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Spencer Ferri

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Is society too complicated?

I've only recently been learning about how our economy works in detail. Before this education I went about my life making relatively unwise financial choices without any real understanding as to -how- those choices were unwise. Some of these included racking up debt recklessly without a strategy for paying it off, but a lot of it was just wasteful practices.

Even though I've learned the basics of Canadian and American economics, there's a LOT I don't know. And I suspect that to have a specialists understanding in western economics, in the way major businesses change economy over time and the overall relationship that these thingies have with government would require so much time as to make being a specialist in any other field unfeasible.

Yet... To make wise decisions in relation to an important system, we need to have a relatively good understanding of how a system works. So when 200 million people have an incomplete understanding of how their societies structures work, and they all make little unwise decisions in relationship with a part of the structure, how would those unwise decisions affect the quality of that system? It seems illogical to assume they'll fix themselves.

And let's not forget that there are MANY levels to our society. Many different councils are given authority over moral issues, many different groups of scientists study the nature of things, many different levels of government interact with a complicated judicial system which interacts with businesses, each one having its own unique and complicated structure.

So, how can we expect society to be sustainable if it's so complicated? As unwise choices build up over time, weight is put on the shoulders of some to cover up the slack for others. And there's a wealth of knowledge out there on how -humans- work, and yet we're so distracted by the complicated system that we don't each learn about our own natures (which would arguably allow us to make wiser decisions!)

Is society too complicated?

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  • Mar 2 2012: The so called "Society" is consisting of us. Without you and me there is such thing called "society". As society is made of we people - it is we who are complicated. We try to build bridges with certain people, leaving others without mercy, we try to ape others, show disrespect to some, give a red carpet welcome to few. It is we, who make differences and when others make same differences we can not digest and call it as society. Why do we wear a suit or neat dress when we go out, instead of going out like Mahatma Gandhi - because we want to be compared with certain people, we would like to be bracketed as such and such cadre by others. Society is not complicated -- rather we have complicated it.
  • Mar 1 2012: Yes, society is too complicated because it is too big. Mankind is festering like cancer, and our brain, our communication, even our sexuality developed in a tribal environment, now no longer able to cope and unable to adjust 'in time', whatever that will mean.
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    Feb 29 2012: A reflective life, which is to say a life in which we pay attention to what we are doing and what we believe would be most meaningful for us to do, is surely beneficial and not inconsistent with complexity.
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      Feb 29 2012: Yes, but this detail does little to make a point. A reflective life isn't inconsistent with complexity, but lives don't have to either be simple or complex. There can be levels of complexity, and it's assumptive to believe that any amount of complexity can be reflectively understood by an individual. If the level of complexity reaches a point where dedicated, reflective living becomes suddenly impossible, we may be able to say 'society is too complex'. So a rephrased version of my question might look like "Is our society too complex for most individuals to live accurately reflectively?". And on that topic, I believe my argument changes little. I do believe that society can't breach a level of complexity without becoming too inconcievable (with certain factors such as technology changing and increasing the amount of complexity we can reasonably comprehend).

      I believe that certain things allow us to translate complexity into more simple processes. Technology does this, it allows us to build a complex society and have greater understanding by saving us time and organizing our data, and coming to understand human nature does this, it allows us to refine the processes we use to convey data between individuals... More efficient teaching standards = more comprehension. More reliable understanding of humans allows us to make better choices in relation with eachother to create longer-lasting systems of goal-accomplishment.

      But if we begin expanding to levels of complexity without allowing our reflective processes to catch up, I think it's possible to initiate a social collapse where ignorance of systems is far greater than the objective understanding of systems.
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    Feb 29 2012: I think of a 'society' as a way of loosely describing the complex relationship between many people and what they do. Society is also a product of that relationship, a phenomenon which wouldn't exist if we didn't create a conceptual framework for common behaviour between groups, through enforced law and policy.

    I think a society is, in that way, a device. It isn't an agent capable of action, but it is a human technology we build for function.

    Since a society is the product born out of our relationships, then a 'functional society' will likely mirror individual relationships. A healthy relationship between individuals requires respect, self-respect, an understanding of how humans really work and an understanding of how communication works. If we lack respect, understanding and self-respect, and if we can't communicate effectively, we tend to experience bad relationships.

    If a relationship is unncessarily complex, it breeds conflict between the parties as ignorance (masked as knowledge) inspires bad choices (masked as good choices!). A society can reflect this dynamic, I do believe.

    This is why the idea that 'society just works' doesn't sit comfortably with me (which was an opinion written in another comment). We attempt to enforce laws in order to 'control society', but that only goes so far to inspire healthy behaviour. People will always do what they want. Murder has many unpredictable and dangerous consequences far beyond legal considerations. So murder is impractical for living safely. But you can't use law to force people to eat healthy or avoid drugs.

    However, people make conscious choices to improve themselves strictly to better their own life. We can't directly control society, but we can all indirectly control society through personal choices. The character of a society is just a reflection of the choices of individual people.

    Lastly, I think a relationship between two people can be 'too abusive' even though the relationship is not an 'agent or entity'
  • Feb 28 2012: Society is not an agent or entity capable of action, and is therefore incapable of being deemed too much anything. Society, indeed is quite difficult to grasp and impossible to fully understand. Society is constantly evolving and changing due to a variety of factors. I suppose a question we would need to ask ourselves before we can truly contemplate whether society is too complicated is what is society? Also because society is not an agent, how could one possibly go about making it less complicated? Do we really have control over society?
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    Feb 28 2012: Just on the money side....one good way to learn money smarts is from your parents if they have it
    Or pick it up yourself and pass it onto your kids.

    It's not rocket science.
    Capacity to Earn - get an education - escape low paid work
    Spending less
    Saving
    Investing - including superannuation and tax implications for investment options
    Time - compounding
    Protecting - insurance

    They should teach the basics at school.
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      Feb 29 2012: Thing is, none of these strikes me as good basics. If I get a high-paying job and save my money, my money loses its worth over a long period of time. I find that what I saved, which would have been worthwhile when I intended to save, drops in worth.

      One can purchase gold or silver bulion which has a fixed value in relation to money. But this doesn't solve the issue of the complication of money.

      These are good habits, but I don't trust banks or businesses enough to invest or save traditionally. I don't trust that this monetary system will be around for much longer as the worth of money drops and the amount in circulation rises. These unhealthy, amoral economic principles need to be confronted, yet few of us are educated enough to do so. Schools need to teach far more than how to live within this system.
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    Feb 27 2012: Yep
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    Feb 21 2012: Are you asking whether society is too complicated for anyone to understand it in its entirety? Yes. Does that mean people cannot practically speaking process all the information that might be pertinent to making the best decisions for themselves? Yes.
    But as someone in this discussion has already shared, complexity is in the nature of living systems as they have evolved over time.
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      Feb 29 2012: Is our nature determined by itself though? Are we not creatures capable of rational choice? Our living system is self-created and self-organized. There's no reason to assume we can't apply greater focus and discipline to our day-to-day living and improve our structure through it. I believe the complexity of our structure creates unhealthy relationships between people at all levels of society and what they do. See my above comment for more on that line of thought.
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    Feb 21 2012: Is it possible that learning about something in so much detail is counter to simplification? Is a globalized society complex due to its multi-faceted breadth?

    Learning about the minutiae of economics, though admirable, might just take you too far into a place that is remote from the broader picture of how society might look on a more human, localized scale.

    Also I think if the touchstone for society was 'people upwards', rather than 'economics downwards', things might look very different - not as complicated, dysfunctional and amoral as we have now made it.
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      Mar 1 2012: I think I agree. But unfortunately, I feel like if I just fall back on the desire to be in a 'people upwards' society, I'll be lost in the grinding, amoral society we have now. Which means I've got to understand the nature of the beast to keep myself from being swallowed whole!

      I'm trying, actually, not to lose sight of the broader picture. Whatever I do, whatever I learn, at the center of my desire is helping to build a world I can be happy living in, one I can respect and admire rather than fear. And I fear my world right now. I live in constant fear. And I don't think this is a good thing.

      If you're interested in 'people-upwards' ideas, there's a conversation I started which is now closed on a political system called Tiered Democratic Governance you may find interesting. It's a bottom-up electoral system which phases out parties and begins the process in tiny communities. It's very interesting:
      http://www.ted.com/conversations/9374/an_alternative_to_the_current.html
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        Mar 1 2012: Hi Spencer - That conversation on TDG looks interesting.

        I'm taking a good look at Dave Volek's website - it will take me a while to fully digest it, but on first sight TDG seems to be in line with the way I have often thought society should be heading - that is, smaller communities with local autonomy.

        I too fear the world as it is right now. Things have been - and are still becoming - more and more centralised to the point where those that govern our lives are less and less in touch with the characteristics of unique communities and individual people.

        Thanks for the interesting leads - I'm glad I bumped into you!
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          Mar 1 2012: TED is such a great place that through it, people like us with ideas like ours (and his!) can be connected, and that w4e can better eachother through this healthy exchange.
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    Feb 21 2012: the biosphere is immensely more complicated, yet it works. nobody makes decisions about it, it works on its own. an economy is similar. nobody can even have a glimpse of how complex it is. yet it just works.

    the first thinker who asked this question, as i know, was frederic bastiat. he asked, how can it be that paris gets fed. who calculates how much milk, cabbages or goats to bring in each and every day? nobody does, and yet, food is at the marketplace every day, ready to be bought.

    check out that brilliant talk of matt ridley: http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_ridley_when_ideas_have_sex.html