one is of the social sciences, and the other one is of the natural sciences. The natural sciences emphasizes on the biological origins of society, trying to explain it in evolutionary terms. The social sciences on the other hand, sees  society as shaped by structures like the economy or culture, which are irreducible to human nature or evolution.

One way of looking at the differences between the social and the natural sciences is in terms of the perennial nature-nurture debate. We know that human behaviour is partly inherited and party learnt; although there are always a discrepancies on how much of our behaviour is learnt and how much is inherited. The difference between the natural and the social sciences can be seen in terms of these discrepancies. The natural sciences tend to emphasize on our inherited behaviour. Our social behaviour, according to them, is part of our internal nature. Human behaviour, including social behaviour, is shaped by our genes, therefore it can be explained in evolutionary temrs. The social sciences on the other hand, emphasize on the effects of an external social environment that is independent from genes and evolution.

Conflicts among disciplines are a common occurrence in science. And the tendency has always been that conflictive disciplines eventually converge or become compatible. May be eventually the social sciences will become part of the natural sciences. But for the moment they remain distinct disciplines.

Problems with current views

A common difference  between scientific disciplines (also true between the natural and social sciences) lies in that they study phenomena at different levels of organisation. Each level of organisation is governed by their own principles and laws of nature. And the laws of nature at different levels of organisation are characterised by two things: they are continuous, but also irreducible. They are continuous because nature is the same and compatible at all levels of organisation. And they are irreducible because the laws governing higher levels of organisation cannot be reduced to the laws of lower levels.

Because of the continuity of the laws of nature, each discipline in science can presuppose the validity and compatibility of laws at lower levels of organisation. So for example, despite their differences, there is continuity in the laws governing chemistry, molecular biology and biology. And because of the irreducibility of the laws of nature, laws at higher levels cannot be reduced to the laws at lower levels. So for example, evolution cannot be reduced to the combination of atomic forces.

The main problem with social sciences is the discontinuity between the laws governing society and the laws of the natural world.

the natural & the social – in modern science

In the social sciences, the natural world and the social world are interlinked and mutually related, but they remain essentially different. Their relationship is one of resources, weather, climate, etc. but not of nature. The nature of society, in social sciences, is essentially different from the nature of the world.

And the main problem with the natural sciences, is that they tend to reduce the laws governing social organisation to lower order of organisation, like biological explanations. Just as evolution cannot be reduced to atomic forces, the laws governing social organisation cannot be reduced to biological explanations.

An alternative view of society

In the following we are going to contemplate society from a monist point of view. A monist universe is a natural universe where everything responds to the laws of nature; therefore society, by metaphysical necessity, is a natural phenomena.

the natural & the social – in a monist universe

From a monist point of view the social world, unlike in natural sciences, is governed by irreducible laws; and unlike the social sciences, is governed by laws continuous with the laws of nature. In a monist universe there is no discontinuity between the natural and the social world.

The continuity of society with the natural world can be followed in two ways: On the complexity of society (with complexity as a universal natural phenomena) and on its dependence to human nature. Both aspects are contemplated in what we shall call ‘the system’.

Values

20/10/2010

Although values are a peripheral aspect of our nature subordinated to more fundamental aspects, like personality and development, they are one of the most influential aspects affecting human behaviour.

So what are values? We know that values operates at two levels, at an individual level and at a social level. At an individual level, our values adjust to our personality and to our individual needs, tastes and preferences. And at a social level, our values adjust to the culture we form part of.

But what are they? Some things are better described for what they are not rather than for what they are; and values is one of those things. Let us begin our definition of values then with a negative description of values; that is, with the things that values are not.

. Values are not intrinsic to things. Values are a subjective attribution that we give to things. We value things that don’t have any extrinsic value by themselves. And we do so out of the interests that we might have on things.
. Values are not absolute. The value that we attribute to things is not absolute but relative. And values are relative in several ways. They are relative in space and relative in time, changing form person to person, from culture to culture, changing with situations and with time. And they are also relative to the value of other things. We don’t value things in themselves, but we value them in relation to other things. So behaviour is not guided by any priority given to single value, but it always involves tradeoffs between competing values.

From this negative description of values we can turn now to a positive definition of values. We know that values, for not being intrinsic, are related to our interests. And we also know that values, for being relative, depend on the value we give to other things.

So, from the combination of these two aspects, we define value systems as a -subjective- set of desirable aims or goals that serves as guiding principles among conflictive or superimposing aims and interests (based on Schwartz’s definition, 1996).

Things around us have different interests for us. And giving a value to them help us to order and discern among conflicting and superimposing interests.

Value systems are characterised for their diversity (people value different things in different ways) and for their variability in relation to place, situation and time. But values have one thing that is universal and constant: their structure.

Values, with all their diversity and change, are not order randomly but within a structure. We sustain that the structure of all value systems is universal, timeless and common to everybody. That is, while values systems are diverse and variable, their structure is an invariable and universal aspect of human nature. Furthermore, the structure is exactly the same at both levels: at personal values and at cultural values. In other words, the structure of values is trans-situational and it is the same for everybody regardless their personality or culture.

Value Structure

Values have a universal structure. And to analyse the dynamics of values we have to model the structure. Our model is based on the one developed by Shalom Schwartz. Schwartz models the structure of values on ten dimension (‘motivationally distinct types of values‘). The table below is a list of the ten types of values, with a description of their central goals and the single values that represent them, as given on the original table from Schwartz.

There is cross-cultural research to support the universality of these dimensions (Scwartz 1992, 1994; Szhwartz & Sagiv 1995).

The dynamics of these values are organised on a circular structure as represented on the figure below (from Schwartz original figure).

Schwartz model of values

This circular structure represents two characteristics of values. First, it reflects how adjacent value types are compatible sharing specific values. And second, it also represents how opposite value types are incompatible and cannot be easily pursued at the same time.

Schwartz organised the total structure of values in turn, on two basic dimensions: openness to change/conservation and self-enhancement/self-transcendence.

There is also cross-cultural support for this circular structure of values on research made by Schwartz (Schwartz 1994, 1995, Schwartz & Sagiv 1995), and on evidence form the World Values Survey.

To this model, we are going to add two additional aspects: and element of asymmetry on values and a developmental aspect.

Asymmetry on values
Not all values are equally important. Some values have more weight and a higher priority than others.

We sustain that, in general, values of conservation and self-enhancement have more weight than values of openness to change and self-transcendence.

The asymmetry on values can be explained, from a biological point of view, on a nature of self-preservation where self-enhancement and conservation are more important that openness to change and self-transcendence.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

The asymmetry on values is also compatible with the asymmetry on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.In Maslow’s hierarchy some needs take precedence over others. Comparing both models there is a parallelism between values and needs. Physiological, security and social needs can be associated with values of conservation. Esteem needs can be associated with values of self-enhancement. Cognitive and aesthetic needs can be associated to values of openness to change. And needs of self-actualization can be associated to values of self-transcendence.

So, by adding an element of asymmetry on Schwartz model we have:

Asymmetric model of values

Development on values

Values are not fixed and invariable but they change with time. And one of the ways they change with time is through development. So to Schwartz model we are going to add also an element of development.

Development is a universal natural phenomena that occurs in complex systems. Development is the process by which systems passes from states of lower complexity to states of higher complexity (see Development).

We sustain that in the value structure lower complexity – the original state- is related with values of conservation and self-enhancement and higher complexity with values of openness to change and self-transcendence. So with a development values changes from conservation and self-enhancement to openness to change and self-transcendence.

Complete model of Values

With higher complexity systems change, in general, in properties like higher autonomy, flexibility and stability (see Complexity). With values in particular, these properties are translated into the internalisation of values with higher independence form external parameters (like cultural determination or authority), higher tolerance to the diversity and relativity of values, and the association of values to more universal parameters that transcends the transient and circumstantial, like Nature, universal human aspirations, etc. (see also moral development).

Development is not an inevitable nor an irreversible process. That is, development doesn’t happen naturally but depends on an environment that facilitates the process. If the environment is favourable, then development occurs and results in a shift of values from conservation and self-enhancement to openness to change and self-transcendence. Development is also reversible. If the environment becomes adverse, detrimental or threatening, values tend to shift back to the original state of conservation and self-enhancement. The intensity of these backshifts is also related to the level of development. With lower development they tend to be more immediate, with higher development they tend to be more contained.

We sustain that this model is valid at both, a personal and a cultural level. No research has been done to corroborate it, but there is no lack of evidence. At a personal level the model seems to match ordinary experience. And at a cultural level evidence from the World Values Survey seems to support the model as well.

Social Development

29/09/2010

In the section ‘the system’ we introduced a view of society as a natural phenomena with the ideas of society as a complex system responding to the same principles and patterns of change as all complex systems in nature. In this section we are going to expand this idea with the concept of social development as another natural phenomena.

Developmental processes are a natural phenomena that occurs in complex systems, by which the system increases in complexity (see Development).  Social development then, in particular, is the process by which society increases in complexity.

Social development is intuitively related with those changes in the system that improves the general well-being its people. In the following we are going show that this is indeed the case. Development is a natural process that is related with an improvement of society. In life there are two incompatible aspects: the pursuit of personal good and the general good. By nature we are inclined to pursue our personal good over the general good, for we have a nature based on the continuance of our genes, and not for the good of society or the natural environment. But nature is neither wise nor perfect, since our higher good is to live in a healthy environment and in harmony with it. The pursuit of personal good over the general good is usually related with a deterioration of the environment (both social and natural). Social development on the other hand, is related with changes in the social environment that curbs this tendency. We sustain that socio-economic, institutional and cultural development are related with a balance of power and interests within the population, which promotes the general good over the personal good, thus improving the general well-being of the population.
Social development doesn’t depend on any political, social or economic ideology. Development is a natural occurrence in the physical world, and so is social development. Social development then is not an ideal that we could dream or aim for. It is a natural process that, like all natural processes, is beyond our control and over which we have very limited influence. But nevertheless, within our limited influence, we do have the power to understand it, to facilitate and let it happen. And if it happens, it does improve the condition of society.
Development in nature is not an inevitable process (see Development). And neither is social development. Societies don’t develop ‘naturally’. Societies can either develop, remain stationary or regress, depending on inhibiting or facilitating internal factors to the system or external factors in the surrounding environment.
To illustrate the process of social development, we can make its analogy with mental development. Mental development is a similar process related with growing complexity, in this case, with an increase in mental complexity. Mental development is also a natural process independent form any human ideal. Mental development is not an inevitable process neither. The process can occur or not depending on the existence of facilitating conditions, both internally, like physical and mental health, and externally like a loving and simulative environment. In social development the same is true. It is not an inevitable process. And it can happen or not depending on internal conditions, like institutional, cultural and socio-economic conditions, and on the effects of the surrounding natural environment and other societies. Social development also resembles mental development in that it is a natural process over which, like in all natural processes, we have no control. Yet, we can have certain understanding of it and we can facilitate it. And, as in mental development too, if the process happens, it improves the condition of the system.
The following is a description of the process of social development, of how it is related with an improvement of society and the internal conditions that facilitates it.

The structure.
First of all, we have to define the structure of the system. We previously modelled society as a complex system formed by the interaction of institutions, culture, socio-economic relations and human nature.

Social Structure

Each element is itself a complex entity. Social development then, is the process by which society increases its socio-economic, cultural and institutional complexity, and the integration of these elements.

The process
Institutional, cultural and socio-economic development is the process by which they increase in complexity. Higher complexity, in general, means higher differentiation and integration of their constituting parts (see Complexity). So social development then, is the process by which institutions, culture and socio-economic relations becomes more differentiated and integrated, and by which themselves becomes more integrated.

. On institutional development, higher differentiation and integration is related with democratization processes, lower hierarchies and de-centralization of power.

. On socio-economic development, higher differentiation and integration is related with social equality and higher individual freedom.

. And on cultural development, higher differentiation and integration is related with a democratization of knowledge and a shift from traditional values to values of self-determination, equality and tolerance. Cultural development is the process by which culture passes to be from an instrument of control, to a mean of social integration and personal emancipation and development.

The process of social development

Social development depends on the mutual dependence of three social aspects: cultural, institutional and socio-economic development. Social development cannot be understood, nor it happens, as a consequence of any of these aspects in isolation.

So the system not only develops through cultural, institutional, and socio-economic development but also through their higher integration. Higher integration between these dimensions means culture, institutions and socio-economic orders that facilitates their mutual development (e.g. institutions that facilitates social and cultural development, etc.).

The effect
Social development, that is, the increase of the system’s complexity, increases the well-being of the general population.

We normally relate by intuition development with improvement. And we also often related social development or improvement with changes that improves the general well-being of the population. We sustain that this is indeed the case. But if development is a natural process related to an increase in social complexity, why is it related with social improvement? Why would social development, or higher social complexity, increase the well-being of the general population?
Well, first of all, let us define what we understand by well-being. Well-being is a general term representing higher levels of happiness through the satisfaction of our physical, mental, personal and social needs. In the present we are going to model the elements conductive to our well-being on the following dimension:
. Stability & Security
. Prosperity
. Social Equality & Justice
. Mental & Physical health
. Freedom
. and a social environment where we can find Integration, Tolerance & Support.

Higher social complexity, through institutional, cultural and socio-economic development, improves the system in all these dimensions.
. Institutional development improves the social strength by bringing more stability, security and prosperity.
. Socio-economic and cultural development improves the social health by bringing more equality, justice, freedom, physical and mental health and social integration, tolerance and support.

The effects of social development

The asymmetry between the dimension related with social strength and the dimensions related with social health, reflects the asymmetry in our value system (see Values). Our value system has a hierarchic structure where values of safety and security precedes values of freedom. As a consequence, social organisation is characterised for having social strength as the original state, and as the state to which all societies tend to return when they are threatened or they regress. For example, in general lines, if we think in modern civilisation of social strength being represented by right-wing politics and social health by left-wing politics, we have that European political and economic strength originates from past right-wing politics. Current European socio-economic development on the other hand comes from recent left-wing politics. And in the face of an uncertain future, with environmental deterioration and mass migration, Europe is turning once again to the right looking for safety, security and prosperity. The same process happens in all societies. In all societies social strength is the original state, and the state to which they tend to return.

As we mentioned before, the system doesn’t have any function, so it can work for the benefit or the detriment of people. We sustain that the higher the complexity of the system, the more it works for the benefit of the people.

The general process that increases the general well-being in society is a balance of interests. Higher social complexity lowers the hierarchic structure of the system and diminishes the unequal distribution of power. As a consequence, the system works less for the interests of those above at the expense of others, and works more for the interests of the general population.

Developmental Stages
Development is a continuous process. And to analyse this process sometimes is useful to define stages. Developmental stages are qualitatively differentiable dynamic states of the system (see Development). Stages are characterised for having a hierarchic order, where higher stages are built upon lower stages.

So if we would have to define developmental stages in the process from social simplicity to higher social complexity, in terms of how the system works for the people, we could differentiate between the following:

. Stage 1: the system works for the interests of the ruling elite.
Societies in this stage would have highly hierarchic and undemocratic institutions with centralised power, social inequality, lack of freedom and cultures with traditional beliefs and value systems.

. Stage 2: the system works for the interests of the higher and middle sectors of society.
It is a similar stage than the previous one, with the difference that in the struggle for power, the middle sectors gains more influence. In this stage there is more room for democratic expressions, more diversity of thought and values, individual freedom, etc.

. Stage 3: the system works for the interests of the general population.
Societies in this stage would have democratic institutions, de-centralised power, social equality and freedom, and a culture that ceases to be an instrument of control to become a means of development, with the democratization of information and knowledge and cultural values of tolerance, integration and support.

. Stages 4 and higher: the system also works for the interests future generations, of other people and in harmony with the natural environment.
These stages would be similar to the previous one, with the addition of the system being also constructive to other societies and the natural environment.

Properties from development
All complex systems are characterised by properties that varies on six main dimensions: linearity/non-linearity, dependency/autonomy, rigidity/flexibility, commonality/rareness, similarity/uniqueness, instability/stability. In general, the more complex the system is, the more irreducible, autonomous, rare, unique, flexible, adaptable and stable it becomes. In social systems the same is true.

. Developed societies are more complex, less linear and more irreducible to the sum of its constituting parts. One effect of this, is that the functioning of the system is less dependent on any particular individual or institution.
. Developed societies are more autonomous and less dependent on other societies.
. Unlike simple societies which have more rigid political organisation and cultures, complex societies are more flexible and adaptable to change.
. Developed societies are a minority. The majority of societies have low levels of development. And the more complex they become, the more rare they are.
. And unlike developed societies, societies with low levels of development are characterised by political, economic and social instability.

The difference between social development and ‘human development’
The concept of human development, as represented by the United Nation’s Human Development Index, differs from social development in several ways.

First, social development is a natural process, while human development is an abstract evaluation of societies. Because of this, social development is universal, and human development is subjective. The concept of human development only makes sense and is applicable to nation-states and current civilisations. Non-civilised societies or past societies cannot be evaluated in terms of human development. Social development on the other hand, is a universal an timeless phenomena that occurs in all types of societies -from civilised to non-civilised societies-, and at all times in history.

Second, the human development index doesn’t reflect levels of social development. The human development index emphasises economic growth over social, institutional, cultural, ethical and environmental aspects. Social development on the other hand, is a process that depends on the mutual relation between socio-economic, cultural and institutional development.

The nature-nurture debate

01/12/2009

The nature-nurture debate is about what determines human behaviour, if our nature or nurture. Nature is related with the aspects of our behaviour that is inherited and determined by our genes, while nurture is related with the aspects of our behaviour shaped by the things we learn in life. Although there is still little agreement on what aspect is the dominant one, currently, it is widely accepted that human behaviour comes from the combination of both nature and nurture. It is also understood that they are not mutually exclusive, but genes affects behaviour by interacting with the environment.

There is a misleading element about the nature-nurture debate, in that there is no real duality in human nature. Nurture is the result of our learning capacity. And our learning capacity is something that we are born with, so it is part of our nature. Furthermore, learning is a process that is genetically controlled. We learn because genes carries the genetic instructions that regulates the process. The contrast between nature and nurture comes form the fact that we learn from an environment that is independent from our genes. But nurture cannot be isolated from nature.

We also sustain the nurture is subordinated to nature. Development is not an arbitrary  process. We don’t learn from the environment in a neutral or arbitrary way. Learning is purposeful process. And the purpose of learning is subordinated to a nature of self-preservation. From the environment we learn how to respond effectively and efficiently to our natural needs. So nurture is shaped by nature.

Another misleading element is that nurture is usually associated to development in childhood. Childhood is an important stage of development, but not the only one. Development is a life long process. Indeed, some of the most interesting forms of development, like the development of theories or new forms of thought, only matures in adulthood.

To the question of what dominates human behaviour, if nature or nurture? The answer is that it depends. The dominance of one over the other is relative and not fixed. Sometimes one can dominate, while others the other.
First of all, it depends on the time of response. Quick responses are dominated by instinctive reactions (nature), since there is no time to process information. Planed actions on the other hand, are dominated by nurture, since there is time to process information and think on the possible responses.
It also depends on the degree of development. The lower the development, the more nature dominates over nurture with less flexible and adaptable responses. The higher the development on the other hand, the more sophisticated becomes our responses to our natural needs.
In any case, nurture is always subordinated to nature. So behaviour shaped by the influence of the environment is not isolated, but it adjust to our natural and inherited needs.

The nature-nurture problem, as we are presenting it, raises a philosophical dilemma about human freedom. There is a common belief that man is a rational being capable of free and autonomous choices, unbound by the natural order of the rest of the world. But if human nature is a combination of nature and nurture, and if nurture is subordinated to nature, then our rational choices are not free and autonomous but subordinated to our nature too. At the same time, human choices, although subordinated to our nature, they do show a degree of autonomy. We sustain that human freedom, although not absolute, exist in a relative form that depends on the degree of development: the higher the development, the higher the autonomy of our choices (for further development on human freedom see Free-will).

The nature of human development

12/01/2009

In a monist universe, man & society are natural phenomena responding to the same natural order as everything else. The nature that man & society shares with everything else is their complexity. And in the complexity of man & society in particular, they exist in mutual dependence, where it is impossible to dissociate one from the other (see man & society).
graph-i-on-human-development

Society itself is a complex system which can be modelled by the integration of three constitutive elements: culture, economy and institutions (see the nature of society).
graph-ii-on-human-development

Human Development then, is given by the combination of Social Development with a collective Individual Development. Social Development is related with higher social complexity, while Individual Development is related with higher personal complexity.

Complexity is a natural phenomena given by the integration of differentiated parts. Higher complexity, in general, is related with dynamic flexibility, autonomy, holism and stability (see complexity). Complexity is a universal phenomena present also in man and in society. In Social Development, higher social complexity is translated into more free, tolerant, equalitarian and stable societies where people live more in peace with each other. In Individual Development, higher personal complexity is translated into higher personal, cognitive, spiritual and volitional integrity, where the individual has higher degrees of personal autonomy and stability (see human developmental nature). The combination of both makes Human Development, where people live more in peace with themselves and with each other, and where there are higher degrees of freedom and well-being.

graph-human-development

Sustainable Development would be Human Development with a sustainable use of the natural resources. It would be the extension of Human Development into more holistic forms, where there is higher integration between society and the natural environment. In terms of complexity, sustainable development would mean higher complexity in the system man-society & natural environment. Higher complexity in this system means higher stability; which would be translated in people living more in peace with themselves and each other and in harmony and balance with the natural environment. In other words, sustainable development would result in higher degrees of freedom and well-being in harmony with Nature.
graph-sustainable-development
The main difficulty in analysing complex systems is that all its elements are mutually dependent, interacting  in bidirectional relations. It is impossible to reduce the system to sets of simple principles and linear causal relations. In rigour, to understand the whole we would have to understand each one of its relations, integrate them, and contemplate them in their simultaneous dependence; but this is literally unintelligible. A more intelligible approach then, would be to analyse each of its parts separately, bearing in mind their mutual dependence.

Institutional development
There is a relative high correlation ( r=0.68 ) between Human Development Index (given by the UN) and the Corruption Perception Index (Transparency International). And there is a clear difference between those societies ranking high in Human development with the lowest levels of institutional corruption and those ranking low in Human development with the highest levels of institutional corruption. The differences of institutional development is related to the levels of institutional complexity.

Institutional development means higher institutional complexity, which means higher differentiation and integration on its structure. In institutions, higher differentiation and integration is translated into higher division of power, more efficient mechanisms of checks and balance of interests and higher institutional efficiency. In other words, institutional development is the transition from the simple to the complex, where the simple is related with vertical hierarchical structures where power is concentred on one person or a few (e.g. authoritarian governments and ineffective democracies), and the complex is related with more horizontal structure where power is divided and exercised by many (e.g. parliamentarian, effective democracies).

Complexity in general is related with higher stability. Institutional stability in particular, is related with lower corruption. The higher the division of power and the more efficient the mechanisms of checks and balance of interest, the lower the institutional corruption. And lower institutional corruption means higher political stability.

Institutional corruption ->  economic development
Economic development is a necessary condition for personal, cultural and human development . As it is shown by the World Values Surveys, societies with low human development tend have more survival values, while societies with higher human development, where material needs are satisfied, tends to have more self-expression values. Self-expression values in turn, are a positive reinforcement of human development (see Personal development « Human Development).

But economic development is highly tied to institutional development; and in particular, to the level of institutional corruption. The higher the institutional corruption the lower the economic development. And this is reflected on the levels of Human development. One of the dimensions to measure Human development is the standard of living of people (measures by the GDP per capita). So the higher the economic development, the higher the human development. And Human development is also highly correlated to the level of institutional corruption. Societies ranking high in Human Development have the lowest levels of institutional corruption; and the inverse being true. So the higher the level of institutional corruption, the lower the level of economic development, and the lower the level of Human development; the opposite being also true.

Cultural development
Human Development is related with more free, tolerant and less prejudiced societies. Societies with lower Human Development tend to be more prejudiced, less tolerant with higher levels of, for example, chauvinism, homophobia, xenophobia or nationalistic values. These cultural differences are differences on the degree of cultural complexity.

Cultural development means higher cultural complexity. Complexity in general, is related with higher differentiation and integration. In culture, higher differentiation and integration is translated into freedom of thought and expression and diversity of values and beliefs systems. The opposite, cultural simplicity, is related with homogeneity of values and beliefs.
Complexity in general, is also related with flexibility and stability, while simplicity with rigidity and instability. In cultural complexity, flexibility and stability are reflected on lower prejudice, higher tolerance and higher degrees of cultural adaptation and change. In cultural simplicity, rigidity and instability are reflected on prejudice, intolerance, traditionalism and lower cultural change. This is partially reflected on the World Values Survey, where high human development is related more secular values while low human development with more traditional values.

Cultural development -> institutional corruption
Corruption, not only is institutional but also cultural. And institutional corruption not only depends on the degree of institutional complexity (and mechanisms of checks and balance of interests), but it also depend on the degree of cultural development. When the ruling elite reaches power, they do so taking with them the dominant values of society. As it is shown by the World Values Survey, low human development is related with survival values, while high human development is related with self-expression values. With high human development, where material needs are satisfied and where there are lower socioeconomic inequalities people behave more ethically (see morality & ethics). With low human development, where there are stronger survival values, people are forced to have less ethical and more self-regarding behaviour.

Socioeconomic development
Human Development is related with equality of opportunities (e.g. education more independent from parents income), lower social inequalities (lower gap between the rich and the poor) and high social mobility. How can we interpret this in terms of complexity?

Socioeconomic development means higher socioeconomic complexity. Complexity in general means higher differentiation and integration. In society, socioeconomic development is the transition from social simplicity to social complexity; where social simplicity is related with vertical, unequal and rigid societies, while social complexity is related with more horizontal, diverse and equal societies.
Higher complexity in general, is also related with higher flexibility and stability. In societies, higher social complexity is related with social mobility and equality of opportunities; while social simplicity is related with social inequality and rigidity. Socioeconomic equality in turn, is also related with higher social stability. Inversely, the inequalities of simple societies tends to make them more unstable.

Personal development <-> Human Development
Human Development facilitates personal development, for It brings economic stability, better education, better health services, social stability (safety and security); all of which means that the individual has more freedom and possibilities to follow individual interest and maximise individual potentialities.

Personal development in turn facilitates Human Development. Personal development is related with personal complexity, which is related with higher degrees of freedom and autonomy of thought and judgement. Autonomy of thought and judgement in turn, empowers people. People turns, from being responsive to the ruling elites, to force the ruling elites to be more responsive to the will of the people (social development is a balance of interests). Personal development then, forces institutional development, which in turn facilitates Human development.

Social complexity

12/01/2009

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).
chart-i-on-society

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.
chart-ii-on-society

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.
graph-on-society

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.