Archive for April, 2011

Sub-Systems and Sub-Societies

April 14, 2011 Leave a comment

All systems possess multiple layers which function both independently and dependently on the system as a whole. The motor vehicle is an excellent example of this organization: the wiper blades wiping rain from the windshield wash away water to complete their pre-assigned, independent task. Driving these blades is a system of electricity and hardware that allows the process to take place. These components function on an independent basis but are dependent on the vehicle’s main power source to provide them with the needed power to function. The blades are a minor component, we know this by considering what would occur if the blades failed. When the blades die but the car continues to run we have identified a minor component in relation to a major one. The vehicle is the major component in the system and is the generalized item from which all minor component parts are gathered and set in motion.

Does the car even exist? Is the motor vehicle something we can identify or are we referring to the collected minor components that make up the car? At what point does semantics come into play?

Human components complicate the system further. Consider the banking system where risk assessors risked tasked with providing loans but a a level that does not risk the bank’s security can easily be distorted by misguided incentives. Promise any human being with an additional benefit and one rests all security on the strength of someone else’s ethics. As we saw in the housing crisis, these dependence on ethics, or better phrased as “we can make it work,” often leads to complete and near-total disaster.

All systems and societies have independent functioning components. We are best served by recognizing these complications and, when considering human systems, understanding that the independent components will often act for personal gain before system gain. While we can invest a reasonable amount of confidence in our wiper blades, a significant risk lies in investing equal or more confidence in our human counterparts. If the mechanics of our wiper blades are working we’ll have a clear view of the road, but if our human worker has been misdirected he or she may lose connection with the system’s goals and pose a threat to others involved. Rest assured in your wiper blade’s employment, but take heart in your employee’s hands with the blade.

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