By Mark Belitsky
On July 14-16, 2020 I attended the International Conference of Sociocybernetics for the first time. In reflecting upon the RC51 conference, which was dedicated to the Pandemic Era, I was very impressed at how well the participants from varying cultural and institutional backgrounds managed to work together to offer new perspectives and innovative ideas to address the ongoing global health crisis. But what impressed me the most as a newcomer was the way in which the participants were able to balance the humanistic and systems perspectives in their search for answers.
Systems perspective in sociology is sometimes criticized for not being humanistic enough but what the critics overlook, or perhaps do not want to admit, is that the humanistic perspective is also an evolutionary product. Evolution has given humanity incredible abilities to build but also to destroy, both of which giving rise to almost unlimited ambitions. A developed society cannot exist without high regard for humanistic values which promote social stability and human development. The participants in the conference have demonstrated a deep understanding of both seemingly conflicting perspectives and managed to offer views reflecting a balanced approach to the pandemic crisis.
I would also like to use this opportunity to reiterate some of the points made at the conference when I presented an example illustrating key concepts of the Functional Theory of Social Systems to highlight some important conclusions.
I used a hypothetical situation in which a person buys a house and several weeks later discovers that there is a chemical factory nearby occasionally producing an unpleasant and potentially harmful odor. The intent here is to analyze the Soft Forces (SFs) involved in the decision of whether to stay in the house or sell it. A social system is formed here between the person and the house with multiple positive (attracting) and negative (repelling) SFs. This example demonstrates how SFs of different origins interact on a level playing field and shows that the SF functions as a common denominator in the decision-making process.
The positive SFs here are:
- Architectural beauty of the house, origin – sensory perception (visual).
- Low interest rate bank loan, origin – Functional Idea.
- Low property taxes, origin – Functional Idea.
The negative SFs here are:
- Factory odor, origin – sensory perception (sense of smell).
- Fear that the odor is harmful to health, origin – instinct of self-preservation.
- Not enough bedrooms for all children in the family, origin – physical reality.
Dynamic psychological forces (SFs) are formed in the subconscious based on the above factors, which are being constantly reevaluated producing an “oscillating” effect not unlike atoms in a molecule. Resulting positive and negative SF vectors are also formed which are the sums of individual SFs. The final decision is made based on the magnitude or “pull” of the resulting SF vectors.
It is worth noting that there exists a phenomenon of SF “hardening” with time, which is to say that the longer a SF exists, the stronger its corresponding vector becomes. It is what we call in cultural terms, “forming a habit” or “getting used to” something.
This seemingly simple mechanism can explain the formation and disappearance of social systems and constitutes the basis for decision-making.